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Four essential steps for delivering digital inclusion projects and initiatives

We worked with public sector technology specialists Socitm Advisory and the wider local government sector to compile these essential resources to support councils in tackling the digital divide.


Introduction

Older woman and younger boy sitting at a table looking at a laptop with the woman taking notes with a pen

 

Below we outline four essential steps, and some key ideas, for councils to consider when preparing, researching and developing digital inclusion projects and initiatives. Our hope is that these resources, which are based on nation-wide research and good practice, will inspire councils to develop innovative approaches to tackling digital exclusion.

Part of this bundle of resources is the Digital Learner Checklist, a dynamic spreadsheet developed by the Local Government Association and Socitm Advisory, which councils can use to assess residents' digital progress and to create baseline assessments for digital inclusion projects involving both workforce and communities. The checklist calculates the gain resulting from a digital inclusion project, intervention or initiative – and displays quantitative data to illustrate a project's overall impact.

Download our Digital Learner Checklist

If you have any questions or issues with the checklist please contact [email protected]

Step 1. Diagnosis

Identify and target a digital inclusion opportunity

On the face of it, addressing digital exclusion should be easy – you simply need to identify who’s excluded, find out why, put measures in place to close the gap and implement the change, right?

The challenge is that the reasons for exclusion are more complicated than this – and the evidence increasingly points to exclusion as a spectrum. Rather than someone being either digitally included or excluded, they might be somewhere in between – it all depends on context.

What we do know for sure is that the older you are and the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be digitally excluded. People over the age of 70 are significantly more likely not to use the internet than younger age groups. Other factors like disability, skills, income, motivation and confidence also play a part, and when someone has more than one of these factors, the likelihood of them being digitally excluded increases even more.

So how do you go about addressing exclusion? For the most part there are three ways and the first choice you need to make is whether you are targeting a broad population (for example, all of a council area) or a narrower group (for example, people in care homes). To identify which approach is best, you need to determine why you want to tackle exclusion – and what you’re trying to achieve. For example, if you’re trying to improve digital inclusion as a general aim, a population level approach might be best; whereas if you specifically want to support young people to develop future skills, a more targeted approach would be better.

Once you know why you’re doing it, you then need to work out how best to identify your target audience. You can do this in a number of ways.

Identifying your target

We found out from initial research with our council partners, that digital inclusion practitioners tended to prefer the following two approaches to identifying need, which can / should be followed in tandem:

  • identifying communities likely to be at risk of digital exclusion
  • identifying specific individuals known to the organisation.

The digital inclusion practitioners we interviewed outlined the following as typical target cohorts that are widely understood as being at the greatest risk of digital exclusion (although please note that this is not an exhaustive list):

  • older people
  • people with mental health needs
  • single parents
  • people on low incomes
  • people with a disability
  • people whose first language is not English
  • homeless people
  • people with learning disabilities
  • black, Asian and minority ethnic people
  • people without a job
  • people living in rural areas
  • people with few qualifications
  • social housing tenants
  • people working in small businesses
  • care leavers.

Mapping risk

We know, from research, that particular demographic groups are less likely to use the internet. The risk of exclusion across a geographic area can be mapped into a data visualisation by overlaying datasets related to the different demographics of a population.

At a basic level, understanding the availability of access for residents to get online is crucial. National tools such as Think Broadband's superfast broadband coverage map help field and visualise access levels by council area. The London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) has recently finalised work to map potential exclusion across London through its Mapping Digital Exclusion with Data exercise. Greater Manchester Combined Authority recognised that, across the UK, many local approaches were bringing the same datasets together to visualise the geographical extent of digital exclusion, and has created a Digital Exclusion Risk Index that can be used by any council nationally. This tool allows local authorities to access details of the exclusion risk in their areas.

Mapping based on need

To map based on need, you need to first understand some of the drivers for exclusion. For example, your council might be in a rural area where digital connectivity is not as good as it needs to be. In this case, your focus might be to understand who is impacted and to focus your immediate efforts on infrastructure improvements. Or, you might want to focus your efforts on a particular group of people – for example:

  • young people who need devices and connectivity to access education
  • older people living alone
  • or job-seekers.

In each of these cases, the key question you need to ask is: ‘Who holds the data that can help me target my approach?’. In many cases, the council itself may hold the relevant data, and an impact assessment will need to be undertaken to identify if it is appropriate to use the data to identify individuals.

External sources of information can be found from other useful tools such as the Co-op's Community Wellbeing Index or Mastercard's Inclusive Growth Score – which requires registration but is free to use – maps data to provide further insight about levels of need.

Direct identification – scenario mapping

Direct identification often happens when a group of people, or an individual, self-identifies as being excluded. Often this occurs when there is an acute need to act; for example, in cases where:

  • a child in school has no device or data to enable them to access education remotely
  • a Universal Credit claimant is unable to make a claim
  • an older person cannot physically reach the GP but has no other means of being diagnosed.

In each of the above cases, it is critical that the person with the need receives help quickly. Mapping the potential scenarios in which someone might present an immediate need is often a good way of prioritising early activity.

Maximising impact

We need to tackle these complex and context-dependent reasons for exclusion with solutions that both address the drivers for exclusion and treat the symptoms of it. It is not enough to give a child a laptop if you’re doing nothing to address the underlying causes of poverty and wider exclusion generally. Digital exclusion and wider forms of inequality often go hand in hand. Tackling digital exclusion won’t automatically impact the drivers for it – so a twin-track, long-term approach is needed that seeks to link digital exclusion to wider council agendas, particularly those related to health and wellbeing, regeneration, and education. Only by doing this will true change be delivered.

Useful reading

Mapping data for digital inclusion activity (PDF, 1.19MB) | Citizens Online

Digital Exclusion Risk Index version 1.5 | Greater Manchester Office of Data Analytics

Mapping Digital Exclusion with Data | London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI)

Census 2021 outputs | Office for National Statistics

UK Consumer Digital Index 2021 | Lloyds Bank

Online Nation 2021 report | Ofcom

Launching a Digital Inclusion Outcomes Framework | Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

 




Define what you’re going to measure to make a difference

The complexity of digital exclusion means it’s often difficult to know how best to go about measuring the impact of the inclusion initiatives you put in place. It gets even trickier when you consider that many of the underlying drivers that impact exclusion, like poverty and disability, won’t be solved by enabling digital inclusion itself.

Instinctively, digital inclusion projects feel like the right thing to do, and research consistently indicates that enabling inclusion can have positive benefits to people’s job prospects, finances, learning, opportunities, health, and wellbeing. But many of the outcomes of digital inclusion activities are not felt immediately and may be influenced by lots of wider factors – making measurement of the actual impact of individual initiatives a challenge.

Consider, for example, someone who is not confident online and who only has ad hoc access to a device and data. They might attend skills training at a local library and initially use public access personal computers to use social media and email to connect to friends and family. A year on from that, they might then find a job via an online notice-board, apply online and have the skills necessary to secure the role. In this example, while you could say that the skills training led to the later outcomes, other factors are likely to have contributed too. And, realistically, in a world of minimum service provision due to financial constraints, how many councils have the resources in place to continually measure impact over time? As a result of such constraints, digital inclusion projects are often short term, focused on ‘doing’ and, often, evidence outputs rather than outcomes and in some cases don’t evidence anything at all.

In late 2021, the Local Government Association and Socitm Advisory carried out some research, working with councils to understand what they were doing in relation to inclusion – and how they were evidencing benefit. While there was plenty of evidence of inclusion activity – from device and data provision to skills training and interventions to support improved connectivity – far fewer councils were measuring the outcomes. As one IT director put it: “We’re just getting on with stuff.”

Measuring the impact of inclusion activities is not an easy task for councils because:

  • the underlying drivers for exclusion will not necessarily be impacted by digital inclusion activity – if you can’t afford a device and data because you’re poor, giving you a device and enabling free Wi-Fi will not suddenly change your overall situation or lead to immediate opportunities
  • it can take a long time for the benefits to be realised – even with device and data access, building skills and confidence takes time, and sometimes the knock-on impacts of inclusion are only felt years later
  • baselining can be tricky – knowing what to measure is one thing, but understanding your starting point to measure progress from where you are now isn’t always an exact science (Before and after confidence scores can be used for individuals and measuring regular internet use is positive as a general measure, but exclusion is often context dependent, so it’s not as simple as saying you are either included or excluded to start off with.)
  • measuring the right things requires more than a focus on savings (In the research conducted by Socitm Advisory, some councils had looked at the potential impact of inclusion on channel shift, focusing in on savings for the council rather than impact on the place – and the people in it. The methodology used was also questionable in most cases, with ‘digital uptake’ estimates being extrapolated to ‘best guess’ the impact on the council’s bottom line. While it’s fairly obvious that if you give people the means and the skills to access online services, they are more likely to do so, it’s not directly the case that they will choose to do everything online – and the actual ease of council online provision plays a part here too.)
  • establishing a baseline and measuring outcomes takes resource and as we all know, councils don’t have a huge amount of spare resource to start with – with limited resources to support inclusion, the focus has to be on ‘doing’.

Measuring what matters

The key to all of this is to work out, at a local level, what matters to you most. In an age of budgetary pressure, demonstrating return on investment is important; but given the wider research that has been done, it might be enough to simply evidence the ‘doing’ at a local level – for example:

  • the number of devices re-purposed and issued to families in need
  • the amount of public access personal computer usage
  • the frequency of internet use by different people in the local area
  • the growth in confidence of learners from 'x' to 'y'.

A tool that can be used in this space is the LGA and Socitm Digital Learner Checklist, which has been adapted from the Shropshire Council model, and which can be used by councils seeking to standardise the data they collect to monitor progress over an extended period. The checklist will work to produce a tracker – based on the progress of skills, confidence and motivation indicated by the participant – which the council can adapt and use to tailor digital inclusion support in a bespoke way for that individual.

If this interests you, you may want to go further and commission primary research into impact at a local level. Providers like the Good Things Foundation do great work in this space and can advise about approaches to use.

Whatever you do, there is value in sharing your experience across the sector so that we can learn from each other’s initiatives, successes and challenges.

Get in touch

To share your journey with the sector, please email us at [email protected]

Useful reading

Digital Inclusion Evaluation Toolkit | Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Measuring Digital Skills: from digital skills to tangible outcomes – project report (PDF, 2.03 MB) | London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), University of Twente and Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Digital Inclusion Outcomes-Based Evaluation | Benton Foundation

Step 2. Development

Think strategically

There are many priorities demanding a local authority's time, effort, attention and investment. These demands are complex and it takes time to prioritise them and respond to them appropriately. Organisations have often not planned their strategic response to the digital inclusion needs of their residents, customers, employees and partners.

Where do we start?

The answer is always to start with your users – that is, your residents, your businesses and your visitors. What we mean by this is that it is good practice to start from a position of understanding of who your users are – and what their behaviours, experiences and beliefs will be when it comes to using digital tools or channels. You may choose to do that in an indirect way through resources like the Office for National Statistics’ Census data; through such tools as Greater Manchester Combined Authority's Digital Exclusion Risk Index (which uses 12 different indicators to assess the risk of digital exclusion); or through direct engagement with your users or their representatives.

Whatever method you choose, the demographics of your area and its communities will show where the high level focus should be. They will show you the context within which you are operating – your current state. For example, Cornwall’s 2018 Office for National Statistics data showed that 13 per cent of Cornwall's residents have never accessed the internet. Cornwall Council’s aim was to reduce that number by 25 per cent over four years, through several initiatives.

A strategy does not need to be hugely detailed, but it does need to be contextually right for your communities and your region.

We would recommend that you write your strategy in partnership with your member community. These days, a large number of local authorities will have a portfolio-holder who is responsible for digital in some way – either through customer services or through technology.

So once we know where we’re coming from, what next?

Plan for the future

Your future plan should contain each of the following core elements:

  1. your objectives
  2. your vision statement
  3. your mission statement and core values
  4. high level goals
  5. population-, asset- and solution-based approaches.

Setting your objectives

Having understood your users, it should be fairly clear where the largest opportunities for making a difference exist. It is important, at a high level, to set some objectives to improve or influence those opportunities. For example, you have found that in some of your older rural communities there are challenges with access to devices however internet connectivity is pretty good. On top of that, those who do have access to devices feel intimidated.

You, therefore, have an opportunity to both supply devices (which can be done either through capital investment authority side or by partnering with local charities who repurpose devices); and to educate and upskill the community. For example, one objective could be to increase the percentage of older rural communities who are confident engaging with their local authority through digital channels by 50 per cent. Often, community venues and cafes will allow you to host drop-in clinics.

Writing a vision statement

A vision statement should be fairly simple. Essentially, you are writing your authority's long-term aspirations for the future. From an inclusivity perspective, this might be a reduction in the proportion of your community who are seen as digitally excluded.

See an example defined in Norfolk County Council's Digital Inclusion Strategy:

Every Norfolk resident has ability to take full advantage of the opportunities and benefits of accessing online services and harnessing internet technology.

How will this align to our core values?

As an organisation, you should have core values that explicitly describe how you will serve your communities and those who are vulnerable and need local authority services. Will this piece of work align to those core values? Will it differ? Will it change them or update them?

What are our goals?

Really, your goals are just an expansion of your vision statement. Importantly, your goals should have timescales attached to them. Goals should also tip their hat to how you want to deliver them, including if you are going to work with third parties or partners. Together, goals and objectives should help you to create investment plans, resource plans, and to put together an outline business case. This will then allow you to formalise the offer within your authorities and seek approval from members. For example, Birmingham City Council presented this report and action to cabinet for approval.

Useful reading

Digital inclusion strategy 2021 | Birmingham City Council

Digital Inclusion Strategy for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly 2019/23 | Cornwall Council

Digital customer vision | Digital East Riding (East Riding of Yorkshire Council)

12 steps for digital inclusion | Local Government Information Unit (LGiU)

 




Start local, start small

The divide between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' is rapidly increasing. For example, a House of Commons research paper on poverty in the UK stated that 14.5 million people in 2019/20 had relatively low income after housing costs are deducted. That is, 14.5 million people were living in households with an income below 60 per cent of the median that year. That statement, in turn, was sourced from the Department for Work and Pensions' statistics on households below average income in 2019/20.

Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR) states that coronavirus and the associated pandemic has had a material impact to the 22 per cent of the UK population who are considered as lacking the basic digital skills, for example, basic social contact was drastically reduced by social distancing limitations: "The likelihood of having access to the internet from home increases along with income, such that only 51 per cent of households earning between £6,000 and £10,000 had home internet access – compared with 99 per cent of households with an income of over £40,001".

As an aspect of deprivation in the UK, digital exclusion cannot be overlooked... The link between poverty and digital exclusion is clear: if you are poor, you have less chance of being online.

As such, it is vital to begin working on local digital inclusion initiatives as soon as you possibly can – to increase access to digital resources and to address the poverty divide in our towns and cities.

When suggesting that you begin locally, we mean really locally – in your communities. You’ll have identified, defined and mapped your local data against national trends and digital exclusion indicators, as Leeds City Council did in its project to define and map digital inclusion. This exercise should have highlighted which sections, elements or subsets of your communities are more digitally excluded than others. You will also have been out to those communities and engaged with them. You’ll have spoken to them about the impact digital inclusion could have on their lives. You’ll have identified local delivery partners to partner with. You’ll have spoken to local health and care colleagues to understand whether health inequalities exist in your population. You’ll have referenced Public Health England's local ward data to confirm wider population and demographic factors. You’re ready to focus.

Small-scale piloting

Importantly, focusing doesn’t mean working on some huge, resource-intensive and immensely complex project. You can start working at a low level. For example, some cities have built social enterprises and social enterprise zones that include cafés and community centres to reduce or remove isolation in elderly communities – see Plymouth social enterprise Real Ideas taking over an empty guildhall.

In digital inclusion terms, you could look to place a low number of digital devices, say five, with individuals in a local community who are identified as being both 1) in (or at risk of being in) poverty and 2) digitally excluded. Alongside providing the devices, you could support and mentor the individuals to learn how to use those devices. While this is progressing, you should capture individuals' improvement in using the devices, and any relevant impact, to track the benefits gained by making a small intervention against your investment. Ask yourself:

  • Was it worth it and did it provide impact for the participants?
  • Could you do more to further elicit benefits?
  • Is it worth scaling up the solution?
  • Could you scale out the solution to other areas or communities?

Local partners (internal and external)

Councils can not effect real digital change on their own, but they can play a key role as conveners of the digital inclusion ecosystem in a local place. Where possible, you should be taking an active role in joining up organisations and building partnerships.

In-house partners can include teams working in:

  • housing
  • social care
  • education
  • assistive technology
  • social prescribing
  • revenues and benefits
  • libraries
  • customer services
  • economic growth.

Community partners can include:

  • NHS
  • social prescribers
  • voluntary sector
  • community groups
  • food banks
  • education institutions
  • carers
  • charities
  • clinical commissioning groups.

Specialist partners could include:

To deliver real impact when creating these partnerships, you should be checking:

  • what knowledge and skills each of your partners are bringing to the support offer you are delivering
  • what priorities your partners have for digital inclusion support
  • what capacity your partners have to deliver digital inclusion support.

Step 3. Delivery

Partnering to deliver

The world we live in is increasingly complex and networked; so it follows that complex issues are more likely to be resolved in partnership across those networks than they are by individuals or organisations working in isolation. Tackling digital exclusion is a multi-faceted challenge – and no different to the challenges associated with tackling other, similarly complex, so-called ‘wicked issues’ facing society. Digital exclusion often overlaps with other societal challenges.

In partnership with the LGA and a working group of English councils, Socitm Advisory recently undertook research to find out more about existing inclusion initiatives across local government.

The research indicated that those local authorities delivering strategic digital inclusion initiatives in partnership across public, private and third sectors were more likely to have sustainable approaches to inclusion embedded in their organisations and could more easily provide evidence that they were reaching the people who were most in need.

The findings will come as no surprise to those authorities with strong embedded partnerships already in place. Partnership-working provides collective brain power and different perspectives. It also brings you closer to the communities and individuals you're trying to reach, helping you to better understand and address their need. As well as local delivery partnerships, specialist and commercial partnerships have a role to play too, often providing richer insight than can be achieved independently and offering social value at a scale that may otherwise be unaffordable.

Collaboration across sectors means that partners' individual strengths can be leveraged in the best way possible in the interest of the whole. In doing this, it’s critical that actions are joined up and that all partners are fully committed. The following guide offers an overview of the types of partnerships you may wish to consider in establishing or refreshing your digital inclusion framework.

Digital carers, friends and family

Often overlooked as 'partners', family and friends very often provide the first line of support for people who may be digitally excluded due to a lack of access or confidence. There is anecdotal evidence that older people, and people with disabilities, are more likely to rely on support from trusted family and friends. Learning how to pick the best computer and matching people with the right equipment for them is key to achieving digital inclusion.

Digital champions

Most often, digital champions are a co-ordinated network of volunteers, or paid staff who act as champions as an addition to their day job. Typically, champions offer a range of practical support aligned to local needs. Citizens Online identifies four different types of digital champions:

  1. 'Digital Leaders' act as the catalyst for systemic, strategic change
  2. 'Professional Digital Champions' are often dedicated outreach workers with a specific inclusion remit
  3. 'Embedded Digital Champions' work on increasing inclusion as part of their day job, for example, providing assisted self-service
  4. 'Volunteer Digital Champions' are recruited and trained to support digital inclusion work, but do this voluntarily.

Health Education England's (HEE's) Digital Champions Programme toolkits include useful guidance for creating internal champion programmes.

Local authorities and combined authorities

In many places, local authorities or combined authorities have taken a lead role in co-ordinating inclusion activity across the place, bringing together public, private and third sector partners to identify need and deliver against local priorities.

In March 2018, Stockport Council established a Digital Inclusion Alliance across all sectors to help digitally excluded residents gain the digital skills, confidence and access they need to use the internet. Its DigiKnow initiative was created to shape, support and promote this. DigiKnow has, so far, implemented a network of digital champions, a dedicated helpline, and a device lending library – helping thousands of residents to improve their digital skills. While the council takes the lead in the initiative, DigiKnow is also enabled by the Starting Point Community Learning Partnership and supported by Community Computers, a local recycling charity.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority set up a Digital Inclusion Taskforce with an ambition to make Greater Manchester a 100 per cent digitally-enabled city region. The taskforce is made up of over 180 members from across the industry, VCSC sector, public sector partners, local government, schools and health and has developed a framework which outlines the different types of activity that will contribute to the overall ambition for the digital inclusion agenda.

Leeds City Council established 100% Digital Leeds which is working with partners to make Leeds a digitally inclusive city for everyone. Leeds takes a ‘furthest first’ approach, recognising that people most likely to be digitally excluded often also have other challenges such as disability, learning difficulties, poverty, homelessness, addiction, language barriers, long-term health conditions, social isolation, memory problems or other difficulties.

Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council have played a core role in supporting the development of the Cambridgeshire Digital Partnership. The aim of the partnership is to promote good practice and working relationships between service provider organisations and individuals from the voluntary, community and statutory sectors and to develop funding opportunities.

Library services

Libraries are designed to be inclusive and safe spaces. Part of the core offer for most public libraries is to provide free use of public access computers.

Libraries Connected has committed to a universal digital offer which aims to ensure that all public libraries offer a basic level of digital service to the public, including free Wi-Fi and access to computers. Libraries are often the first point for assisted self-service within local authorities.

Housing associations

Given the correlation between income and exclusion, housing associations have a key role to play and have clear business reasons for supporting digital inclusion, not least because it helps to protect their own income. Many housing associations have both digital support teams and services – and / or money advice services – that include an online support function to help tenants with benefits claims, online access and more.

Voluntary organisations

Voluntary organisations such as Age UK, Citizens Advice and others are important partners in tackling digital exclusion. They often work ‘at the coal face’ of exclusion, helping those most in need to access services for a variety of purposes. As a result, they often provide pragmatic help aligned to other service provision.

Online Centres Network

Co-ordinated by the Good Things Foundation, the Online Centres Network is made up of more than 5,000 local organisations working to tackle digital exclusion by providing people with the skills and confidence they need to use digital technologies. Online centres can be in libraries and other community venues and often run outreach sessions in care homes and other community venues.

Educational establishments

Access to education now relies on digital inclusion – be that for the completion of homework, independent study, or during the pandemic, for at home learning. Most schools and further and higher education establishments consider digital inclusion as a key factor in improving social mobility and many are partners within wider regional networks.

Commercial organisations

Many national organisations recognise the value of digital inclusion – both to their own bottom line and in relation to the reputation-enhancing value of corporate social responsibility initiatives. Some examples are set out below:

Specialist digital inclusion partners

A number of specialist organisations focus exclusively on tackling digital exclusion and support councils to devise inclusion strategies, including:

Step 4. Evaluation

What will improving digital inclusion do for your organisation?

In a world that is increasingly reliant on technology – having digital literacy, access and connectivity is more important than ever. The 'digital divide' – which separates those who don't have access to digital technologies or the ability to use them from those who do – has real implications not just for individuals, but for communities and the public purse too.

There is an increasing reliance on digital participation in nearly every aspect of our lives – from securing and holding down a job, to accessing education and services. Without widespread digital inclusion our economic success as a country and our personal health, wellbeing and attainment are all at risk of compromise and existing societal inequalities risk being compounded.

When analysing the digital divide there is usually a close correlation between digital exclusion and poverty. ‘Digitally literate’ people will end up having more and remaining better off financially and socially; where ‘digitally impoverished’ people will be at an even greater disadvantage.

People who have characteristics that are protected under the Equality Act 2010 (age and disability in particular) are also more likely to be excluded. So, not only is there a strong economic and societal rationale for investing in inclusion – there's a moral compulsion too.

The United Nations has identified internet connectivity as a basic human right and yet, even in developed countries like the UK, there remains a persistent gap between people who can easily access the internet and have the skills to use it – and those that don’t or can’t.

When considering the business case for inclusion at a local level, it is critical to look at potential benefits in a holistic way and in the medium to long term. Although digitally included people are more likely to use online services, channel shift is only one of the benefits of inclusion and is rarely its core, or most impactful outcome.

Benefits to individuals, councils and places often overlap. When tracking impact and evaluating your digital inclusion initiatives it is worth to plan what you are measuring beyond the short term and can include tracking individual and group progress on.

The following list provides examples of the types of areas in which you can evaluate impact:

Health

  • Reduced loneliness and isolation are factors known to have an impact on health and wellbeing outcomes.
  • Improved and quicker access to services – for example, online consultations, self-service or online assistance.
  • Improved ability to self-care for minor ailments and self-manage long-term conditions – due to better access to information.

Productivity

  • Time can be saved by accessing services digitally compared to having to visit a face-to-face office. In its report (for Good Things Foundation) on the economic impact of digital inclusion in the UK, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) estimated that the value of time that could be saved in the UK by 2028 was £1.1 billion.
  • Individuals are able to automate or complete daily tasks more efficiently leading to greater productivity and efficiency at work – see the consequent impact on gross domestic profit (GDP).

Financial and demand management

  • Estimated savings of £560 per year from shopping and paying bills online, according to figures published on the National Housing Federation website (March 2015) or discounts achieved between 2018 and 2028 of £1.1 billion, according to the CEBR report.
  • Lower cost of delivering services digitally for public service providers through channel shift transformation.
  • Ability to access Universal Credit – a process that is online only.
  • Demand reduction across the public sector, including councils, primary care and urgent care – through provision and take up of digital services with screening capabilities and lower people costs.
  • Potential for increased earnings for individuals as a result of digital skills uplift.
  • Savings to the NHS because of people being able to use the NHS Choices website for e-prescriptions and online booking, leading to a reduction in the number of avoidable GP visits and face to face services.  

Employment and economic growth

  • Ability to apply online for jobs – often the only way some jobs are advertised.
  • Ability to secure and maintain employment. It is estimated that between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of jobs require at least some computer use.
  • Improved longer term job opportunities and personal growth.
  • Movement of unemployed people or economically inactive people into active employment, increasing productivity and growth, reducing benefit payments.
  • Reduction in digital skills shortages vacancies. A report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee estimates that the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in the lost potential for additional GDP.
  • Increased economic growth including greater income tax receipts. The CEBR report estimated that between 2018 and 2028, the total earnings benefit to the economy as a result of digital inclusion will equate to £571 million.

Social

  • Improved social inclusion – the ability for people to keep in contact with friends and family via email, online chat and social media and to pursue their hobbies and interests can help to reduce social isolation and create learning opportunities too.

Taken in the round, the strategic case for investing in inclusion is strong – but it should be recognised that the investment made in inclusion may not necessarily be fully realised by the organisation making it, instead having wider benefits at an individual, societal, regional, and national level.

In addition to the above suggested monitoring metrics, the following tools can be used for quantitative evaluation:

Beyond the resources and tools highlighted above, councils can use the LGA and Socitm Advisory's Digital Learner Checklist (adapted from the Shropshire Council model) to standardise the data they collect and to monitor progress over an extended period. The checklist is a dynamic Excel spreadsheet which works to produce an outcome based on the skills, confidence and motivation indicated by the participant – enabling a council to adapt and tailor digital inclusion support in a bespoke way for each individual.

Download our Digital Learner Checklist

The resources listed on this page illustrate that, while councils play their part in addressing the digital divide, the systemic and co-ordinated investment in inclusion at a national level that is then facilitated and enabled locally, rather than tactical one-off short-term investment, is the necessary next step to build a structured path to narrowing the digital divide in the UK.

References