Connecting the Unconnected – exciting times for digital inclusion

The good news for digital inclusion is that we actually know quite a lot about it. And
every little bit – like the Connected Nation report – helps us hone our understanding and
respond accordingly.

We know, for instance, how many people in the UK don’t have basic online skills – some
9.5 million. We also know why it matters. Because those who are missing out on digital
are missing out on various savings, conveniences, connections and opportunities it offers.

• Nearly 75% of employers wouldn’t interview someone with no ICT skills
• Those with ICT skills earn between 3-10% more than those without
• People who are using online sites and services are on average £440 better off
• Their kids do better at school
• They are more connected to friends, family, and key public and private services

The challenge here is that the majority of the unconnected don’t actually feel excluded,
but by encouraging them to get online, we are encouraging them to broaden their
horizons and open up new opportunities they may not have considered.
And it’s not just personal advantages. Projections show that moving services online could
save the Government as much as £70 billion by 2020, and could be worth some £63
billion to the economy. Digital inclusion, in short, adds up for everyone. As an
organisation, if you want to improve efficiency, drive up quality of service, and save
money, you need to be online. And you need staff and citizens to be online too.

The even better news for those of us working on the digital inclusion front is that we
know WHY people are offline, and what works to help them. The three key barriers to
digital inclusion are:

• motivation: understanding the relevance of the Internet to your life
• skills: knowing how to use the Internet so that you are independent and confident
• access: having access to the Internet at home or somewhere else affordable and local so you can use the web, become familiar with it and make it personal.

In terms of motivation, we know that what really works in local marketing, and a call to
action from a local, trusted brand or intermediary is very effective. That’s why campaigns
like Tinder Foundation’s Be Online and Get Online Week rely on national buzz supported
by local events and advertising. It’s key to inspire people by making the web relevant to
them, and by taking that message out to the places they live, work and play.
When it comes to skills development, again, we know what works: local delivery,
one-to-one support from volunteers and tutors, and flexible learning (often online)
which can be bite-sized, repeated, and personally relevant. That’s why the 5,000 strong
UK online centres are based in the heart of their communities, with most offering
outreach sessions, working with local partners, and using the Learn My Way learning
website as the foundation for their delivery.

The third and final barrier (and the toughest nut to crack) is access, and how to sustain
skills, embed use of the Internet and extend its benefits by connecting people at home.
It is here that private partners in digital inclusion have a key role to play.
At Tinder Foundation, we are ambitious. There may always need to be some assisted
digital options for some consumers, local skills support and development as technology
changes, but we still believe in a 100% digitally included nation. And last year we even
costed out how much that would cost to achieve for 2020 – some £875 million. We also
believe that cost (and the subsequent benefits) must be split between the public, private
and community sectors.

Backing up the Connected Nation report, Ofcom’s latest research shows that in just one
year the change in the number of people who say cost is a major reason they don’t use
the web jumped from 22% to 32%. Times are tough, and the Internet is not as important
as, say, food or heat. But gradually, with support from partners like Vodafone and TalkTalk, we’re investigating what does work for people – from mobile broadband to pay-as-you-go, fixed term to fixed payments – and how we can make it attractive, worth trying, and worth paying for.

I know commercial companies are hoping to win new customers who will stay with them
over the years. And actually, that’s fine. I don’t expect corporate partners to become
involved in digital inclusion purely out of the goodness of their hearts, or their CSR
policies. That’s simply not going to be sustainable for anyone.
But if corporates can help just a small proportion of the 3 million people who say cost is
still keeping them off the Internet at home, then together, we’ll be doing a good job. It
may not reach the very, very hardest to reach, the most excluded, and those people that
just can’t afford broadband at any cost. But that’s our challenge in the public, voluntary
and community sector.

Imagine, though, if bespoke offers (and affiliated support) for the digitally excluded could
provide for just a third of the 3 million – then that’s 1 million more people with the
motivation, skills and also access to be part of the digital world. Imagine, if in doing so,
profits could enable more investment in those very hardest to reach? In the engagement
campaigns, in funding for the local places and people supporting digital skills in
hyper-local communities?

That’s the beginning of the truly digital nation. And that’s exciting for all of us.

*Statistics from our contributors are not individually referenced.