The announcement this week of a £2 million investment by Big Lottery Fund to create hundreds of digital champions is an achievement for the organisations involved, and for BIG staff. It's been a long road, as Programme Director Emma Weston confirms below.
I believe the formation of the consortium to deliver the programme could be as significant as the training and support it offers ... if promises of continuing collaboration are fullfilled. Here's the story, with some additions teased out by sharing a draft of this post.
The aim is to help more than 9,500 people develop basic digital skills by recruiting more than 1,400 digital champions within disability, youth and support organisations who will engage with people who are not online and provide them with personal long-term support.
The idea of digital champions has been around for some time, but I particularly remember Emma Weston, chief executive of Digital Unite, producing a lengthy document for the Age Action Alliance Digital Inclusion Group back in 2012 that pulled everything together and provided a development plan.
Digital Unite went on to create a Digital Champions Network, with a core group of housing associations among its 20 members. DU will now lead the One Digital Consortium of Age UK, Citizens Online and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, with Emma as Programme Director. DU's partners Affinity Sutton and Abilitynet are also involved. The DU blog says:
One Digital will also facilitate extensive partnership collaboration on all aspects of digital inclusion so that significant learnings can be shared and best practice models can be delivered for the benefit of all Digital Champions and end-learners.
All of the programme’s Digital Champions will be trained and supported via Digital Unite’s existing Digital Champions Network (http://www.digitalchampionsnetwork.com/) which is currently used by over 900 Digital Champions across the UK. The Digital Champions will have access to the Network’s existing assets and new learning content will also be specifically developed for each Partner organisation that all members of the One Digital programme can utilise.
The platform will also use its established metrics and develop new ones to measure each partner’s specific outcomes and data aspirations, and those of One Digital as a whole, reflecting the impact and benefits for both Digital Champions and learners.
The latest £2 million investment follows an award to Tinder Foundation of £329,958 to support three groups – homeless people, families in poverty and people with mental health problems, and £5.8 million to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to engage with a million people and raise their awareness of the range of equipment and programmes that can help to make technology accessible to people with sight or hearing loss.
The digital inclusion and ageing fields are inevitably pretty competitive, and organisations are frequently pitching against each other. I'm sure there must have been a lot of time and effort involved in bringing everyone together to create the consortium, and get behind the vision.
The press release and blog posts have all been rather formal, but I hope we'll now hear more from champions and learners about their experiences. That's what will really convince people of the value of the online world, and support from champions. BIG have made a start on their blog, with the story of digital champions Brian and Linda Dove in Burgess Hill. Brian says:
One lady aged 92 had taken on a voluntary project to print some greeting cards. This involved printing hundreds of identical copies and she achieved this by pressing the print button hundreds of times not realising you could change the print quantity setting.
On a regular basis we help people understand how to use all aspects of the internet including shopping online, sending emails, taking and attaching photos, setting up contact lists, Skype/FaceTime, iPlayer and general computer tasks.
We have found that those who are not computer literate tend to take advice from others who are not always knowledgeable. Often a grandparent will seek help from a grandchild, which is fine, but every so often the grandchild will not explain clearly what they have done. This especially applies to their passwords and accounts. We had one gentleman in his mid-seventies who was advised by a friend to restore his computer factory settings but had not done a backup so lost everything.
More and more organisations expect everyone to have a computer and know how to use it. Unfortunately this is not the case and it is causing quite a lot of stress and problems among the older generation."
More please ... maybe with a sideways look at the value of Social Media Surgeries, that provide similar opportunities with less funding.
Hmm ... what might be achieved by helping that informal movement, and other small-scale initiative to scale up? My original headline was "Digital Champions Consortium boosted by @BigLotteryFund - but don't forget the small stuff".
Update 1: I shared a draft of this post with some friends in the field, and the key point they made was that support is also needed for front-line workers, and for small organisations. That confirms my insights from the exploration into Living in the Digital World - that we need action on three levels: personal, organisational and policy. If we are concerned about how digital tech can support personal wellbeing, that's partly about our individual capacity, but also about the groups and services we interact with. Digital capability there is often lacking.
A recent report published by Big Lottery Fund recommended - as I reported here - that:
The Big Lottery Fund should take advantage, wherever possible, to integrate technology into projects that support older people, as use of the internet and mobile communication devices can help to alleviate loneliness and reduce the impact of depression and lower subjective wellbeing – as well as helping connect individuals with essential services.
So - another opportunity for some joining up.
I also sent the draft to Emma, inviting her to add a comment in non-PR-speak (because she isn't that sort of person), and she responded with this more human version. If the consortium can really establish "a framework and a way of working and sharing and collaborating that organisations big and small, national and local, charitable, voluntary, public and private can join down the line", then this will be a new chapter for digital inclusion and community technology.
Making One Digital a reality is something we can all celebrate in DI land I think. You reference that 2012 paper about the digital champion model David, yes only three years later then! I have spent nearly 20 years in the DI environment and proper collaboration, by which I mean when different organisations really put aside their personalities and penchants and work together on something without ego but for impact, is something we don’t see often. If we are honest. That’s as much to do with how funding works as anything, but that’s a whole big discussion we can come back to.
So, for me, that One Digital even exists and is operational is a small triumph. Although the news made the public domain this week, we have actually spent the last six months or so pulling this partnership together, working out the ground rules, articulating the shared goals, how we will deliver them and measure them, the language we will use the behaviours we aspire to see, and so on. It has been a mind boggling process as times, because we are all so very different in size, constitution, our processes and our procedures occupy a broad spectrum. It has also been so invigorating and really quite celebratory in style, even though there were times when we all wondered if it would see the light of day and we had to draw deep from the well of stamina. We achieved something significant by committing to the process in a very open way and we have remained very buoyant about that even during the long nights of the never ending redrafting of documentation. You will know how that feels.
While the core - founding I suppose - members of One Digital are we six, our vision is that our model establishes a framework and a way of working and sharing and collaborating that organisations big and small, national and local, charitable, voluntary, public and private can join down the line. Our common focus is the capacity building of people to support other people where the end result is not just the accrual of better digital skills for individuals, but a myriad of benefits associated with the act of skilling and supporting someone else too; that capital of exchange, and across its social, emotional and economic guises. The landscape is teeming with people doing things that play into or contribute to this already, and as you point out David the ‘good connecting’ between and amongst them is I think an everyday imperative. We will be working very very hard to make One Digital a ‘good vessel’ or conduit, conductor, exchange, recycler of this expertise, energy and capacity.
For the moment, at the end of week 2 (our official launch date was 1st September) it’s good to be official, to have had our first ‘in action’ rather than ‘in proposal building mode’ meeting, which was on Tuesday in London. We will keep progress updates coming including real, tangible linkages with others outside the current core One Digital membership. Looking forward to working with you and yours down the line. And thank you for your support and interest as ever – next round of tea and cake on me.
Update 3 and reflection. Recently I've been in discussion with BIG, together with Drew Mackie, Paul Webster and Miles Maier, about the Maps, Apps and Storytelling model we developed from our exploration into Living Well in the Digital Age, supported by Age Action Alliance.
Our aim is to develop a set of practical processes that will put digital technology at the heart of community-based initiatives to support living well, at whatever age. We will do that by developing a model and open source package of methods that builds on investment in digital inclusion and skills training programmes.
These inclusion programmes are creating widespread capacity to access and use the Internet. What's now needed is further action on three fronts: firstly ways to tailor personal digital offerings to meet individual needs - because everyone's situation and requirements are different; secondly ways to build the capacity of organisations in the community that can provide new opportunities to digitally-capable older people; thirdly ensure the personal and organisational capacity-building is designed to make the best of local whole-system approaches to wellbeing driven by digital by default policies.
BIG staff on the Accelerating Ideas programme have been really helpful in shaping our proposal ... and recently pointed us to the One Digital Consortium because that potentially provides first stage development of personal capacity that's needed for the wider community vision. I hope Emma and others will be interested in extending their collaborative framework to us and others. Maybe BIG will convene a get-together to take this forward, and the objective of integrating technology into projects that support older people, mentioned above.
This post has turned into a bit of a ramble, but I'm pleased that sharing a draft produced a better story, and wanted to show how that emerged. Tidier versions of what might be possible will follow.