Bridging the digital divide together: weeknotes 19/05/20

Across Hackney there’s a wide range of work taking place to increase digital inclusion. This includes work to improve connectivity and infrastructure with telecoms partners; the work schools are doing to support online learning; the roll out of the Department for Education’s laptop scheme; and the work of our exceptional voluntary and community sector and other partners in their ambitions for digital inclusion.

Our project is focusing on the work that the Council can do to support people in developing their digital skills, as part of this borough-wide effort. We are collaborating with residents, local organisations and teams across the Council to learn from their experience and understand their needs.

30s read

  • The digital divide is an enormous issue facing thousands of people. 
  • The key to cracking it is understanding what will motivate people sufficiently that they seek to overcome barriers and get online. 
  • We want to work with organisations and residents to understand these factors and design an approach that will work for as many as we can. 
  • In order to make an impact rapidly, we want to focus on a pilot group of older users in receipt of a food delivery so we can learn, iterate and roll out to others as fast as possible. 
  • This is part of a wider programme addressing other barriers such as connectivity, affordability, etc. 

3min read

Welcome to the first weeknote of this project; a project that has been paddling in the shallows for as long as the Internet has been around. We know from our Neighbourhood Conversations with residents that the digital divide is a pressing concern. Some of us have been swept along with the digital current, others have ducked under the wave. Coronavirus will likely make surfers of us all. 

We’ve put a core team together at the Council to focus on this (Andrew Munk from Employment and Skills, Claire Witney from Policy, Megan Dibb-Fuller from IT Enabler Group and Susan McFarland-Lyons from ICT). However, it needs to be a collaborative effort between the Council, HCVS, voluntary and community organisations, volunteers, businesses and residents. A joined-up approach will be a big part of this programme. Miranda Eeles in Public Health will be helping to forge the link with the wider health and social care system. 

There’s a wealth of technical know-how in Hackney and, if any borough can bridge the digital divide, it’s ours. Maybe it’s an overdose of dystopian fiction but, if this were the Hunger Games, we’d be District 14: Digital. Let’s run with that. 

Framing the problem

Ahead of wider engagement, last week we needed to get our own heads into the ‘problem space’, using an online tool called IdeaFlip (think PostIts that don’t fall off walls):

  1. What is the problem we’re looking at? Some people aren’t on the Internet. 
  2. How does this problem affect them? They can’t do certain tasks that are essential for day to day living and survival. They’re isolated. They rely on someone else and their timetable. Basically, they’re not in control. 
  3. What are the effects of the problem on others? Friends and family get frustrated with having to help all the time. Council (and other orgs) resources are diverted to tasks people could have sorted out themselves.
  4. Who is most likely to be affected by this problem? Older residents, people with disabilities (eg poor eyesight, arthritis), those without devices or data, those who don’t trust the Internet or can’t access it… many different types of people. 
  5. What reasons do people give for having this problem? Don’t have the skills, don’t have a decent device, can’t afford data, can do what’s needed in person, don’t have time to learn something new, don’t want to. 
  6. What can someone do, be or have that doesn’t have this problem? Connect with others online, shop online, bank online, work or find a job, claim benefits, find housing, learn something new, listen to music, read news or get information, book a Covid-19 test. 

This week, we’re hoping to get a call in with some key operators in this space so that we can discuss together and kick off that collaboration.

Motivating factors

We thought that “I don’t have a device”, “I don’t have the skills” and “I don’t want to” warranted further discussion. Ultimately, this project seeks to overcome different people’s barriers but, without sufficient motivation, we’re not going to be able to do that. We need to understand better what these motivations are. There is little to be gained in giving phones and training if we haven’t yet won hearts and minds and understood the motivation that will drive them online. 

An interesting aspect of the current Covid situation is its impact on motivation. Nobody ever woke up and said ‘I need to learn to install Zoom’. They woke up and thought ‘I need to speak to my grandchildren’. That was the motivation they needed to seek help to install Zoom. And, lo and behold, now they’re online. With sufficient motivation, people achieve extraordinary things. Look at Captain Tom Moore. 

That’s our key. What are the things that people want to do so much that they will overcome almost any barriers to do them? We need to work with other organisations who know what these things are. Then we can focus on the skills to help people achieve their desires.

This project also forms part of a wider initiative to address other barriers such as connectivity, devices and affordability where these are additionally blocking access.

Start small and learn fast

Whatever we come up with, it needs to be scalable and sustainable. We know from the 2018 residents survey that most Hackney residents are confident using the Internet. But around 1 in 10 say that there are things that they want to do online, such as shopping, which they are not able to do for lack of knowledge or access. Extrapolating, that still could be 27,000 people in Hackney. We framed our problem as ‘some people are not online’. When ‘some’ might be 27,000, you start to see why we need a joint effort, and a new approach. No amount of face-to-face training is going to get round that many people any time soon. 

At the moment, we can’t even speak to 27,000 offline residents let alone instigate a digital conversion. Think of the trees we’d have to fell to produce that many leaflets. So we’re going to start with a smaller group – try a few things, learn from others and iterate until we’re confident we’ve achieved what we set out to and can roll out further. 

The cohort we’re suggesting to help first is older people on the food delivery list. This group:

  • is especially isolated (many aren’t leaving the house at all)
  • is likely to be in lockdown longer than others (they’re shielding)
  • struggles with the Internet more than others (they didn’t grow up with it)
  • is less likely to have a device (we can get them one if we have to) 
  • is contactable through offline channels (via the food deliveries)

Interviews with residents in receipt of Hackney food deliveries have found that many residents are willing to pay for their food, they want to be able to choose what they eat and they want to select convenient delivery times. These can all be done online but they don’t have the digital skills to orchestrate an online shop. Over half of Hackney’s over 65s do not have access to the Internet. If we can teach them how, that could be the motivating factor that gets them online. 

Navigating together

A quick trawl of Google reveals a mountain of research on the digital divide. We really don’t need to add to that mountain. Rather, we need someone to navigate that mountain with us. In the next few days, we’d like to connect with organisations that understand this cohort or that are tackling the digital divide. What things do people most want to do online? What are their barriers? What’s the best way to teach skills? Have they adapted their model in lockdown? How do we even start a conversation with people who aren’t online? This will be building on work that Policy has already done in this area.

It all sounds so simple at this point. No doubt the Gamemakers will be hurling obstacles in our way at every opportunity. But, if we all stand on each other’s shoulders, hopefully we can ride that wave together. 

Weeknotes will be published here on the HackIT blog each week (don’t ask which day, nobody can remember what day it is) or ask Meg to put you on the mailing list.

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