Bridging the digital skills divide weeknote 07/07/20

30 second read

  • Our suite of how-to videos continues to grow, in direct proportion to our inability to listen back to our own voiceovers without cringing. 
  • We’ve made some adjustments to cater for ESOL residents, including how to translate a webpage into Latin. OK, not just Latin. 
  • We’re devising a digital confidence index to measure how savvy people are online. No, we don’t really get Houseparty either.
  • We welcome Lynn to help us out with the Digital buddies strand, and aim to make progress before School’s Out for Summer. 

3 minute read

Our digital skills strand is gaining momentum with a big push on both content and publicity. We’ve created a new ‘Getting online’ section on the website menu that pulls together three related pages. First is our Digital skills page for residents wanting to improve their online confidence; then the Creating a digital presence page that’s for organisations beefing up their e-marketing (part of the Find support services project); and finally Free internet and computer access to see where you can book a computer for free. The latter is less relevant with Council buildings still in lockdown but the principle remains!

It would also be great to get wi-fi hotspots on this as we know data costs (perceived or otherwise) are a concern for some.

Talk talk

As more and more learn about this project, Council staff and external organisations regularly get in touch to learn about what we’re up to, or to offer advice. Writing weeknotes is a departure for some areas of the Council but we’re certainly reaping the benefits of transparency if we’re getting the project on people’s radar.

We’re now designing bespoke marketing messages for our target audiences: that’s residents via the Hackney website homepage, Hackney CVS’ Lunch Clubs and Immediate Theatre’s new radio show; community navigators (e.g. social prescribers) via their newsletter and team meeting; and patients through the CCG & GP Confederation. We’re not going to stop there.

Parlez parlez

We had some great feedback on the Digital skills page from an English as a Second Language (ESOL) perspective. We know this is an issue for some in the borough, no less because we had reps from Hackney’s Chinese and Turkish communities at our workshop a couple of weeks ago. As a result, we’ve revisited some of our videos, delivering the voiceover more slowly and modifying the scripts into plainer English. These edits will reach beyond an ESOL audience.

We also:

  • Added a Get started video that includes how to pause and replay
  • Recorded a new video on how to translate a website 
  • Continue to include transcripts that can be used in conjunction with the visuals

We’ve already made lots of new friends on this project, including Newham New Deal Partnership. We’re pleased to include a link to their digital helpline on our Digital skills page too.

Marks out of 10

Winston strayed into our orbit this week via our shared work on Find support services. He’ll be coordinating user research on the effectiveness of our Digital skills content with older residents. As part of this, he’s also coming up with a digital skills index so we can gauge individuals’ improvement over time.

GDS developed a similar scale a while ago but it’s overcomplicated and needs updating. There seems to be an aversion to the use of brand names in Government that we need to get over. Nobody says ‘I’ll group chat you’; they say ‘I’ll WhatsApp you’. We have to speak plain English if we are to be understood. Instagram, Facebook, TikTok. Mailchimp. Houseparty. Spotify. LinkedIn. Slack. There, we said it. And not a four letter word among them. 

Winston, the gravitational pull is too strong. You’ll never leave us now!

On your marks

We also welcome Lynn to this project via the Redeployment scheme. Of all schemes, this is a favourite. She’d normally be on the final straight of the [sadly cancelled] London Youth Games as a member of the Sports Development team. However, its loss is our gain. Lynn’s going to be helping us out on the digital buddies strand, which will see Y11 students paired with older residents to help them get online. With her schools contacts, Lynn is straight off the blocks in helping us to secure a secondary school to pilot with. Next step is to start discussing how (and how quickly) we can get this off the ground before the bell rings.

That’s us for now. Remember to check out previous weeknotes and, with any luck, the email address we’ve just requested will be working by the time of writing so you can drop us a note to

Adios, amigos.

Bridging the digital skills divide weeknote 23/06/20

This week’s note comes from team member Meg Dibb-Fuller.

TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) snapshot

  • 11 voluntary and community sector organisations joined our workshop last week (facilitated in partnership with Connect Hackney)
  • Actionable outcomes from the workshop has added two new pilots being explored (see Digital buddy programme and Digital helpline below) – making it three in total under this strand
  • The Digital skills webpage now holds even more ‘how-to’ content than it did last week

3 min read

Feedback and conversations with our partners remains our number one priority to understanding how we scale or pivot this digital skills strand.

Our key highlight over the past week… 11 voluntary and community sector organisations joined our workshop last week (facilitated in partnership with Connect Hackney). They shared how they’ve attempted to bridge the digital divide already (in particular in response to COVID-19).

What did we learn?

Digital skills are needed at all levels: at the basic level, to help people connect and benefit from Internet services and applications; at the intermediate level, to help students and job seekers get the necessary skills required by the digital economy.

How can we use these learnings to actually do something about it?

Access to the Internet (connectivity and devices) remains a key barrier. Hypothetically, if we gave everyone in need devices for free (we won’t), with unlimited data (we also won’t), will they actually use it for what we want them to? We don’t think so. Not from our learnings so far. Which is why we also need to provide accessible, free digital skills training in varying formats.

How are we doing this?

  1. The Digital skills webpage (pilot numero uno) now houses helpful how-to videos for residents (including: search the Internet, create an email account, download an app, do an online food shop) and signposting to other helpful resources.

We’re hoping to test this out with a small group of older residents (thank you Lucy M, Richard S and Eeva H) to see if they are a) useful, b) understandable and c) scalable.

Feedback captured from the Hotjar survey on the page itself as well as through our connections with local organisations will feed into future editions of the how-to content and help us understand what other content/ support is needed. We’re in the process of talking to mutual aid groups, VCSOs and others across the Borough to help create the material.

The page doesn’t sit in isolation. It is linked via other Coronavirus pages on the Hackney website and we’re looking at creating a ‘Getting online’ subsection on the site that will pull together related, existing content in one place (e.g. the digital presence guide created as part of the Find support service project for organisations to expand or improve their online presence). We’re also being promoted on the Intranet and staff headlines to maximise awareness to staff, and their friends and family. We’ll be tapping into system partner organisations (hello, NHS and HCVS) comms teams to help promote it in coming weeks.

  1. Digital buddy programmes (pilot numero dos) have been set up by workshop attendees, Citizens Online and the Salford Foundation, connecting those that aren’t digitally literate with volunteers (school kids to adults) who want to help.

We are getting guidance from Annie Gammon as to how we could explore this option with secondary school kids locally.

  1. Digital helpline (pilot numero tres) feedback from the workshop was that some people need that 1:1 peer support to get started. I mean, learning something new is pretty overwhelming!

We acknowledge this has the potential to be extremely admin heavy, but how can we make this part of the Digital skills user journey?

We’ve started working out the logistics of a helpline to support those that have tried to use the online guides, and this work continues. This is potentially with infrastructure provided by LBH and staffed by volunteers from outside LBH or redeployed staff. It’s not the sort of thing you can set up overnight but we’re working on it.

What next?

While we’ve got the Digital skills page off the ground, the other strands we’re exploring will need wider buy-in before we dive in. We’ll be presenting these in proposal format for review by the team overseeing the Digital Divide programme.

And finally… don’t be a stranger!

Feedback/ suggestions/ comments welcome, please do get in touch!

Read our previous weeknotes on the HackIT blog.

Bridging the digital skills divide weeknote 15/06/20

Doesn’t time fly when you’re reading weeknotes? Yep, here’s another one. 

30s read

  • New Digital skills page to expand and bridge the divide
  • People tell us they want Zoom lessons
  • Learning from others: what’s worth reusing, borrowing or buying

3min read

This week, we’ve added a Digital skills page to the Hackney website where we will house helpful how-to content for residents. We’ve learned from our research that shopping and emailing are key skills people need if they are to function effectively online. So we’ve been busy creating a couple of videos for residents around how to do an online Iceland shop and how to create a Gmail account. Hopefully they will be fit for public consumption tomorrow. 

Resident feedback is key to understanding how we scale or pivot this first digital skills pilot. We’ll be finding out what a small subset (about 10 people) of our target audience thinks of this content. This is vital as it’s actually incredibly difficult to forget what you know. And, even if you can, your phone won’t. It automatically loads passwords from face ID, it opens emails in the app because it knows the app’s already installed, it pre-populates all personal details on a form. To start back from scratch again really takes some doing. 

Pointing in the right direction

The new page includes signposts to other resources, which will grow as we go. At first glance, there are a lot of organisations providing digital guidance on the Web. However, a hard stare reveals some cracks. Some of the information isn’t detailed enough and assumes more prior knowledge on behalf of the user than we’ve come to know can be expected. Media content uses screenshots or videos of sites that have since been updated and, if the resident doesn’t recognise what they see, this will lead to confusion. And, many of the user journeys have been recreated on a desktop when the reality is, if you’d forked out for a laptop, you’d presumably know how to use it. We’ve generated new content, which takes everything back to basics and is created on devices people have. 

There’s a Hotjar survey on the page that asks users what they would like to learn. We’ve phrased this as both brand names and tasks because, in the same way ‘Google’ has replaced ‘search’ so ‘Zoom’ has come to replace ‘have an online meeting’. Whatever way people think, we’ve got the question covered. And, true to form, our first response to the survey is ‘I want to learn Zoom’. 

The good, the bad and the utterly brilliant

We’re speaking to a few local organisations this week about their experiences in attempting to bridge the digital divide. What worked / what didn’t / what they’d do differently; plus some blue sky thinking to come up with novel ideas. Thanks to Onye at Connect Hackney for helping us out with organising this. Our trusted friend IdeaFlip will be managing the feedback.

A cold call to the Salford Foundation is also paying dividends. They’ve launched a digital buddies scheme and we’re getting a date in the diary to talk through how they pulled it off. One thing that’s really shone through during this unusual time is just how helpful and open many people in the public sector are. They’re willing to share their successes and their failures so others can learn from their mistakes. 

As soon as we have some initial, helpful learnings from all of the work above, you’ll be the first to hear about it.

Bridging the digital divide weeknote: 08/06/20

30s read

We’re putting some ‘how-to’ content on the Hackney website to get the ball rolling and start engaging with residents on the other side of the digital divide. The effectiveness of this approach will be tracked. We’re also continuing to explore the longer term (weeks not months) options on the roadmap, including the possibility of a volunteer-run helpline. 

3min read

This week we wanted to concentrate on getting something out of the door. Less chat, more action. That ‘something’ is going to be some short, snappy content and videos of vital tasks that residents want to do online but can’t manage or haven’t tried. 

The key message that underpins all of this work is:

If you can’t do it then it’s the design that’s broken, not you.

If you had a leaky teapot, you wouldn’t think ‘I must be pouring it badly’. You’d think ‘useless teapot’. It’s the same with anything online. If you can’t work out how to use it, the designers need to improve the design. Luckily, we’re no longer in the 1990s and software generally does function pretty well. If it didn’t, nobody would use it or buy it and tech giants would be more like tech dwarves. 

Getting something out the door

We need to start somewhere so we’re starting with ‘getting an email account’ and ‘how to shop online’. We’ll be creating a page on the Hackney website and adding links to content elsewhere, as well as creating a couple of videos ourselves. This taps into our Reuse-Borrow-Build (in that order) mantra. 

We know this approach isn’t a magic bullet. To ascertain if it works at all, we want to test with the food delivery cohort. After speaking to Liz Harrison and Bruce Devile, who are helping to coordinate the food programme, we know we can target a subset of households that want to do their own grocery shopping (and can afford to) but don’t know how. We can reach them by text (they’ve implemented Gov.Notify); and also, after speaking to Helen Clarke in External Communications, we can publicise the Web content by adding a flyer to the food boxes. 

Knocking on the door

Going forward, we have a proto-plan to encourage volunteers or voluntary partners to produce digital skills content for residents. Hopefully we can persuade some of the borough’s talent in the creative industries to take up this mantle, through our partnership with Volunteer Centre Hackney. If, when they return to work, we can continue the relationship with them either directly or through their companies, it’s all to the good of Hackney’s residents. 

The Web content allows us to deliver something early, test, analyse and iterate. However, we’re continuing to explore our longer term options. We know that 1:1 coaching is effective and are sussing out the practicalities of the helpline idea discussed previously with Connect Hackney. Hackney Council already uses the telephony software Puzzl in its contact centres. Our customer services agents are all now working from home and Puzzl is routing calls to their own phones. Speaking with the applications support team, it’s looking like re-using Puzzl for a digital skills helpline would not be beyond the bounds of possibility. Again, we’d like to pursue the volunteer angle to staff the helpline; at least to get us over the hump of lockdown for isolated residents. 

Walking through the door

As we all start leaving the house, we might want to offer face-to-face coaching. We know that those most at risk continue to be reluctant to venture outside and any face-to-face needs to be as geographically close to their homes as possible. We’ve identified some Council spaces that could be utilised and will keep those in mind as this strand progresses.

We want to make sure we partner with talented VCOs operating across this area. We’ve already spoken with some relevant organisations and, over the next week or so, hope to expand our reach further. 

We’ve shared our roadmap with the other strands of the Digital Divide programme in the fortnightly stand-up and got some helpful feedback. We will continue to provide an update through that, these weeknotes and member briefings. As ever, any questions, just ask!

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.