The cost of digital inclusion £875 million?

Some very welcome coverage of Digital Inclusion issues in the mainstream media today, including on BBC TV Breakfast programme and on BBC Radio 4’s Today. This is stimulated by the publication of a report by The Policy Exchange which estimates that it would cost £875 million to ensure everyone in the UK has the digital skills necessary to thrive online in the modern world.

Now, while I welcome this much-needed focus on a vital issue, which exercises me greatly, the way the debate is framed gives me concerns.

Firstly, there is that figure, £875m. And it is not the first time this figure has been quoted as the same sum was mentioned in a report earlier this year commissioned by the Tinder Foundation [pdf]. I don’t doubt the figure is accurate, but I still don’t think it is helpful. I think politicians, in particular, look at it and say “we can’t afford this”. I am a great believer in biting off manageable chunks of a problem, and I think presenting the issue as one big problem with an £875m price-tag presents a sizeable barrier. I wonder if not enough work is being done to learn from the many innovative local initiatives which are taking place all over the country, and working out how these can be applied elsewhere, from within existing resources. The other point is that people learn best from others like themselves. A lot of the focus needs to be on voluntary digital champions who can cascade their skills to their friends and neighbours. Taking this approach may well reduce the costs.

My second concern is about the framing of the debate around “digital skills”. It tends to set people off into thinking about training courses and teachers. In my opinion, and based on experience, this is not about training courses; it is about demonstrating to people what they are missing out on. This is best done in a fun way, in unusual settings, and with zero emphasis on “teaching” and “skills”.

4 thoughts on “The cost of digital inclusion £875 million?

  1. Spot on Mr P.

    If we did those two things – learn from what’s already been achieved and connected volunteer digital champions – we would start building from ground up.

    My concern is this is another report (not dissimilar to the last one – but probably costing a whole lot more) that lapses into the language of doing things to people rather than building on the skills that are already there. We need connectors who inspire people and excite them about being online. Not to teach them the mechanics of sending an email – or worse – helping them join Linkedin. 😉

  2. Training is the bottomless trough and the snouts will soon be in it, and money will be wasted with ridiculous courses. I agree with John, and would add that if everyone had a fit for purpose connection that just worked then everyone would already be online.

  3. John, I agree. One of the things that I have to believe passionately over the years is that the ‘digital community’ (however that is defined) has failed to recognise is that while complaining of the barriers to use of computers / IT etc is that all the time the self same community is reinforcing those barriers every time they open their mouths. I was at an introductory social media session the other week with people I know (as an observer / helper) and the people there were getting hot under the collar over the technicalities and I popped up and said, think of it as having a conversation, think of the social bit not what tool you are using … Temperature relaxed suddenly. And one of the things that troubled me about the Thinking Digitally conference was the belief that getting primary age girls coding was going to help upskill the country in ‘IT skills’. That is only a subset of the whole skillset needed – why hasn’t a lot of the community moved on from this ‘scientific, technological’ view? If we haven’t moved on then why expect the public to do so either?

    Nearly everyone talks of skills, technology, training, never about just doing. To use FB / twitter / email doesn’t need ‘training’ , maybe a hand to hold or a friend to point out handy shortcuts but not a ten week course.

    Biggest barrier in my experience to being online is not ‘training’ or lack of skills – again in my book – sending an email is about as skilled as making a telephone call, but cost. Cost of the equipment (although that is coming down all the time), cost of a decent broadband connection. This latter one is the biggie for me – the cost of mobile broadband, imho, is extortionate and landline broadband is also expensive – headline figures may look a bargain but when you factor in line rental as well then it is less of a bargain. If you have to decide whether to eat or heat, then you won’t be online either.

    I foresee a blog post from myself coming along in the not too distant future…

  4. Pingback: Older People and “Digital Skills” | John Popham's Random Musings

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