I’m just back from two great days in East Suffolk delivering digital inclusion sessions in Lowestoft and Felixstowe. These sessions were a pilot for East Suffolk Councils to find out what works before they roll out a wider digital inclusion programme for residents in the districts. I met some lovely people, and, as always I was learning perhaps as much as they were.
As you probably know now, I have a particular approach to digital inclusion which is based on the following principles:
- Go to where people are, don’t wait for them to come to you;
- Reasons for using the internet are different. Some can be harder to find than others;
- No one voluntarily begins using the internet because they want to access Government services;
- Most people use the internet for fun. The newcomer’s introduction should also be fun;
- Show people what others do with the internet. They might want to join in;
- Demonstrate that internet use is a part of “normal”, everyday life.
One thing of particular note which came out of this for me was that a number of people present at the sessions reported that they had had their introduction to new technologies soured by classroom training approaches that tried to teach them content irrelevant to their lives at a pace that left them behind. They found this experience intimidating, confusing, and boring. And it had taken them some time to re-find their interest. The feedback I had from my sessions suggested that they had now turned that corner and were on the road to making digital part of their lives. I think all of us who believe that digital inclusion is vital to people’s health and wellbeing need to raise our voices against all the wasted resources that go into classroom approaches. I am seeing increasing evidence not only that they don’t work, but that they are actually counter-productive.
My time in Suffolk further confirmed to me that the individual nature of each person’s reasons for digital exclusion means that individualised approaches are necessary, and that these approaches need to be patient and long-term. There is no quick fix. We have to remember that digital inclusion work of one kind or another has been going on for 15 years or more. Those who are still not on board are the most resistant, and probably have the most complex issues around why they are not online. These factors have to be unpacked and addressed, sometimes one-at-a-time. And one of the key components of this approach is that people have to be encouraged to love digital enough to want to keep at it, using digital devices and getting fluent with them. I have seen that it is very easy for people to slip back into exclusion if they don’t keep practicing. And they won’t keep practicing if they don’t like what they are doing.
Some of the other interesting issues which emerged from these sessions included:
- the lady who refused to believe that the product we found on eBay was genuine because it was less than half the price she was used to paying for it in the shops. I think she was eventually convinced by my efforts to show her how to use buyers’ feedback to check whether the seller had a history of offering genuine products (they had almost 99% positive feedback). It is apparent that people who don’t use the internet don’t have a clue about how much money they could be saving if they researched products online;
- numerous participants who had been subject to scam telephone calls claiming to be from Microsoft or “Windows” and offering to solve computing problems. One participant had actually gone through with the process, but fortunately his daughter had intervened and cancelled his debit card and wiped his laptop before he could lose any money. But even those who had not succumbed said things like “they were so convincing”, “what he said rang true because I had just been given a new computer”, and “but how did he get my number?”. There is a shocking lack of knowledge among digitally excluded people about how randomised computerised systems work. They don’t realise that it is perfectly possible for them to be chosen at complete random by a system that dials millions of numbers a day. They think there has to be a reason why they were chosen for the call. And they don’t understand that a stranger on the end of a phone line cannot possibly have any idea of the state of their computer;
- quite a few of the participants didn’t have any close relatives alive. This meant that they hadn’t felt the need to learn to use the internet to communicate, they didn’t have family to show them the ropes, and they didn’t have anyone putting pressure on them to join in online conversations;
- One of the characteristics that many digitally excluded seem to share is a lack of curiosity about life. This is a real barrier to overcome. It means both that they don’t welcome opportunities to learn new things, like how to use the internet, and it is hard to get them excited about the potential for access to the online world to open up new vistas and opportunities for them;
- The pressures to use online services are getting to the point where some can no longer resist. This was certainly a factor for a number of participants. The trick, from my point of view, is to prevent these pressures from making internet use seem a chore, rather than a pleasure.
All these issues means that we have to stop trying to push people through systems designed around numbers of outputs, listen to their needs, wants and fears, and address them patiently and sympathetically.
Please get in touch if I can help you work with your clients to address similar issues