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Councils begin Understanding the Digital Divide project

26/05/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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A group of local authorities have begun work on a project to build up a stronger data picture of digital exclusion in their areas.

Two people holding tablet across a divide

They are taking part in the Understanding the Digital Divide project, led by Cheshire West and Chester City Council and supported by the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network (CCIN) under its Policy Labs programme.

It involves producing a toolkit, including a guide to existing data, for councils to create a clear baseline of who needs help and where they are, along with tailored recommendations to assess residents’ needs and provide remedies.

A spokesperson for CCIN said the initiative is being led by Cheshire West and Chester Council, with the other local authorities being Barking and Dagenham, Cardiff, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Kirklees, Knowsley, Newcastle, North Hertfordshire, Oxford, Plymouth, Rochdale, Southampton, South Tyneside, Sunderland and Tameside.

The adult learning charity Workers’ Educational Association and management consultancy Red Quadrant are also members of the group.

Elements of the project include resident consultation, improving the understanding of available data, gathering intelligence to inform adult learning, and producing a ‘lessons learnt’ report.

This is based on the view that, while many local authorities regard digital exclusion as a serious issue, they do not see a clear way to deal with it. The project is aimed at providing insights for councils to develop effective and sustainable solutions to support vulnerable residents.

Sunderland effort

Sunderland City Council has highlighted the initiative, saying that by building a more robust data picture of who is experiencing digital exclusion it will be better able to tackle digital poverty.

“By placing a focus on improving digital skills right at the heart of post-Covid recovery plans and our own city plan, we have the opportunity to not only boost productivity, but to improve the lives of many of our residents at risk of being left behind in a digital world,” it said in its announcement.

It also outlined work towards one of the key outcomes in setting up a scheme for the re-use of ICT with local business Protech. This will involve the use of existing associates of the city’s digital network, such as charities, which will act as donation points for the council, businesses and individuals to drop off kit (laptops and desktop computers).

The donation point or charity digital hub will assume responsibility for storing the kit in a secure location until collected by Protech, who will wipe the system clean and prepare it to be upcycled.

A system will be in place to allocate kit to appropriately to aid fair and swift distribution. These digital devices have the capacity to support multiple communities and digital hubs, as well as loan schemes to vulnerable houses to further support individuals looking for work to access online opportunities or to support families with home schooling across Sunderland.

Image from iStock, Light Field Studio

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