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Councils must experiment to tackle digital exclusion, report finds



Local authorities, social landlords and other public sector and community organisations must experiment with a wide range of different approaches to tackle the multiple factors behind the ongoing digital exclusion of a significant proportion of UK society, a new report finds.

About one-fifth of households still lack access to basic internet services, a figure which rises to more than a third of households in the lowest socioeconomic groups and to nearly 70% of households aged over 75, according to a guide published today by the independent charitable foundation The Carnegie UK Trust. The main barriers to internet access can be grouped in three main categories, the report finds: cost; concerns about technology; and a preference for carrying out activities in person or by phone.

“Citizens in ‘the final fifth’ are likely to experience multiple, varied and complex barriers to getting online and sustaining their engagement with the internet”, it finds.”We are still in the early stages of learning how to support this group... different ideas and models will be required”.

Seven “digital participation tests” to help organisations running digital inclusion work assess the likely effectiveness of local projects, including the need to ensure that all these multiple barriers are addressed by each individual digital inclusion project. Other tests include ensuring strategic leadership at a local level; building partnerships across the public, private and voluntary sectors; and building clear implementation plans backed by ongoing research to check effectiveness in the longer term.

The report presents case studies for six different successful approaches to encouraging people to come online that have been taken in Liverpool, Glasgow, Leeds, Sunderland, Wiltshire and Fife. Lessons from the Liverpool case study – led by national digital inclusion charity Go ON UK – include that local authorities should consider the broader social outcomes that digital inclusion will deliver, and be much more strategic about how they join up digital inclusion with other key priorities and strategies, the report finds.

Another key lesson – from the ‘Wiltshire Online’ case study led by Wiltshire County Council – is that it is important for new digital literacy projects led by local government to complement, not compete with, existing activity in the voluntary and community sectors. The Wiltshire project achieves this by creating an interactive map signposting people to existing computer clubs, learning providers and free Wi-Fi hotspots, the report says.

A further digital inclusion project in Scotland, “Digital Fife”, used community groups as a “hook” for getting local people engaged, offering free website development training to one member of each group and then using that person to train others. The Fife project also had success in loaning out “netbook” computers to people as a cheap and effective method of trying equipment out before deciding whether to purchase their own, the report finds.

The study was produced in partnership with Broadband Delivery UK, a government-backed project to bring superfast broadband internet connectivity to 95% of the UK by 2017.
Pictured: The report cover, ‘Making Digital Real’.

Making Digital Real:

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