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LOTI advocates blended approach to improving digital inclusion

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Efforts to promote digital inclusion at a local level need a blended approach of providing devices with connectivity, skills training and support, according to a new report from the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI).

It has published the report, Digital Inclusion in London, as a review of existing initiatives and to identify the factors that can boost the cause across the capital. The findings are also likely to have a relevance for local government digital inclusion efforts on a broader scale.

They point to six main approaches to overcoming exclusion: increasing digital skills and confidence; increasing access to devices; increasing access to the internet; providing specialist support services; building digital inclusion capability; and using libraries as a core element of inclusion infrastructure.

Each of these comes with challenges, but the report identifies steps that have contributed to progress, such as councils working with voluntary and community organisations to reach excluded residents, using crowd funding to help provide more people with devices, appointing a dedicated digital inclusion co-ordinator, and providing skills training and support in informal settings and small groups.

All of these are more effective when part of a blended approach, the report says, along with outlining a number of recommendations for government in London.

Devices, data and libraries

These include: the mayor and LOTI exploring a city-wide scheme to provide more refurbished devices to excluded residents; working with telecoms firms on affordable broadband and mobile data deals; building up the role of libraries and community groups in reducing exclusion; and LOTI facilitating the sharing of relevant data and running a digital inclusion impact programme.

The report also sums up the trends in more than 100 local and neighbourhood inclusion initiatives around London. Among these is that the majority (68%) involve third sector organisations and public sector bodies (62%), while 22% involve the private sector and 38% are cross-sector partnerships.

The most common types of initiatives are provision of digital skills and training (84%), provision of devices (67%), identifying digitally excluded groups and their needs (58%), and provision of connectivity or data allowance (52%).

25 of London’s local authorities are leading or participating in at least one digital inclusion initiative. The majority of boroughs run device gifting schemes to provide technology such as laptops and tablets to those lacking digital access and many are securing free or subsidised broadband packages from internet providers as part of contract negotiations.

Important and exciting

Eddie Copeland, director of LOTI, said: “Promoting digital inclusion is hugely important and LOTI’s new study shows a wide range of exciting initiatives taking place across the capital.

“The pandemic was a catalyst for rapid change in terms of the digitisation of public services. This is undoubtedly positive in many ways, but it also makes it more important than ever to ensure all Londoners can access the support they need.

“Our new report sets out the challenges involved in this work, while also sharing best practice and fresh recommendations for London-wide action on this crucial issue.”

LOTI’s report has been published as part of the Digital Inclusion Innovation Programme supported by the Greater London Authority.

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