Transcript: Near Me in social services: digital inclusion

Aaron Slater, Digital Participation Manager at SCVO gives an overview of digital exclusion in Scotland

Podcast Episode: Near Me in social services: digital inclusion

Category: Digital inclusion 



What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

AS - Aaron Slater

Near Me in Social Services is a project Iriss has been leading in partnership with the NHS Near Me team and the Scottish Government Technology Enabled Care Programme over autumn and winter 2020/21. The project is producing new evidence around the priorities, enablers and challenges of using video consulting in social services. Iriss has supported 5 services to participate in a rapid quality improvement cycle to start using Near Me, provided light touch improvement support to organisations that are setting up Near Me independently within their work and has also developed a learning network. The learning network aims to build on and continue the support to these organisations using Near Me while increasing the scope of support to others. Each learning network meeting includes speakers on related topics. In this episode Aaron Slater, Digital Participation Manager at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations gives an overview of digital exclusion in Scotland highlighting the progress that we still need to make to ensure that everyone in Scotland has the opportunity to be digitally included. Aaron gives an overview of some of the step’s organisations can take to embed digital inclusion in core service delivery.

AS My name’s Aaron and I’m Digital Participation Manager at SCVO, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. I’m going to do a bit of intel just around digital inclusion in more broader terms and thinking about some of those steps before some citizens might actually be using Near Me and things that we might want to consider so, I will kick off with that. So, in general terms, this will probably resonate with quite a few people so it’s good to start with: what do we actually mean by being digitally included. And we usually work around kind of the 3 main barriers to digital inclusion and that’s having access to an appropriate internet enabled device that meets your needs, having connectivity, more importantly, home connectivity.

One of the things we’ve seen since lockdown restrictions is a widening of the digital divide where some people previously may have relied on community spaces to get connectivity and get that wifi connection. It’s more important now than ever that we’ve actually got that at home as well. And then the third one which is where we traditionally worked around is, skills, confidence and motivation. And that’s the one that I think can potentially be overlooked sometimes and this is sometimes the easier one to forget about so, when you think about, it’s all fine and well someone having their device and having that broadband connection or a mobile wifi connection but can they do some of the basics of getting on to their device, adjusting accessibility settings so they can use it in the way that works for them and being able to do some basic tasks. So, that’s kind of one of the key things that I’ll focus on my input today.

We usually look at these skills around the essential digital skills framework and that is a UK wide framework and there’s 5 essential skills grouped into different areas. You’ve got things like transacting, communicating, handling information and content and within each of those 5 skills areas, there are certain tasks or indicators that demonstrate a person’s ability to be able to do that. A lot of them are tasks that maybe a lot of us might take for granted if we’re a bit more digitally savvy so, things like being able to know how to use tools like email and WhatsApp or access entertainment like Netflix or iPlayer so, fairly basic tasks within that so, when we talk about the essential digital skills framework, within the centre that we have foundation skills and these are really basic skills like knowing how to turn on a device, connect it to the internet, use the volume or interact with the keypad and those foundation skills we know through the Lloyds Consumer Digital Index that 23% of adults in Scotland don’t have all of the foundation skills as a starting point so, we know there’s significant work to do to help people around upskilling and being able to do those essentials before they can access platforms like Near Me. And within that, when we look at people who don’t have those foundation skills, we also know that 18% of people don’t have essential digital skills and that’s working age adults, so that’s those 5 skill areas like being able to send emails and access entertainment online so again quite a significant proportion and within that, age is one of the biggest predictors of lacking essential digital skills so, we know that if you look at 15–24-year-olds. 96% have all 5 skill areas whereas it’s only 46% of those aged 65 plus.

It’s quite interesting if you look at the 5 skills that when we compare people who have impairments versus those who have no impairments, we know that lack of digital skills disproportionately effects people who have impairments so again just something to bear in mind in terms of how we think about interventions and supporting people differently and making sure they’ve got the skills they need to access digital services. So, thinking about that, we’ve traditionally worked around doing digital inclusion interventions primarily using a digital champions model, so I thought it would be quite good just to give you a kind of a brief overview and flavour of some of our learning from that, what works well and where some of the challenges might be. But I think starting off it’s really important just to consider your user insights and who are the people that you’re working with and what are their specific needs. So, thinking about do they have that appropriate device at home that can connect to the internet and does that device work for them. But also, more importantly, do they have … where are they at with their digital skills in terms of, are they at foundation level, do they lack foundation skills.

If you’re providing a digital service or digital public service, are the people that you’re targeting it at that, able to access that as easy and as user friendly and as accessible as that platform may be, are there steps proceeding the person getting on to that digital service that we might need to think about. And then also quite importantly as well is motivation, so, although I think in the wake of the pandemic more people have been giving digital a go who maybe previously didn’t have access to the internet or weren’t that interested, might have more motivation now than before but equally not everyone will still be motivated to be online and digital services won’t be for everyone and it’s understanding people’s varying levels of motivation and I think when down to motivation it’s really important as well to think about people’s fears about digital and what can we do to alleviate some of those fears or explore them and talk to people about their fears and they primarily tend to be around online safety and security and having your identity stolen. So, understanding your user base is a really good starting point.

The approach generally, and the approach that we’ve always advocated for in support would be the Digital Champion’s approach. Digital Champion’s basically is someone, either a staff member or a volunteer: someone in a front facing role, who already has an existing relationship with that person that you want to help get them online and part of that is because people tend to learn better when it’s coming from a trusted source and it feels more informal. The Digital Champion’s embed digital inclusion support as part of their core roles so, it becomes part and parcel support they’re offering but the approach generally is important to think about how it is the journey, how it can take time, sometimes and maybe over a month or 2, it might be 6 months, it might be a year because you’re giving that support at a more frequent basis but for shorter bursts of time. We like to talk about finding the hook so, if someone isn’t connected, if they’re not online, is there a hook that might get them interested and tap into that motivation a bit. And that’s usually when you’re taking a more person-centred approach and you’re thinking about, what do I know about this person, their interests that might be a gateway to the digital world for them. So, it could be they have a keen interest in gardening and you might want to explore some YouTube videos about gardening, look up some websites that have different exotic plants and just start to show them some of the potential that being online can have and keeping that support as I say, quite frequent but informal and flexible. So, Digital Champions don’t run IT courses, they’re not IT people. They have, more importantly than anything, really good people skills and patience, as well is really key especially in light of lockdown and a lot of the support at the moment is being delivered remotely over the telephone which is a real challenge in a lot of senses too. And that prioritisation of online safety, so in those 5 essential digital skills areas, online safety is the one that’s on the outer circle and that’s because that really should be embedded across all the other skills, the other 4 skills and it’s really important especially where people have fears about being online. We think about how we promote online safety and how to alleviate some of those fears to empower people. So, as I say, Digital Champions are frontline staff or volunteers, they understand the context of the learner’s life which I think is really important as well, and when we’re thinking about that person centred approach and if they can tap into those interests.

I think probably since lockdown, I’ve been trying to reframe the work of the Digital Champion’s slightly in my own head and digital inclusion work and trying to see it more as a new version of outreach so where we see really great community based services, either in the voluntary or public sector, we know that a kind of a core value is taking services to where people are as much as possible and doing outreach into communities and I think digital feels like a new iteration of what outreach is. That thing about how we take our services to where people are in the digital space and what are the steps that we as services can do to make that as easy as possible for people to access those services and a Digital Champion does need to be confident in their own skills but they don’t need to be a digital guru.

So, again, you don’t need to be an IT person to be a Digital Champion, but you should be fairly confident yourself and it’s one of those things of, you won’t always have the answers to support someone, no one has all the answers, but even that process of being able to tell someone, you know what, I don’t know how to do that but I’m going to talk you through the process that I would use to find the answer to that, whether that’s a Google search or interacting with like using a website and that really helps build confidence as well to reassure people that they don’t need to have all the answers. And then I think a really important piece that sometimes gets missed out and we’ve seen this through some of our previous programmes that we’ve run is that the culture in an organisation really needs to support good digital inclusion work as well in order for it to succeed and for Digital Champions to excel in their roles and that means really getting by in from senior managers that there is a top down approach in support to digital inclusion as an organisation that people are empowered to use different digital tools and platforms as staff and volunteers and that the support’s there for that but equally and you can sometimes find resistance from staff and volunteers too, and I think this has probably changed a bit since lockdown when that kind of case for digital inclusion has been made a lot more but traditionally and it still exists to some extent, some resistance from people saying, digital is not my job, I’m not the digital person, I’m a support worker and I don’t see digital as being part of my remit but thinking about how digital essentially is now everyone’s business because we’re all working, to some extent in a digital way and it works best in the cultural if it’s embedded in their core service delivery as I’ve said but I think importantly as well it’s about recognising efforts that people make because it still is something else, another tool in the toolbox to utilise but it’s something else to do so, we have … and I’ll share the links for this, worked with Glasgow Kelvin College to put together some qualifications so there’s, they’re accredited SQF accredited courses in Digital Inclusion, one entry level, level 4. One for Digital Champions, a level 6 and one for managers at level 8, thinking about doing digital inclusion projects and they’re all delivered online and all free to access so I can share the link for that as well if that’s something that’s of interest to organisations.

I suppose as a final thought from me, is just think about digital inclusion and how we, I suppose, how we have a collective responsibility for digital inclusion so, no one service is responsible in an ideal world for getting Joe Bloggs skilled up and confident to use digital services because we’re all to some extent delivering services digitally now so, that means we all have a stake in making sure that we have, at least giving that opportunity and support to everyone to be connected and to be digital, to some extent digital citizens. So, it’s thinking about how we can best utilise local resources in our own communities to work together to promote digital inclusion and to provide that support because there will always be some organisations doing great work but maybe don’t always have the capacity to do digital inclusion work. So, think about how we can work together and see it as a collective responsibility to support citizens on their journey to being more connected and being online.

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