It’s hard to think of any event in recent times that’s galvanised change the way the coronavirus pandemic has. As a society we’ve adapted the way we access services and interact with one another. We’ve seen service delivery models move to digital platforms to enable continued engagement with users. Yet not everyone has the means to engage with this new world. Those who are digitally excluded now risk further isolation from essential lifelines.

During a prolonged period of self-isolation, the ability to access the internet from your own home feels like a fundamental right. We’re extremely proud to be part of the No One Left Behind Digital Scotland programme, working with partners from the public, private and voluntary sector to address the three key barriers to being online: access to a device, connectivity and skills/confidence. At SCVO Digital we’ll be driving forward the work around digital skills and confidence, taking everything we know from delivering digital participation projects over the past five years and applying them to our new reality.

Here are our top tips for promoting digital participation for those who do have access to devices and connectivity at home, and how we as organisations, and as individuals, can play our part in helping more people get online:

Be a Digital Champion

Can you use video-calling, buy goods online and look up information that’s of interest to you? Do you have good people-skills and a desire to help others? Chances are you’re qualified to be a Digital Champion.

A Digital Champion is someone with good Essential Digital Skills who is passionate about what the digital world can offer. A Digital Champion isn’t a digital guru, they don’t need to be. They do, however, need to be patient and personable. It’s the role of a Digital Champion to help a learner build their confidence and use the internet in a way that is meaningful to them, helping them stay safe while doing so.

The kinds of roles that are best suited to Digital Champion work are those that have established trusted relationships with your users. In our recent work with social housing providers we saw that roles that were community facing and focused on other kinds of inclusion work had the most success at helping tenants get online. People are more likely to learn the skills they need to be online if they are being supported by someone they already trust.

Now is the time for us all to become Digital Champions, with our users, with our friends and with our families.

“Once you realise that you do know basics and it is not that you need to know everything, I think more people would think: “Oh, actually I could be a Digital Champion.”

Digital Champion from SCVO’s Digital Champions in Social Housing Project

Find the hook

Before the world moved online there were many well-held reasons, beyond affordability, for people remaining offline. One of the main reasons for this was that many people simply didn’t see a benefit to being online. We cannot make assumptions that everyone now has a desire to be online, and for some we may need to find the ‘hook’.

The hook is the motivating factor for that individual to start their digital journey, and should be based on their own interests. This could be the ability to make video calls with friends and family, or accessing entertainment online. It’s important that new learners get enjoyment and value from their experiences of being online, which can be used to help build their confidence with other tasks.

“My advice is – what is their interest, what do they miss? Is it a family member or being more in control of their finances, hone in on that… don’t look at everything… Maybe they could get connected to a relative via FaceTime , do online shopping or download music. Once they learn that maybe they’ll want to learn other things. Focus on one thing first and take it step by step.”

John, Digital Champion at Fife Housing Group

“We purchased 5 iPads, which have been used extensively in our Football Memories sessions to encourage older participants to become more familiar with browsing and searching for images and content. For example, finding images of Hearts FC team photos from the 1960s, or old stadiums, completing interactive quizzes and completing web searches on points of interest which come up in conversation.”

Craig Wilson, General Manager at Big Hearts

Address fears

Fear is another barrier to being online. Many of us have varying levels of fear and anxiety about the online world, and this is no different from some of the fears that those that are offline will have. It’s important to be able to discuss and explore these fears directly, for example, online scams. There are some great resources to help explain online safety on the One Digital website and Learn My Way.

“Help to remove the fear factor, it’s not about becoming a digital guru overnight, it’s about what they’re comfortable learning.”

John, Digital Champion at Fife Housing Group

These fears may also be held by staff, afraid of increasing levels of risk for their users:

“A lot of our staff are very nervous around technology, even the staff who have a relatively good level of digital skills. They could be quite sceptical about technology; we work with vulnerable adults and I think some staff feel they don’t want to put them in a digital world where they would be even more vulnerable.”

Maggie Murphy, Digital Strategy, Simon Community Scotland

It’s important that there’s support from an organisational level to enable digital participation work. My colleague John Fitzgerald recently published this blog on safeguarding and privacy which is a useful starting point for organisations to consider risk management. With support from senior management, these fears can be addressed:

“Staff are a lot more aware of the role that technology can play in their clients’ lives.  If you’re helping someone to apply for Universal Credit, that has to be online. Staff now see that helping with that means they are teaching someone transferable skills, such as filling in a digital form, or how to access different services.”

Maggie Murphy, Digital Strategy, Simon Community Scotland

Build the foundation

Digital Champions need to be patient, and this is especially true when the learner has never been online. You may need to start with the basics of using a device – we call these Foundation Digital Skills. Go at the pace of the learner, don’t use jargon and don’t make them feel bad for not knowing the basics. You may even need to cover these over a few phone calls – keep it to short bursts of positive activity.

“The workshops were delivered with a very friendly, informal atmosphere where people were made to feel comfortable to work at their own pace. These sessions were aimed at older people with varying degrees of computer literacy some had never touched a computer. What we know from previous experience, is that many novices are frustrated with computer tutors (even well-meaning family members) who go at too quick a pace. So they were pleased to see that we were taking things very slowly and that session were very much tailored to suit the groups.”

Changeworks, Switch to Save Project

“All I could do on my phone was text and phone. My family texted me and phoned me and that was it, and they laugh to this day that I still do not know how to use my phone. They are gobsmacked that I can use my wee tablet now, that I am so confident, and where I go my tablet goes.”

Tenant from SCVO’s Digital Champions in Social Housing Project

Keep it person-centred 

Once you’ve mastered Foundation Digital Skills it’s time to move onto Essential Digital Skills for Life. In the current landscape we’d recommend keeping these skills as simple and stripped back as possible, and don’t overwhelm them. Take the lead from your learner, what do they want to achieve? Start with one key skill or activity to help build confidence and get value from being online:

  • Video-calling friends and family
  • Ordering online shopping
  • Using messaging apps
  • Playing games to pass the time

“I’ve learnt what suits me and what I’ll use. It’s always good to hear from others what is available, and you can choose what you want out of it… I was only using the device for games but I knew there was a lot more and it’s been good to learn that I can… It’s given me the confidence to try it.”

Christine, Hanover Housing tenant

“When ‘M’ was first introduced to the idea of upskilling digitally, we were met with a ‘wall’, a blanket – “I don’t need the internet”, “no use to me”. Completing the Checklist was a big step for ‘M’ on many levels. It allowed him to see that he did have skills, that he would not be starting from ground zero and that there were areas on their that he WOULD like to know more about and that he could see the benefit of learning about. Working through our Digital You programme has validated and bolstered ‘M’s skill set and opened paths to further skills and a more resilient digital citizenship. It was important that we used theChecklistas a tool that allowed him to realise his own strengths and to see how he would like to take his digital journey forward.”

Maggie McCole, Managing Director at The Ridge

In the coming weeks and months, we will be rolling out a new programme of Digital Champions training for remote delivery as part of No One Left Behind Digital Scotland. To get more information on Essential Digital Skills and for further updates on this work you can visit www.digitalparticipation.scot for a downloadable copy of our toolkit and make your commitments under the Digital Participation Charter. We’ll be calling on all charter signatories to join us in helping the digitally excluded get online.

Join our online community discussing digital participation in Scotland on Slack.