The digital divide persists

The latest UK Consumer Digital Index 2019 shows that half of UK employees (53%) do not have the essential digital skills needed for work. The Charity Digital Skills Report 2019 reflects the same situation for the third sector, with over half of charities (52%) rating their digital skills as fair or low. In a recent meeting with a local organisation, I was surprised that many managers were not confident opening an app. Actually, it turns out 7.1 million people (13%) cannot open an app!

Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

As the fourth industrial revolution powers on, these numbers highlight the continuing divide between the architects of our digital age and a majority of its users. While tech advocates are busy talking Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, many people are still grappling with social media platforms, cloud storage and how to download an app on their smart phones.

A bar chart showing the proportion of workers in six different sectors with the Essential Digital Skills for work and the proportion without the ssentical Digital Skills for work.

Finance, Insurance and Real Estate: 80% with, 20% without.
Services: 50% with, 50% without.
Public administration: 48% with, 52% without.
Wholesale/Retail trade: 38% with, 62% without.
Transportation, COmmuniactions, Electric, Gas and Sanitary services: 37% with, 63% without.
Manufacturing: 36% with, 64% without.
Proportion of each sector with and without Essential Digital Skills for work (UK Consumer Digital Index 2019)

What we’re seeing is a growing skills gap between different groups of people and between different sectors, putting service users and disadvantaged groups, as well as employees, organisations and potentially whole sectors at risk of being left behind by this unrelenting technological revolution.

This needs to change.

From digital inclusion to digital discovery

At Citizens Online, we focus on a whole-system approach to what is effectively a social change issue — digital inclusion. That means creating a digital culture in your organisation which is focused on inclusion and user needs at the front end, and skills and peer support for employees, CEOs and trustees at the organisational end.

Our ‘deep dive’ project in Brighton & Hove is a good example of how this works in practice. We’ve spent the past two years training over 400 Digital Champions from local organisations, developed a cross-sector network of support made of over 240 organisations and helped over 4,000 people to improve their digital skills and confidence.

Digital Brighton & Hove: The impact in numbers.
* Supported over 4,500 unique individuals.
* Engaged with 241 organisations.
* Recruited 436 Digital Champions.
 *Delivered 6,944 sessions of digital skills support.
Digital Brighton & Hove: the impact in numbers

Through this ‘deep dive’ approach, we’ve also come to realise that there are some significant needs across the social sector regarding how to change organisational approaches to digital. A change that requires new approaches, new skills and a new culture — a journey of discovery which staff, volunteers, leaders, trustees and service users alike need to embark on together.

Turning collaboration to action

At the start of the year, we brought together a number of key local stakeholders to explore what such a discovery phase might look like in Brighton & Hove and how it might lead to creating a more digitally confident social sector.

With just over 2,300 voluntary and community organisations in Brighton & Hove under increasing pressure to provide more effective and better services, there was recognition from local partners that something needed to change… and fast. You can read some of the key messages from these discussions here.

Jess Sumner (CEO, Community Works), Rich Rutter (MD, Clearleft), Ellie Hale (Communities Lead, CAST), John Reading (Third Sector Commissioner, Brighton and Hove City Council) and Beth Mukushi (Programme Manager, SCVO Digital) at a Digital Brighton & Hove network meeting in January 2019.
Jess Sumner (CEO, Community Works), Rich Rutter (MD, Clearleft), Ellie Hale (Communities Lead, CAST), John Reading (Third Sector Commissioner, Brighton and Hove City Council) and Beth Mukushi (Programme Manager, SCVO Digital) at a Digital Brighton & Hove network meeting in January 2019.

The good news is that eight months on, a new cross-sector partnership has been formed, made of Citizens Online, Community Works, Brighton & Hove City Council and the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST), with the aim of increasing the digital capability of the social sector.

Four priorities: network building, digital practice, future governance and digital inclusion

With our partners, we’ve set out ambitious objectives for the next nine months, focusing on four areas of work:

1. NETWORK BUILDING — Developing an active cross-sector network of digital support.

We want to bring together the local public, social and tech sectors and help increase the quality and range of relationships between these. Our Digital Brighton & Hove network has already engaged with over 240 organisations. And the thriving Tech for Good Brighton community is also enabling more collaboration between sectors.

2. DIGITAL PRACTICE & SKILLS — Supporting social sector organisations in gaining better digital skills through training and peer support.

We’ll do this by offering ‘deep dive’ digital mentoring support programme for three local social sector organisations; and by running a new Digital Discovery series on themes identified at Spring Community Works Conference (e.g. service design, digital leadership, inclusive tech, good use of data, digital collaboration, accessibility, etc.)

3. FUTURE GOVERNANCE — Developing an alternative governance structure to ensure long term sustainability of this partnership work.

We’ll reach out to other cities and networks, contribute to the new UK Collaborative Catalyst, and research what a sustainable model of digital support looks like for Brighton & Hove.

4. DIGITAL INCLUSION COORDINATION — Ensuring that digital support provision for local communities is joined up and effective.

We’ll keep our signposting website up-to-date and use the Digital Champions Network, to join up digital provision and use our network meetings to foster collaboration.

We want to continue achieving these objectives through a networked-approach, focusing on building trust-based relationships across sectors and emphasising collective impact to achieve common goals.

With limited resources and a short window of delivery, we’ll be “testing and learning” as much as possible, working in an agile and flexible way to meet local organisations’ needs. We look forward to openly sharing updates, celebrating success stories and tackling challenges together, both online and at our network events.

If this sounds like work you could benefit from or contribute to, join us on this ride to digital discovery!


If you’d like to get involved in our activities, offer some help or are in need of support, please get in touch with our Project Manager, David Scurr, at david.scurr@citizensonline.org.uk.

If you’d like to connect with our Tech for Good Brighton community, join our meetup group and Slack Workspace.

If you just want to keep in the loop, sign up to our email newsletter for occasional news, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive our latest updates.

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