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Report of the Digital Government Review


Digital inclusion: current examples

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The current digital inclusion strategy includes the following graphic [figure 2] to help visualize the challenge. The figures at the top indicate a percentage of the UK adult population; the grades at the bottom are particular skill levels. Figure 3 uses this graphic and those grades to explore five simple examples, comparing in each case what happened with what could have happened under this report’s approach.

Figure 2 - Graphic from Government digital inclusion strategy

Figure 2 – Graphic from Government digital inclusion strategy

Service

What happened?

What could have happened?

Universal Jobmatch An online service was launched to allow jobseekers to search for jobs online. Jobseekers faced sanction for not searching for jobs using this service but were provided little assistance. JobCentre staff could have assessed digital skills and directed to routes to gain skillsJobCentres could have provided computers and free Wi-Fi access for use by jobseekers without access at home and provided support to jobseekers to use them.
Open Standards Government announced a move to an open standard document format for digital collaboration [7] with the intent of increasing choice and reducing costs to both government and people. Central government documents are now being released in this new format but there is no support for people unfamiliar with the format or lacking the skills or confidence to research. Government could have launched pilot projects with frontline workers collaborating via documents with people to assess the skills challenge.Government could have linked to external advice about the document format and applications that use it to address the skills and confidence issue.
Driving Licence Renewal DVLA has launched a consultation to introduce differentiated pricing for renewing a driving licence. If the consultation is approved it will be cheaper to renew online. Yet the DVLA has performed no research on how many people who lack basic digital skills [8] will be affected due to their inability to renew online. Evidence could have been gathered and released alongside the consultation.The option of sharing the benefits of digital savings with everyone, not just those with digital skills, could have been included in the consultation.
Digital Exemplars GDS has graded 23 of the digital services that it is leading on against the digital inclusion scale [9], which ranges from one at the bottom (“never have, never will”) to nine at the top (“expert”). Two services required level 6 (“task specific”) on the scale, sixteen required level 7 (“basic digital skills”) and five required level 8 (“confident”). People with skills below these levels do not benefit from the new digital services. Launching strong digital inclusion and assisted digital strategies alongside the new exemplars would have helped address the gap.Government could strengthen governance gates to ensure that digital services are accessible (with assistance or not) by everyone before a service moves to a Live status.
Voter Registration Government has launched a simple and easy to use online voter registration service. The service is claimed as being available for 99.9% of people [10] yet this service is classed as requiring level 6 on the digital inclusion scale. 21% of the population falls below this level. Advertising focuses on the digital service for voter registration. Performing a pilot project to assess the impact of online voter registration on registration amongst the digitally excluded would have provided more evidence about the impact of this service.Providing a digital service with a stronger link to assisted digital and paper channels would reduce exclusion.
Figure 3 – What could have happened

It is worth stressing that there are good policies and, in most cases [11], good digital services within these examples. The ability for a benefits claimant to easily search for a job; the ability for a person to use free software to collaborate with government; transferring cost savings produced by digital into lower bills; the ability to vote (and perform other government services) online: all these are good outcomes and to be welcomed.

Similarly, developing these services has helped us learn what “excellent” looks like in a government context and proved that government can develop excellent online digital services.

But – as our emphasis on what could have happened demonstrates – unless these policies are delivered alongside a digital inclusion strategy they will not sufficiently benefit those who lack basic digital skills, including some of the most excluded in our society.

[7] https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2014/07/22/making-things-open-making-things-better/

[8] https://twitter.com/DVLAgovuk/status/494768346634539009

[9] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-digital-inclusion-strategy/exemplar-services-and-identity-assurance-how-complex-they-are

[10] https://www.gov.uk/transformation/register-to-vote. At the time of writing the service was also not available for Scotland, further invalidating the 99.9% statement.

[11] Universal Jobmatch has faced many difficulties other than access, skills and misapplied benefits sanctions.

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