Social infrastructure: making the best use of existing assets
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There are already many established UK Online Centres, some of which share use of existing social infrastructure, such as town halls, libraries, schools, job centres, hospitals. We would encourage far greater and richer use of this existing social infrastructure in leading a local approach to digital inclusion.
These are precious, pre-existing public sector assets which are in some cases under-utilised at differing times of the day or which perhaps are only providing services to one section of the community.
Rather than seeing these assets continue to be under-used, or even worse sold for a one-off fee to make ends meet during a funding crisis, we would encourage their use to assist with digital inclusion and to provide digital access to citizens.
Both the networks and the bricks and mortar of existing social infrastructure offer places where assisted digital services can be provided, with people helping each other to get online. They can provide places where parents work while their children enjoy after-school activities. They can provide places where the public sector bring together people, communities, the private sector and the voluntary sector to co-produce services addressing local problems.
This will require a new focus by the public sector to ensure that these places are fit for use: that they have free Wi-Fi, up-to-date-computers, appropriate Internet access and trained staff. The public sector can also assist with these uses by helping people to bring together best-practice guides on safety and security for such uses.
By bringing public sector workers and citizens into these spaces we can offer a humane, active and vibrant experience of technology: of a human face, rather than of government as just another online form.
Case Study: Liverpool’s campaign for digital inclusion
The voluntary sector have been running a number of initiatives to help people get online, particularly through the organisations Race Online, Go-on UK and the Tinder Foundation.
In October 2011 Liverpool launched a drive to tackle digital exclusion. The city recognised that it had a problem with a particularly high rate of digital exclusion with only 40% broadband coverage and 29% of the population unable to use the Internet (compared with 70% and 21% nationally). In a year, the campaign helped 58,000 people to get online and reduced the number of people unable to use the Internet to 17% of the population, below the national average. The success of the campaign has led to its core design principles being replicated in other regions by Go-On UK. Key features of the Liverpool programme were:
- Senior level sponsorship and commitment across the local authority
- A highly visible campaign, with participation from Martha Lane Fox and Race Online, launch events, poster campaigns and BBC tie-ins.
- Development of a strong network of “Digital Champions” – 150,000 people signed up, including 1 in 10 of those joining through the BBC’s national “Give an Hour” campaign
- Partnership with many organisations, including private sector and third sector including many UK Online centres.
- Support with dedicated staff from the local authority
- Working with social housing landlords to improve broadband access
- Recognising the need to support SMEs and the local economy to adapt to digital ways of working
“Local organisations like public library services, colleges, and adult education providers could be funded to lead, coordinate and support such networks, and perhaps take on the role of more targeted activity for the more elusive hard to reach groups and individuals” – Local Authority
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