04 Dec 2017
Written by Charlotte Murray
This is the text of the speech Charlotte gave at the Digital Evolution: A movement for social change conference on Thursday 30 November 2017.
How can digital help to solve social challenges?
When I first considered this question I started to think about innovative Apps like Ugly Mugs, an app that is helping to keep sex workers safe by alerting them to violent men. Or Streetlink, a very simple online referral service which enables people to highlight rough sleepers so that Streetlink can then alert local referral services and provide you with an update on progress.
Although these are both brilliant examples of how digital is being used for social good, they describe just one way digital is helping to solve social challenges.
Good Things Foundation
At Good Things - together with our amazing Online Centres Network - we are using digital (in its widest sense) as an enabler to solve social challenges and to change lives. It’s at the heart of our strategy and it is what we have always done. We’re doing it in a slightly different way to Ugly Mugs or StreetLink - and we’ve recently expanded our remit - but the need and impacts are just as significant.
In the past, our main focus has been on helping people to gain the basic digital skills they need to become digitally included and as a result, we have sometimes been labelled as a single issue charity. But single issue we have never been. We have always understood that digitally excluded people are often the most socially excluded members of society and that by helping them to gain digital skills we address wider social challenges and exclusion. There is no doubt digital inclusion enables people to be more socially included and overcome challenges.
Social inclusion powered by digital
In addition to our digital inclusion work, over the past few years, we’ve been busy working with centres, learners and partners to create new programmes to tackle social challenges powered by digital, with a focus on health and well-being, unemployment, digital financial literacy and basic skills.
The best way to describe what I mean by social inclusion powered by digital, and why we have broadened our remit is to describe a few of our projects and their impacts.
Before I do, I want to say that I don’t think digital (on its own) is the solution to every social challenge. As you saw this morning in our co-design workshops, our ethos is about designing solutions with people, for people. And also the two examples above - of social inclusion powered by digital - are only possible because of the people and organisations that deliver them, so ‘digital by default’ they are not.
ESOL - powered by digital
English My Way was the first national pre-entry level ESOL curriculum all available online. We developed it in partnership with BBC Learning English and the British Council, with funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Digital has powered the project from the start with all of the resources being digitized and freely available online in the UK and worldwide. We’ve also embedded digital skills learning into the curriculum to ensure that people not only get basic English skills but have basic digital skills too. We’re about to launch the English My Way app that will allow people to learn and teach on the go or at home.
We did all of this because of what you - our centres - told us. That you were experiencing high levels of people needing and wanting help who didn’t have English as a first language. Because there wasn’t an existing national pre-entry level curriculum, so you were spending time and resource pulling learning together.
The impact has been significant. I met a lady the other day who told me that the support she’d received had enabled her to talk to her son’s teacher for the first time. And that she was now able to understand what her children were saying when they spoke in English at home. She could now help her kids with their homework online and understand what they were using the internet for, helping her keep them safe.
Financial Literacy - powered by digital
We’ve been running a financial literacy pilot and randomised control trial (RCT) in partnership with Toynbee Hall and funded by the Money Advice Service. The project seeks to test the following questions: Can the ability to transact online can reduce the poverty premium? Are individuals who receive financial capability support better able to transact online if they are also supported to undertake a live transaction online?
Although there a lot of great financial inclusion resources and training available, digital is often overlooked as part of the makeup of the content or in the way it is delivered. Which is surprising considering findings from the Lloyds Consumer Index show that people who transact online can save £444 per year.
I visited a centre the other day and met a guy who had lost his factory job. He had no digital skills and had come to the centre for help with using Universal Jobmatch and to develop digital skills to make him more employable. The centre had spent over a year working with him - to gain digital skills, employment skills, financial literacy and providing informal counselling - a friendly space and a cup of tea. On the day of my visit, he’d just found out he had a job. When I chatted with him he described how the financial literacy support he’d received had been a game changer at a time of desperation. Because he was unemployed he had no way of earning more money and felt powerless about his financial situation. However, the course had helped him to start completing transactions online which had enabled him to switch utility providers and save over £50 a month. He’d also set up online banking which had given him greater access and control of his finances.
We want to share the findings of the RCT with the wider sector and also produce a module and resources around enabling people to transact online that other financial capability/literacy charities could add in and deliver as part of their training and support.
Our next steps
All of this has made us realise that digital innovation doesn’t have to be radical or complex to be meaningful and to have significant impact. It can be about doing simple things better, or filling a gap - like our English My Way programme, or seeing how digital can be the step change - like with the financial literacy work.
It's made us think much more seriously about the question, ‘how could we take this kind of digital enhancement to address other social challenges?’
To do this, we need to stop looking at digital inclusion as a single issue, and look at the whole person, and how their needs can be met using digital technology as an enabler.
- We’d like to work with our centres, learners, partners and funders to consider how we can collectively understand the barriers to digital for social inclusion and help to remove them. Please respond to our exciting challenge prize.
- Social inclusion is an area relatively untouched by digital. Combining digital and social inclusion could offer the greatest opportunity we have witnessed in our lifetimes to tackle some of society’s most entrenched social issues.
- Whatever the social issue your organisation or your beneficiaries face, my challenge to you is to think more creatively about co-designing better solutions, with digital technology as one of the tools at your disposal. Imagine the possibilities, if we could deliver support better and more cheaply.
If you'd like to talk about some of these ideas in more details, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'm on Twitter at @charlottewheat