Our learnings from the Digital Skills Pathway for Shared Prosperity pilot

Katie Heard, our Head of Research, reflects on the UKCRF Digital Skills Pathway for Shared Prosperity - our pioneering pathway for change.

Good Things Foundation piloted a pathway for change in local digital inclusion support

Generously supported by the UKCRF last year, our work on the Digital Skills Pathway for Shared Prosperity used our skills and expertise in digital inclusion to:

  • Improve people’s digital skills;
  • Resolve peoples access issues by giving them data or a device;
  • And demonstrate the indisputable value this plays in evolving people’s skills activities or improving people’s employment opportunities for economic recovery.  

We were delighted – but not at all surprised – that the pilot achieved its objectives. 

68% of people we supported achieved one or more of the target outcomes

We successfully removed barriers of access, skills, confidence and motivation for 68% of participants. Our community based delivery model allowed us to reach into communities where we had previously not had a presence. And we built new and maintained existing partnerships along the way. 

But we weren’t surprised. This is what we do at Good Things. Our model is built on the skills, expertise, local presence and knowledge of the hubs in our Network. They are the experts in making change happen at a local level. We provide free tools, training and resources to help them to support more people on the path to digital inclusion. It is this partnership that is the key to our success

But beyond digital inclusion delivery, we took a great deal more than the pilot originally set out. We uncovered a number of wider learnings and considerations that would not obviously sit in an evaluation report – they have implications for Good Things’ wider approach, the sector and digital inclusion delivery in the future. So, what did we learn?

The magic of a gradual, non-linear approach to digital skills

The increase in economically inactive individuals in the general population was reflected in the people we attracted to the pilots. The number of economically inactive individuals that participated were much higher than we anticipated supporting – this group proved challenging to engage in job search activity and had a preference for more informal learning routes and Life Skills outcomes.

However, it was possible to engage economically inactive individuals in the digital inclusion pathway as a whole, suggesting that there is an appetite to engage in learning. Perhaps the door is not completely closed for these individuals to progress back into employment? It may be that their journey to employment is not as quick or as linear as it may have been previously. This has made us think: Good Things are considering how we might adapt desired outcomes for economically inactive individuals for future pathways and other programmes. And as we build this understanding, we will work hard to persuade our allies and funders that a non-linear approach to moving into employment may be more conducive for these individuals.

Aiming for the longer term to broaden reach of digital inclusion support

The nature of the pilots’ shorter term funding approach had implications on its ability to broaden the reach of digital inclusion support and our ability to track longer term impact with those involved with the pathway.

Although the project supported the most digitally excluded, support tended to focus on specific demographic and ethnic groups that were already being engaged by the hubs taking part in the pilot. There were fewer hubs which catered towards a more mixed population. The shorter term nature of the Digital Skills Pathway pilots meant that it was unlikely to broaden the reach of the hubs that were involved – it would have been a risk for them to change their model for the sake of one, short term funding opportunity.

For any future programmes, exploring approaches of engaging a wider – less traditional – mix of hubs and the people they support would help ensure greater demographic coverage, but pilot and funding lengths need to allow for this.

The small time window to engage, support and evaluate the impact of the pilots left us unsure if the impact we measured will have sustained. We could only ask individuals about the support they had received – and its impact on their lives –  four weeks in. Is this enough to tell the story of change? We would love for future pilots to build in time and funding for understanding of the longitudinal change for those who take part. Ideally this would be over several years, but anything from 3-12 months would be beneficial. It is only by doing this that we identify the interventions that make meaningful change happen and enable us to put money and time into the good things.

Fewer questions, greater impact?

For some of those that we supported the data capture requirements were challenging. The questionnaires seemed long, the questions weren’t always straightforward, and some felt intrusive. More vulnerable people and those for whom English was not their first language felt nervous about answering some of the questions or struggled to answer the questions without assistance.

As with many publicly funded schemes, data collection requirements – especially around demographics – are built into the contracted activities and as a result, there is little flexibility around it. We are learning across all of our services that less may be more in terms of evaluation questions.

Knowing our hubs well, Good Things Foundation are working on reducing our data collection requirements, or spreading them out to ensure that they don’t feel too onerous and are more proportionate to the interaction. We think we can collect data from more diverse people by doing this, but we are testing this hypothesis. Where we can, we are focusing on gathering a small amount of data from a broader and more representative population – rather than lots of data from a subset of individuals who are more confident in this space.

What do you think? We’d love to hear from you.

Are you seeing the same in your digital skills delivery? Are you battling with the short term nature of similar programmes, juggling this with the ability to really broaden reach and engagement and to put a value on the difference that these interventions make in both the short term and longer term?

We’d love to talk more with those of you who are winning and losing this battle so we can learn from each other and make collective change happen. So please get in touch: research@goodthingsfoundation.org 


Interested in finding out more about the Digital Skills Pathway for Shared Prosperity?