Embedding Digital Social Inclusion for the most vulnerable people

06 Feb 2020 |Written by Robert Shapiro


Back in 2015 Reboot UK was born from a desire to support people from excluded communities to realise the positive benefits of digital technology. Through the programme we learned that in order to truly realise these benefits, we had to first focus on system change - embedding digital within frontline organisations and changing practice in the long term.

In previous phases of Reboot UK we developed and tested new approaches to engaging and supporting service users. These findings are outlined in the 2017 and 2018 Reboot evaluation reports.

The people we have supported through this programme have multiple challenges and improving digital inclusion and support is not at the top of their list of needs.

This links to the Theory of Change we developed earlier on in the Reboot programme. Having somewhere safe to stay, being listened to, having something to eat and meeting more basic needs are the focus.

Therefore it is a challenge especially when people have chaotic lives to find the right time and space to introduce new things like Digital Social Inclusion. Below is the reality.

This is particularly true if people's views of the activities associated with some types of digital use could be negative, for example with Universal Credit and wider interaction with formal online services.

In 2018 Good Things Foundation, in partnership with Mind and Homeless Link, launched the third phase of the Reboot UK programme. This latest phase focused on a test and learn approach where organisations embedded digital skills support into frontline services. We set up 15 Community Connectors across the UK to train, support and understand how to do this.

It’s been a fantastic project. We ran a series of co design workshops to understand the challenges and approaches, the findings of which can be found in our most recent Evaluation Report. The Community Connectors trained and supported 259 Digital Champions and 2,507 service users.

37 Online Centres have also been servicing people with poor mental health and/or experiencing homelessness, thus reaching a further 1,472 people. This means in total, 3,979 people have been supported over this latest phase of the programme.

The focus was to build a network of local and national organisations, along with people who could share skills with people to help them to get online. This in turn would give them greater control over their lives.

This is a great achievement. We are very grateful to work with Mind and Homeless Link, who have brought together all their partner organisations to create a culture of digital skills support embedded into frontline services. All in all, over 100 organisations took part over the 2 years.

It’s been a big challenge. The organisations we worked with had different approaches to digital social inclusion, so the model needed to be flexible. Specialist support services are under increasing pressure to meet a wider spectrum of complex needs and support people in a number of different ways. Digital might not currently be at the top of their list of priorities. Whilst many organisations can see the value in improving digital skills, a lack of resources, people and equipment are barriers.

That’s why in this phase of Reboot UK we looked at what we have learned throughout the programme and focused on developing a simple how to guide and some resources for specialist services who want to support people to develop their digital skills. We took a co-design approach, running a series of workshops with Online Centres and organisations in Mind and Homeless Links network. We understood how support can be best provided and in what format resources were most useful and accessible.

The Future

When I describe the programme to people I get a number of interesting responses but particularly with Homelessness. A fair challenge is that finding a home is more important - and of course it is; but there is a lot of information online to guide people to the right services.

Do you wait for the brilliant support worker to help with applications to access services or should we ease the burden on frontline staff and enable people to build the skills and confidence to do it themselves? Does the member of staff have the digital confidence to help people do it themselves? Where is a trusted, safe environment to explore this?

As the years have passed this question is being asked less and less because more people are beginning to see the importance of digital skills to everyone in society. Without them the digital divide will widen and compound exclusion. Whether we like it or not a whole raft of services have moved online - and finding ways to support marginalised communities in a safe, trusted place is hugely important and should be taken seriously.

It is great to see more initiatives with a similar focus like the Get Digital Programme in Scotland which recognises the importance of the issue and is doing great work. I would like to see more.

Dissemination is a big part of the project at this stage and we plan to share and discuss what we have found at a number of events. Good Things Foundation are planning an event in June to share what has been learned with Homeless Link and Mind.

I am looking to carry on the conversation so if you would like to know more about Reboot UK or the upcoming events please email hello@goodthingsfoundation.org.