Ode to the Online Centres

05 Jun 2019 | Written by Francesca Coleman


In April 2019 we began a sixth year of delivering the Future Digital Inclusion programme, funded by the Department for Education, supporting individuals to improve their basic digital skills.

The Future Digital Inclusion project is so successful because at its heart is support delivered by members of the Online Centres Network, trusted organisations in their communities that help individuals develop not only their digital skills but also their confidence, self-belief and ability to use digital to improve their lives.

Many centres use the Future Digital Inclusion programme as the starting point for a relationship which develops over time - learners may initially engage with their local centre to improve basic digital skills, but the relationship of trust and support which develops means that centres often help learners to progress further - going on to find employment, take up volunteering or engage in further learning.

In fact our Realist Evaluation of the programme has shown that 87% of those supported progress to different forms of further learning, including informal and formal education and training, while a full 39% have started a qualification three months after the initial point of engagement.

As the guardians of the Future Digital Inclusion programme we at Good Things Foundation can’t thank our Network enough for the very real difference they’re making to people’s lives. It’s their commitment and knowledge of their communities that really makes this programme tick.

During March and April we ran a series of workshops with members of the Network who are being funded to support thousands more individuals during the next year of the Future Digital Inclusion project. We wanted the workshops to be an opportunity to talk about the aim of the project and facilitate the sharing of best practice, but they were also a prime opportunity for us to continue to learn about the organisations in the Network, the environment they operate in and understand more about how their delivery models work.

These events highlighted to us just how vital these organisations are in their community, the variety of organisations we have delivering the project and the commonalities there are in their delivery, despite their differences.

Some take homes for us from the workshops:

  • Partnerships with other local services and organisations are key to engaging socially excluded adults who need to improve their digital skills. These can range from local GP surgeries and job centres to debt advice services or immigration support organisations.
  • The success and failure of partnerships for many Online Centres is often down to their key contacts. If a key person moves on often the relationship is adversely affected.
  • Online Centres offer digital skills support in a variety of ways to best suit their learners - one to one, group, peer learning. Taking a blended approach works best.
  • Digital skills are often only a small part of the solution - often a learner needs help with other primary issues such as their financial skills, language or confidence.
  • Some Online Centres are blessed with many volunteers, some find them hard to recruit and retain.
  • Digital exclusion isn’t going away - many organisations talked of the ongoing need for their support. And to an extent, it’s getting more complex.
  • The staff and volunteers at Online Centres will go the extra mile to help someone who is facing multiple barriers and/or in crisis. We never fail to leave an event with Online Centres inspired and in awe of the hard work and compassion we see across the Network.

In 2019 we’re aiming to support another 165,760 people to improve their basic digital skills through the Future Digital Inclusion project. One thing’s for sure - without the dedication and hard work of the Online Centres we wouldn’t be able to support so many people and help begin to bridge the digital divide.

Featured project

Future Digital Inclusion