How we’ve helped limited internet users to survive – and thrive
Our Director of Partnerships and Fundraising Adam Micklethwaite blogs about the Make It Click programme, funded by Google.org, and what we have learnt about supporting limited internet users
At Good Things Foundation we’re working to solve the problem of digital exclusion. Globally, 37% of the world’s population are still offline. In the UK, digital exclusion is still a major issue: 10 million adults still lack the most basic digital skills, 11% of poorer households lack internet access, and 2.5 million adults struggle to afford broadband connectivity.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic means it’s never been more important that everyone can benefit from the digital world. So many aspects of life and work now depend on digital technology that being cut off from the internet can have devastating consequences. Addressing digital exclusion is vital to increase life chances and create equality of opportunity.
The pandemic has starkly exposed the gap between the digital ‘haves’ – those able to work from home with minimal disruption, and take advantage of online services such as shopping, banking and digital health – and the digital ‘have nots’ – those who were disconnected, lacking access to a device, having low or no digital skills, or struggling to afford the connectivity data needed to do what many in society took for granted.
As a charity we focus most on helping those furthest behind, reflecting the depth of their need, but we know that for many the journey towards digital participation doesn’t stop with the most basic digital skills – and that the continuing growth in digital jobs makes it important that people continue to progress. Recognising this, in 2019 with the support of Google.org, we mobilised the Make It Click programme. Our aim was to build on our work with the most vulnerable, and explore how to help people at the next stage of their digital journey – those who have made the move online but still lack digital skills, and have ‘limited’ or ‘narrow’ use of the internet. Today we are publishing our learnings from the programme.
Thanks to the support of Google.org, we have supported over 25,000 people who were limited internet users to improve their digital skills and employability through community-based learning, and a further 21,000 through purely online resources – and through this, we’ve learned more about what it takes to unlock the desire and ability to learn new digital skills.
People who are limited users of the internet can be a hidden group. There is a strong focus on helping people to achieve higher level digital skills for tech careers. Other support often prioritises – for good reasons – people taking their first steps online, in order to realise the considerable benefits it can bring to their lives. As Professor Simeon Yates of the University of Liverpool has remarked in his work with Good Things Foundation, limited internet users “are most likely to be overlooked in the development of policy and practice to address digital inequality.” With the Make It Click programme, we wanted to address this imbalance, and explore how to help people who have reached barriers in their digital development continue to build their digital confidence and skills, so they can make more meaningful and impactful use of the internet.
During the programme, we worked directly with limited internet users to understand their needs, the barriers they face to greater digital engagement and skills development, and what approaches can unlock confidence, skills development and progression.
We found that although limited internet users are a distinct group from those who are completely offline and/or lack any digital skills, the two groups share some common features – similar socio-economic characteristics (such as lower incomes and lower skills), barriers to engagement and also personal barriers – like access, motivation or lack of time. But they were also different in a number of ways. The proportion of young people among limited users is higher than among non users – for example, young people just using social media but not making use of other capabilities of the internet. And secondly, limited users are more likely to see the workplace as a catalyst for learning new digital skills – so employability is an effective ‘hook’ for their engagement.
Drawing on this analysis, we were able to categorise two broad groups of limited internet users:
- Those with lower skills and confidence, less sense of what they need to achieve, who are often dealing with other problems associated with social exclusion and deprivation, and may be in crisis. They are most likely to be engaged by and benefit from non-judgemental, open, flexible, person-centred support provided by community based organisations.
- Those with higher skills and confidence, who are more likely to be in work, happy to learn independently, who are more likely to use self-directed learning tools, and who have well-defined and immediate needs.
We used these insights to design and evolve Make It Click: a model of community-based learning delivered through a network of over 200 local partners across the UK, engaging primarily with limited internet users in the lower confidence group; and a curated bank of online resources for independent learning, targeting limited internet users in the higher confidence group.
The programme had a powerful impact on those we supported. One of our beneficiaries was Debra, from Belfast, who was supported through Make It Click to build new digital skills for her career after being furloughed in her job as an office manager during the Covid-19 pandemic. In this video Debra tells her story, and describes the impact of the programme on her life.
She says: “The Make It Click courses have helped me to focus and calm the mind; it’s a distraction from the chaos of life. It has given me a sense of purpose; it’s something I have done for me. It’s empowered me to have goals and I have started writing a blog about my experience”
Shortly after Make it Click began, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and like every organisation Good Things Foundation faced the challenge of supporting people to manage in the ‘new normal’. In response, we pivoted the programme model, temporarily relaxing grant requirements for our community partners, sharing best practice in remote models of delivery, and sourcing online resources that responded to people’s immediate needs – for example, guides on working remotely from home for workers on the UK Government’s ‘furlough’ scheme. We also mobilised a device distribution model for beneficiaries without internet access in their homes, working with our community partners, which has since become a mainstream element of Good Things Foundation’s model.
For Good Things Foundation, the Make It Click programme has been crucial. Our learning about supporting people who are limited internet users will help continue to develop our learning models and resources going forward – including Learn My Way, our online platform providing free learning material for everyone looking to improve their essential digital skills. It will also inform our thinking for the longer term, particularly around the next big question in digital inclusion – how to help everyone keep up to date as technology continues to evolve.
Our work ahead includes the scaling up of a UK National Databank, building a UK redistribution model for donated/refurbished digital devices through our community partners, and growing the movement for digital inclusion amongst the UK community sector to support a big push to fix the digital divide. Building a digitally inclusive world has never been more important, and we’re always excited to meet new organisations and individuals interested in supporting us on this journey.
Director of Fundraising and Partnerships
Adam builds ambitious and innovative partnerships with Government, charitable foundations and the private sector to address society’s biggest challenges using digital - as well as leading our fundraising to ensure we can continue have an impact on people's lives