Digital Unite Chief Executive and One Digital Programme Director, Emma Weston reflects on the Digital Skills Crisis report published by the Science and Technology Committee Report on 13 June 2016. 

I have not yet been through the Science and Technology Committee Report on the Digital Skills Crisis (13 June 2016) line by line but I did skip straight to the section on Digital Champions. 

Report item 33 –and note, it is also in bold! Digital Champions are a useful lever to engage with those who are hardest to reach—those with low digital skills which makes them more receptive to face-to-face support. The Government should step up its Digital Friends initiatives to go beyond its cross-government approach by extending it widely across the public sector.

The first sentence is incontrovertible but it’s just not news! Four whole years ago, back in 2012, I wrote a paper for DWP on the Digital Champion model as an effective digital inclusion tool. Since then many good things have happened in this domain, including initiatives from two big corporates Barclays and Lloyds to develop Digital Champions in their organisations. All of which is referred to in this report. The Digital Friends initiative lives strong in DWP, for example, who now has a network of them.

Despite all this, it's summer 2016 and we still have nearly 12 million people without basic digital skills but no national digital skills strategy. Of which a central plank would surely be a national Digital Champion support and/or supra-structure.

We don’t need another series of come and go initiatives on the ‘Digital Champion spectrum’ surely: we need some consolidation, some joining up, we need people and structures and resources with some staying power, flexible enough to adapt, but which last long enough to offer consistency. We need a shared vision and we need shared investment – we need smart models for attracting investment - and then we need to grind it out. It’s not rocket science, it’s all about leverage and gearing. Delivering on huge promises such as having digitally capable sectors that can engage with digitally nervous and unskilled citizens will require smart operational and logistical planning, careful consideration of the definition of outputs, outcomes, change realised, perspicacious evaluation, and so on. But it’s all very, very doable

And we need to be more detailed, expansive and open about what’s behind the big numbers. What are Barclays’ volunteers and Lloyds Digital Champions doing and how and what impact are they having? That includes the Champions themselves, the end learners reached. What about Digital Friends and its cross government potential and impact? What doesn’t work, what can’t Digital Champions models solve, what are the risks? What can we learn about how these schemes operate so that through sharing we can create momentum and scale?

Currently Digital Unite is part of One Digital, a Digital Champion programme made up of six partners and six interlocking projects. (AbilityNet, Affinity Sutton, Age UK, Citizens Online, Digital Unite, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.)

We don’t consider ourselves faddish or impermanent; our aspiration is that our example will inspire and galvinise others to join in, learn from our experiences.  Between and across us, we embody years of silo working which we are using to leverage and gear a collective response to bridge the digital skills gap. We won Lottery funding to see whether and how a really collaborative approach to basic digital skills, using Digital Champion models, could be effective, sustainable and scalable. 

One Digital is thorough and supportive. It trains its Digital Champions on a common curriculum that has been co-created by the organisations who recruit and support the Champs. It supports its Champions in their training and in the field, on and offline. We monitor our progress and we have third party evaluators who consider it also. As a result, we KNOW stuff all the way down the chain about how our programme works on the ground. Our numbers are not monstrously big, yet, but they are rock solid and they are tangible and you can drill right down into them.

Just four months in to the delivery One Digital is on track to meet its programme targets

  • 350+Digital Champions nationwide
  • 60% completed training
  • 132 organisations reached
  • 2,464 learners engaged
  • 5 new bespoke elearning courses with 2 more in development
  • 94% of Champions would recommend their training support to others
  • Third party programme wide evaluation to date showed all partners agreed strongly that:

o    ‘they are dedicated to making the OD collaboration work’

o    ‘what the collaboration is trying to do would be difficult for any single organisation to achieve on its own’

o    ‘the benefits of collaboration will offset the costs and/or risks for our organisation’.

One Digital has already realised significant achievements in its early days and is evidencing the effectiveness of Digital Champion model. We look forward  to continuing to share news of its impact, alongside the challenges too. Most of all we look forward to Digital Championing becoming a real Movement for Change when it comes to better digital skills across a properly digitally enabled UK.

What do we do?

Find out how we can help you run successful digital inclusion programmes. 

What is Digital Inclusion

Why does it matter? And what can be done about it? We've pulled together some great resources.