Delivering Digital Inclusion: A Shared Vision for a Smarter City

INTRODUCTION

With the recent introduction of the “Digital by Default” approach by Government which aims to make the majority of government services only available online and the introduction of the Welfare Reform Strategy which is one of the biggest changes to happen to the Welfare System in over 40 years there is now more than ever a requirement placed upon everyone in society to be able to use technology not just for communicating but in our everyday lives.

Digital inclusion is about ensuring that people, both as citizens and consumers benefit from the rapid pace of technological change that is taking place in our society.

The ability to use these technologies is paramount as those that do not have the skills to get online or do not see the relevance are likely to become economically and socially excluded.   As more people engage with technology and see the benefits there is a risk for those who are left behind becoming more excluded.

In the current economic climate, and with the increasing pressures on citizens, businesses, public and voluntary sector expenditure, there are significant long-term savings and efficiencies that can be made by accessing and delivering services through online channels.

The “Digital by Default” Agenda is here to stay and we as a City can either embrace it or refuse to accept it but by doing this our citizens, businesses etc., will not become competitive and the digital skills required by all of us not just now, but into the future will mean that we will be left behind and economic growth will stagnate.

In Birmingham there are currently over 1m people of which 20% have never used the internet (ONS Quarter 1 Stats 2013) and are not online, the majority of which fall within the Social Housing Sector and which are the ones that are most impacted by the Welfare Reform changes that are being made.

Birmingham City Council and it’s partners from public, private and voluntary sector are:-

  • Committed to help break down the barriers for the 40% of Birmingham Citizens who are digitally excluded.
  • While setting out a framework we want to provide a clear strategic framework for the City and a joint action plan that can help identify best practice in each sector which can help others to take identify their digital inclusion activities
  • Committed to ensuring that a wide range of stakeholders in the public, private and voluntary sectors are brought together to help create a digital inclusion strategy for Birmingham that everyone can buy into and align plans and co-ordinate activities to help maximise impact for citizens.
  • Committed to working closely with stakeholders to identify and deliver creative and collaborative approaches to getting people online to achieve the shared ambition of digital inclusion.

This draft framework will outline the challenges to be faced and the limitations that exist in order to avoid any gap between expectations and the capacity to deliver.

While the framework seeks to be ambitious it also needs to be realistic and therefore the plan is seen within the context of a 5 year timescale.

It is proposed that the initial draft framework once developed is put out for consultation across the sectors in order to identify where there is good work already being done in this area and to highlight best practice that can be replicated across the City and to identify any other suggestions or ideas that need to be considered or included within the current framework.

WHY DO WE NEED AN OVERARCHING DIGITAL INCLUSION STRATEGY FOR THE CITY?

To create a shared vision – to ensure that everyone who wants to be online can get online and experience the benefits and advantages that being online can bring.

Achieving digital inclusion is only one of the elements towards the economic growth of the city as is financial and social inclusion but it is vital if we want to take up the benefits and opportunities that being online can bring.  What we want to achieve as part of this vision is for:-

  • citizens to acquire the confidence,  motivation,  skills and competences that all them to communicate more easily through digital technologies, reducing their isolation and social exclusion
  • creating new opportunities for people to contribute and participate in society, the economy and the life of the City.  Life challenges can be dealt with in new ways, learning can be personalised, democratic processes widened, and communities of interest can share information and provide support in new ways
  • enabling consumer to obtain goods more easily and more cheaply, particularly helping families on low income and individuals on benefits
  • citizens to have a greater say and get involved in democratic participation
  • offering citizens more access to public services online using different channels
  • citizens to improve their digital skills to gain better jobs

Birmingham City recognises that:-

  • the inclusion and participation of all citizens is central to its shared vision
  • all citizens should have affordable access, support and the right skills to benefit from developments in digital technologies
  • the digital inclusion of citizens is a key element of delivering a digital strategy for a smart city, along with business growth and competitiveness, a flexible forward looking future proofed network infrastructure, skills, and the delivering of public services more effectively and efficiently to meet the rising expectations of its citizens
  • the digital inclusion of citizens needs to be built into wider strategies for economic growth, prosperity, wealth creation and public service deliver.  It forms a key part of the development of a digital economy and society.
  • That market forces alone will not be sufficient to get people online
  • The digital inclusion of citizens will only be achieved by the efforts of the public, private and voluntary sectors combined, no one sector can deliver it alone
  • That central and local government strategies need to become more aligned towards delivering this digital vision.
  • That as this is an issues which affects a considerable proportion of the citizens of Birmingham, it relates to the activities of almost every organisation and that everyone from local authorities to older people networks to housing associations to private businesses have a contribution to make in achieving this shared vision.
  • Delivering the shared digital inclusion vision involves a number of different components and these are encompassed in an 9 C’s Model that encompasses the following themes:-
  • 1 – Customer
  • 2 – Channel
  • 3 – Choice
  • 4 – Cost
  • 5 – Connectivity
  • 6 – Communication
  • 7 – Capability
  • 8 – Content
  • 9 – Champion
  • Every element can be identified individually and every component can be addressed depending on the specific needs of individual citizens:-
  • CUSTOMER (CENTRIC)

To enable digital inclusion you must first be in touch with your customer.  You must understand their needs and wants and how they currently interact with your organisation.  This can be achieved by using research, customer profiling, customer insight data that may already be available to you to identify the propensity for your customer to channel shift or use technology.

If you do not currently have data on your customers then it is important that you start to collect this data, it may be very simple information that you ask for e.g. Do you have an email, do you have access to broadband at home using fixed line, only using mobile phone etc

I would value comments on any element of the 9Cs and will be posting each week information on each element.

We will also be highlighting best practice across the City so if you have case studies that link to any of the elements of the model please share so that we don’t all have to reinvent the wheel.

Do you know your customers and their digital identities? 

It may be useful that we have a standardised questionnaire, so that we can compare data in sectors.   What do you think?  What should it include?  How can we work together to create a shared vision?

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