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Simple things, done well

Making practical progress on digital engagement and inclusion

With over three quarters of people online at home and nearly half of people accessing the internet on their smartphones, citizens expect more innovative use of technology in public service delivery. The government is making progress on delivering mainstream digital public services. It is challenging, however, to provide an excellent and accessible service for all citizens - including the over eight million people who have never used the internet. This report is about what happens around the margins of digital government:

  •     Responding to the 5.5 million people aged 65 and older who, for whatever reason, are offline  and therefore need special consideration in the context of digital-by-default public services.
  •     Helping unemployed young people – where internet penetration and familiarity with technology is typically high, but the digital channel is not being used to its full potential.

Older people have the lowest levels of internet-take up, in stark contrast to highly connected younger age groups. For the digitally excluded, a number of barriers can compound each other, from cost to ability to interest. This research finds that universal internet take-up won't be achieved overnight, but nevertheless investing in the digitally excluded has long term benefits for both citizens and government.

The research also explored the issues facing unemployed 16 to 24 year olds, a large majority of whom reported high levels of interest in using digital methods to help them find work, training and education opportunities. It found that there is already a wide range of organisations working in this space, often doing very innovative online work with young people but not always being sought out by the right people at the right time. Using technology to better match and connect young people to these resources would help maximise their impact.

Recommendations

  1. A new Technology Advocate role should be piloted, backed by the training and resources required to reach out to people who are digitally excluded and mentor them as they start to access digital public services. If the government is serious about digital-by-default public services, then it needs to build on existing initiatives designed to tackle digital inclusion. We recommend that funding be put in place to support a formal technology advocate role, to complement existing volunteer-driven initiatives. These advocates would take the internet to the digitally excluded in their homes or other convenient locations in the community, using a mobile device to help people experience being online, completing digital transactions with government and gaining confidence using the web. Shifting even a small minority of digitally excluded people into being online would deliver savings sufficient to cover the cost of the programme.
  2. The government should take advantage of modern, interactive web technology to connect young people struggling with unemployment to helpful, personalised content and advice. Finding the right support shouldn't rely on being lucky when searching the web. Young people need a focal point and effective pointers toward the most relevant providers. The web makes it possible to ask people in a structured way about their circumstances, needs and ambitions, and to recommend content accordingly (in much the same way as already happens for say travel, shopping or movies). So rather than spending too much time generating additional content, the government would do better to capitalise on its high profile and invest in helping young people reach what is already out there. The model for this should be quick, cheap and agile – focusing on specific sub-sets of the NEET population, and using off-the-shelf tools and templates to quickly deliver and iterate a service that is "good enough". This could be done in-house or through funding from an external partner. Other organisations in this space – including charities, social enterprises and businesses – would also have a role to play in ensuring they are listed and responding to user feedback.

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