This thread contains three delegate blogs, kindly contributed by: Iain Robinson, City of Stoke-on-Trent Council,  Laura Robertson-Collins, NWTUC and Lisa Lee, Tinder Foundation.
Each blog offers a different perspective on #iNetworkDigital 2016 and provides unique insights into the challenges and rewards of digital public services. 


This Blog was contributed by Iain Robinson, Policy Manager, City of Stoke-on-Trent Council


When it comes to expectations of public sector conferences, hope does not always spring eternal these days. I’ve become wary of events which promise all manner of tantalising insights, only to serve up platitudinous debates or protracted sales pitches. With digital inclusion, the innate marketability of the digital all too often trumps the comparatively mundane grittiness of the inclusion.


Coming from a city where one in eight adults are unable to get online and twice as many lack essential digital skills, the inclusion element is a lot harder to overlook. I’m devising a strategy which I’m confident will make an impact, building on the imminent redevelopment of our corporate website and knitting together new initiatives like our innovative social media courses, in which sixth form students volunteer to provide one-to-one digital tuition for members of local charities and community groups, with more strategic programmes such as city centre Wi-Fi and employment and skills support. So I was very pleased to discover that iNetwork’s Improving Quality of Life in a Digital Age event lived up to its billing, offering a diverse programme  of thought-provoking and informative presentations and seminars organised by policy theme, with inclusion taking centre stage.


The opening session featured a captivating video of an elderly ‘digital virgin’ discovering with astonishment that he could use the internet to see and chat to distant friends and relatives. In that instant, something hitherto unfathomable and superfluous had suddenly become more accessible and more relevant to his life than he had ever imagined – for me, this neatly captures the very essence of digital inclusion.


Shortly afterwards, I heard about how Wigan Council’s celebrated digital strategy was enabling it to deliver the innovative ‘Wigan Deal’ for its communities, embedding the principle of reciprocity in public service delivery through new approaches to behaviour change and unlocking multi-million pound associated benefits by getting the most digitally excluded residents online. I’m a big believer that the cumulative price of inertia will almost always outweigh the short-term cost of tackling difficult problems if we can be honest about the calculations involved. So it was deeply satisfying to hear Wigan’s Alison McKenzie-Folan and the Tinder Foundation’s Adam Micklethwaite separately outlining compelling business cases for addressing digital exclusion. Ken Clemens of Age UK Cheshire further reinforced the argument with his point that “the 23 per cent of the population who are not digitally enabled…are probably the 23 per cent that we spend 40 per cent of public sector funds on”.

The insights came so thick and fast throughout the day that I half expected to glimpse a metaphorical lightbulb blinking above my head at any moment. The overwhelming message I took back with me from the conference was that the importance of digital transformation extends far beyond so-called ‘channel choice’. Done properly, digital engagement, as I’ve now learnt to call it, can be a powerful tool for reducing demand for services through behaviour change and capacity-building, but it won’t be effective unless it is fundamentally geared towards improving people’s quality of life. Actually, my final epiphany of the day came after the conference had ended, and involved a moderately painful, but acutely embarrassing collision with a signpost while using my smartphone to navigate to Piccadilly station. This felt like a particularly unsubtle reminder that digital transformation is not an end in itself – it may be the most effective way to get there, but local context is of crucial importance in choosing the right pathway to implementation and we ignore any signs of static resistance at our peril.

This Blog was contributed by Laura Robertson-Collins, Digital & Community Project Development Officer, NWTUC


I found the iNetwork Digital 2016 conference a breath of fresh air last month. It was relevant and helpful for my work as the TUC’s Community & Digital Inclusion Officer, and also in my role as an Elected Member of Liverpool City Council. The keynote speakers were inspiring in terms of some useful ideas, such as Eric Applewhite’s ‘pyramid’ showing levels of service need and providers’ ability to digitise such services. Like all good theoretical models, this is almost obvious in its simplicity but provides clarity in terms of thinking about digital transformation.


The “Wigan Deal” is another interesting concept. Although local authorities require input from citizens, this is rarely articulated. Yet it is more than reasonable to do so! The ‘rights and responsibilities’ deal developed by Wigan is a useful way to look at managing service demand, including the role of digital communication in this. I was also pleased to hear from Adam at the Tinder Foundation. The reality of continued digital exclusion levels requires frequent repeating. It is sometimes too easy for those involved in providing technological solutions to forget why they are required and who most needs them.



The TUC are currently working with the Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group to support all residents (not just NHS patients) to have access to the internet and to feel able to use digital technology. We have done this by providing and utilising local digital hubs, in voluntary organisations and workplace learning centres, and using ‘Digital Champions’ to engage people. The NHS has invested in this to enable people to take more responsibility for their own healthcare and their well-being.


This week has seen the launch of the city’s “Fit For Me” campaign to encourage increased physical activity for everyone – no matter what the baseline fitness – . Again the TUC is managing a ‘Get Active’ project for the LCCG, with workplace and community groups measuring their activity with LCCG-provided ‘trackers’ – and seeking a 10% increase in this over a twelve week period. What motivates people to become healthier and how digital devices can be utilised to help in this are crucial issues as needs increase and traditional resources to meet them dwindle. Finding how to scale this up in workplaces and obtain employer support is also vital to future health.


Thanks to iNetwork Digital 2016 for helping encourage me and others to look again at these issues and provide ideas of where support can be found for our work in these challenging times.


iNetworks annual digital conference: Improving Quality of Life in a Digital Age


Lisa Lee, Business Development Officer, Tinder Foundation.


In July, I had the pleasure of attending iNetwork’s annual digital conference: Improving Quality of Life in a Dig ital Age. The conference, aimed at those working within the public sector, was not about channel shift. It was, as the name suggests, about exploring how Local Authorities can harness digital technology and innovation to improve the quality of residents’ lives. Broadly, the three key topics were: Digital Inclusion, Navigating Public Services, and Prevention & Early Prevention.


At Tinder Foundation, we support the hardest to reach groups to improve their digital skills and in turn to improve their lives and with almost 100 delegates from across the country attending iNetwork, it was very exciting to see so many likeminded people, who were all passionate about the power of digital technology, and eager to make change within their own localities. We were delighted to be there to talk about the work we’ve done with local authorities and other organisations, and how through our Learn My Way learning platform, and the UK online centres network , we can continue to support them to maximise their impact.


An impressive lineup of 18 speakers populated the schedule. Some of my highlights were:


  • John Ryan, Chair of iNetwork and Head of Customer Services at Bolton Council, who introduced the day with a simple message that digital technology had the power to change lives.


  • Alison McKenzieFolan, Deputy CEO at Wigan Council, who talked about their journey, which has led to them being named Digital Council of the Year 2016 at this year’s Digital Leaders awards. Importantly, Alison highlighted that to drive cost savings, the development of digital services, alongside digital inclusion is vital.


Funnelback and Ian Singleton from IEG4, emphasised that socially excluded residents often have a variety of knockon complex needs for example, poverty, health and housing issues are often linked.


  • Rahna Riley, Digital Services Lead at Rochdale Council, who delivered a passionate session about the importance of keeping customer experience the number one priority when building online services.


  • Andy Cave, Project Officer at Helena Partnerships who talked about their comprehensive Digital Programme. Andy was spot on in emphasising that an indepth knowledge of the issues facing residents is a vital foundation from which a successful digital programme can be built, and secondly that frontline staff must engage directly with digitally and socially excluded residents to create change.


Tinder Foundation’s own Director of Business and Innovation, Adam Micklethwaite also took to the stage to discuss the 12.6 million people in the UK who dont currently have basic digital skills , and the inextricable link that addressing this will have on the success of channel shift and devolution, leading to vital cost savings. Adam highlighted three important points:


  • Digital exclusion is something that Local Authorities cannot ignore
  • Tackling digital exclusion drives wider economic and social outcomes
  • Doing digital inclusion doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.


I found the iNetwork’s event thoroughly motivating. It was inspiring to see representatives from Councils from across the country come together to agree on the importance of digital inclusion, and I eagerly look forward to hearing about the positive changes that the event has catalysed.


To find out more about how Tinder Foundation is supporting Local Authorities to drive economic and social benefits through local Digital Inclusion projects, get in touch on