On 15th February the iNetwork hosted the Go ON Digital Inclusion Partnership meeting. The Go ON is an initiative brings together colleagues in both the public and private sector providing a platform to discuss digital inclusion and identify ways of resolving digital exclusion. iNetwork hosts a regular meeting once a quarter showcasing innovative projects and tackling some of the big issues in the digital sector.

This meeting was the first session chaired by TIPS Stakeholder Engagement Manager Tom Hindmarch and he was joined by Darren O’Brien, Barclays, Chris Martin, TeamKinectic and Jason Tutin, Leeds City Council who all discussed various projects and initiatives in the digital sector.

Once all the participants on the call had briefly introduced themselves, Darren O’Brien an ecosystem manager for Eagles Labs, an initiative led by Barclays bank, kicked off the proceedings. Barclays Eagle Labs, a network set up in 2015, is made up of member businesses, partners and mentors to support SMEs. Eagle Labs has 28 ‘ecosystems’ across the UK which leverages Barclays products to support businesses with a range of different aspects. Darren also explained Barclays also has “Digital Eagles”, which is a 10-year-old programme aimed at upskilling people of all ages in coding and digital online skills.

Darren went on to discuss the exciting up and coming project in Greater Manchester, DISH. Eagle Labs along with a consortium of partners from the public, voluntary and private sector won a GMCA tender to develop a Digital Innovation Security Hub (DISH). The overall aim of DISH is to support cyber and cyber professionals in Greater Manchester. Although the project is GM focused, it will build a national ecosystem to support digital and cyber throughout the UK. The project has a range of objectives over 5 years which fit under four pillars:

1 – SME support: accelerators and networks SME support to grow, Utilise Cyber Foundry.
2 – Diversion and Support: mix within workforce, creating equal opportunities.
3 – Deprivation – make sure that deprived areas have got support.
4 – Skills and training – utilise academic partners to upskill in the digital arena.

Darren wishes to reach out to all Boroughs within Manchester in order to highlight the ways to engage in DISH and would welcome conversations around the support Eagle Labs can provide.

Chris Martin who is the Managing Director at TeamKinetic, was next up, discussing digital solutions in volunteer management. TeamKinetic is a Software service company based in Manchester which helps support volunteer management projects. They have a background in supporting Local Authorities and other organisations to mobilise, manage and retain volunteers digitally. The aim of the product is to make volunteering easier for everyone – an end to end sustainable product. 

Chris explained they started working with Manchester City Council in 2007 as part of the commonwealth games legacy, the aim was to recruit 300 volunteers over a 3 year period. Utilising the TeamKinectic system the partnership recruited 3,000 volunteers in the first 3 months. Last year (2021) TeamKinetic recruited over 41,000 volunteers and advertised over 18,000 opportunities. They also won multiple awards including a couple of awards presented by the iNetwork.

Chris highlighted in partnership with Halton and St Helens CVS, TeamKinetic won the Partner Excellence award last year. TeamKinetic developed a digital volunteer portal to help mobilise volunteers in St Helens, which to date has helped manage over 1,700 volunteers in the area, with over 80,000 hours offered out through the system. The system particularly helped St Helens respond to the pandemic, with the digital platform making it easy for volunteers to register and pick volunteering jobs.

Chris noted that they have played an active role in helping councils and other organisations respond to the pandemic. When Covid restrictions were initially brought in, they built a platform within three weeks called Community Task, aimed to help organisations respond to the needs in their community. The system utilised existing technology within mobile phones. Over 7,000 tasks were completed via community champions, tasks such as food shopping for people isolating and dog walking. The technology was utilised by numerous councils including Cardiff Council. The software was featured on BBC Wales and resulted in an 8,000% increase in online traffic.

Completing the formal presentations Jason Tutin, a digital inclusion manager at Leeds City Council delivered a presentation explaining 100% digital Leeds. Jason noted that he manages a team all focussed on digital inclusion, which has been in existence for 4 years. His team works with partners at a strategic level so they can support their own communities so that everyone can have the opportunity to engage with digital products with equal opportunities. Jason explained barriers can be a range of things and accessibility to technology doesn’t necessarily mean digital inclusion. Jason also noted it is difficult to measure the scale of digital exclusion as there are multiple measures that can be taken into account including disability, age, language and level of poverty. Jason simply stated, “digital inclusion is social inclusion”. Expanding further, he explained there are 4 main recognised barriers to digital inclusion but there are many others; Skills, Connectivity, Confidence and Motivation.

100% Digital Leeds is a holistic approach that supports organisations to effectively change processes to maximise community digital engagement and resilience, in addition, they assist with other aspects such as writing bids for funding. Jason explained that Digital Leeds has been working with the NHS to improve digital and develop ‘digital health hubs’. They have adapted their approach working with a range of organisations to share best practice and learning with the aim of embedding digital in a more sustainable way. They have brought together 6 different organisations as a network to support communities.

Another Project that Leeds City council is leading is the Digital Inclusion toolkit. The toolkit has been developed with a number of different councils with funding from Local Digital and provides a step by step guide to start a digital inclusion programme within a local authority. The inclusion toolkit has been developed based on experiences from councils and draws together other resources including case studies and examples of councils that have followed the toolkit.

Research is continuing on the toolkit, with the project actively looking for further case studies and ‘how-to guides’. The project is seeking behind the scenes insights from councils to enhance the depth of the toolkit. If any iNetwork member has some insights on digital inclusion, please contact Jason directly to be part of the digital inclusion toolkit.

Following the conclusion of the presentations from guest speakers, participants on the call were invited to share insights about their projects focusing on digital inclusion. Plus Dane Housing, Knowsley Borough Council and Tameside Council all provided updates on their digital inclusion work, highlighting various ongoing progress as well as challenges.