Stockport Metropolitan Council
DigiKnow – Stockports Digital Inclusion Alliance
Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives
Across Stockport, many adults still cannot access online products or services or use simple digital technology. People who are offline miss opportunities to progress fully with education or work, as jobs increasingly require some digital skills. Without digital, it’s harder to stay in touch with family and friends or join community activities that combat social isolation and with the cost-of-living crisis a priority for us all, people who are offline miss out of benefits, support, and savings on essential items.
Aims and objectives
We started our digital inclusion journey in earnest, in 2017, making a commitment that no one would face inequalities because they lacked the skills, devices or data to get online. Tackling digital exclusion is about much more than the shift to online services; for us, it’s about creating a fairer Stockport where everyone has equal opportunity, and no one is left behind. In April 2018, we formed Stockport’s Digital Inclusion Alliance of public, commercial, education, community and voluntary sector partners, with the dual aims of:
– Ensuring everyone who lives and works in Stockport can benefit from digital resources
– Motivating and encouraging people to choose digital.
By bringing together partners who share our commitment to digital inclusion, we maximise impact and share assets, resources, expertise and learning. This collaboration in turn improves the resources available to people in all of our local communities, helps us reach more people and maximises value for money. Stockport Council invested initially in two key partnerships:
1. Good Things Foundation to manage the Alliance
2. Starting Point Community Learning Partnership to develop and deliver digital inclusion support, learning and campaigns onthe ground.
Our collective plan was a self-sustaining digital inclusion movement in Stockport we called ‘DigiKnow’. By using a ‘trusted faces in local places’ strategy, we harness the reach of community groups and organisations and their trust among our communities to create a franchise of partners with embedded Digital Champions. This ‘train the trainer’ approach helps us to reach the most marginalised and digitally excluded people. DigiKnow also supports the digital capabilities of small businesses and the voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise(VCFSE) sector, and specifically helping the VCFSE sector to build digital support into their social mission and equip them to support the people who need the most help with digital.
DigiKnow tackles the three main barriers to getting online and recognises some people may have multiple barriers.
We tackle digital apathy, by highlighting specific benefits of being online. Our network partners are experts at engaging people around digital in response to specific needs. This includes:
– Job Centre Plus, who, by improving digital skills, increase access to job opportunities and help residents record job-search online for Universal Credit.
– Doctors’ surgeries and public health who help people manage their health and well-being using wellbeing apps and assistive technology and through social prescribing
– Citizens Advice, who residents turn to for advice at times of crisis.
– Community- groups who introduce a digital aspect to hobbies, from online recipes and knitting patterns to photography orancestry-search.
Skills and confidence
Improving digital confidence and skills opens up new opportunities for people. DigiKnow partners know those facing digital exclusion often face multiple challenges: They are more likely to be unemployed, have lower educational attainment and/or a disability and there is a strong correlation between digital exclusion and social and financial exclusion. DigiKnow partners have experience in reaching these groups, and we leverage this experience to help them benefit from the digital world as it relates to employment, social connection and health and wellbeing.
Cost of equipment
DigiKnow also addresses access to affordable devices and connectivity. All Stockport libraries and our main Contact Centre reception have free-to-use devices and Wi-Fi and many of our libraries have a self-service access system, allowing residents to use devices and Wi-Fi outside of staffed hours.
The pandemic had a profound effect on motivation to get online as more people needed digital to help them shield, work, complete schoolwork, order shopping and prescriptions online, bank, find out information or keep up with family. Yet lockdown led to the closure of many digital access points, such as libraries and community buildings, impeding access to devices, data and opportunities to improve digital skills. Our DigiKnow partnership helped us get things moving quickly, as our ready made network of community groups and volunteers responded with speed and compassion in quickly assessing changing needs and adapting our delivery accordingly.
What are the key achievements?
DigiKnow has helped over 30,000 individuals to get online or improve their digital confidence and skills, and the numbers continue to rise. We achieve this through evolving initiatives to meet changing needs and circumstances.
Single Point of Contact:
Our online directory and calendar of activities provide residents with one reference point for up-to-date localised information on digital inclusion support. They help community organisations signpost people to local support and help us identify gaps in provision. We also created an interactive map of public Wi-Fi provision for DigiKnow partners.
The alliance has grown from 5 initial partners to a network of over 60 organisations from the public, private and third sectors and we continue to attract new community organisations and mutual aid groups, and partners from the business and educational sectors.
We maximise the impact by recruiting and training Digital Champions to run digital skills sessions or provide one-to-one support. Starting Point run monthly training and also retrained many during the pandemic to deliver support over the phone or remotely. We have worked with Starting Point to launch ‘DigiKnow Friends’ training. Recognising that everyone in a frontline role, including Elected Members, council contact centre staff and community volunteers, has a role to play in helping people use digital services, DigiKnow Friends training equips people to recognise digital exclusion and know where in Stockport to signpost people for support. Some participants go on to do further training to be Digital Champions. We are encouraging all Stockport Council Members and employees to undertake DigiKnow Friends training, and we hope to make this mandatory. So far, 182 people have attended the training, including all our library colleagues. Some have gone on to Digital Champion training.
Early in the first lockdown, we created new web content to help others do things online, or improve their digital skills, with guides on how to order prescriptions, shop online and video call. When the need to be online was critical, the challenge was finding ways to help people get online and do things online without face-to-face teaching. Starting Point retrained 30 Digital Champions to support residents remotely. By the end of May, the remote Digital Champions had already provided 78 remote group sessions, 468 remote 1-1 sessions and supported 17 VCFSE groups to reach service users remotely.
We launched the DigiKnow Helpline and promoted this widely as a source of help to get online. The Helpline was used by individuals needing support, by the VCFSE sector and by local organisations who needed help using new remote working technology. The Helpline is still up and running and has managed over 12,500 calls and messages to date. We donated tablets to all Stockport care homes. We distributed over 1,100 devices to residents, through a range of local, national and GM donation schemes. Anyone receiving a device donation was also offered Digital Champion support. We launched the DigiKnow Device Lending Library.
DigiKnow Device Lending Library:
With funding from the council’s Stockport Local Fund, Starting Point set up the DigiKnow Device Lending Library, the first of its kind nationally. Digital Champions provide remote or in person support with each device loan. With the library established and the need for device loans sustained beyond lockdown, we continue to provide access to cheaper data and devices and have made 7,275 loans to date.
DigiKnow partners came together to influence telcos at a GM and national level through Operation WiFi. Digiknow partners were prominent in the campaign to donate unused data allowances that led to the creation of the National Databank.
Sustainability and affordability:
In 2021 Community Computers, a local charity, joined the Alliance to set up a device recycling scheme to refurbish donated devices for people on low incomes and repair DigiKnow Device Lending Library devices. We offered Stockport Libraries as collection points for donations. This initiative, the first locally based recycling collaboration in GM, has seen 3,717 donations to date, more than 10 tonnes of electronic waste saved from landfill, and many devices donated to VCFSEs. Other GM authorities have now adopted this scheme.
Having digital skills opens new employment opportunities, and we have embedded digital inclusion in our Radical DigitalStrategy and Economic Plan for Stockport. We want to ensure everyone has the skills to achieve their ambitions successfully. We have a digital inclusion pathway that leads from gaining essential skills and confidence through DigiKnow, to the digital skills and qualifications needed by local businesses. Our Continuing Education Service supports people to improve the digital skills needed by employers.
How innovative is your initiative?
The DigiKnow Alliance has introduced dynamic trailblazing projects, both locally and nationally, that have led the way in digital inclusion, including:
DigiKnow Helpline – launched during Covid, this continues to be a robust support method for individuals, VCFSEs and other organisations. Other public bodies from across the country have contacted the Alliance for advice about setting up something similar in their authorities. DigiKnow Device Lending Library – the application for support from Stockport Local Fund for a device library predated Covid. When the pandemic hit, it was quickly apparent the need for devices was about to get bigger. The application was fast-tracked to assist with devices for those seeking work, tackling home schooling and needing to use digital to communicate with friends and family.
Community Computers/libraries collaboration – our recycling initiative was the first in GM to offer libraries as convenient drop-off points for devices. Community Computers also committed to maintaining DigiKnow Device Lending Library devices as partof the collaboration. National databank pilot in Stockport – Starting Point were one of ten organisations nationally who piloted the Good Things Foundation/ Virgin Media O2 National Databank, before it was rolled out to the entire Online Centre network.
Other innovations that set our digital inclusion programme apart:
Cross sector collaboration
DigiKnow brings together partners from all sectors into one collaborative network. Partners share resources on a collaborative Sharepoint site so all can contribute to planning. We have bespoke DigiKnow digital inclusion pages on the Digital Stockport website and partners write blogs about their digital inclusion activities. There are fortnightly steering meetings, monthly newsletters and quarterly meet-ups. We use IT platforms such as Trello to coordinate annual Get Online Week activity and team up to offer joint activities. This is the busiest week in the digital inclusion calendar and there were almost 50 events in Stockport this year. Working together in these ways contributes to a feeling of equality among the partners and helps mobilise the Alliance quickly where needed.
To reflect the collaborative nature of the network and to avoid any organisation seeming to take the lead, we created the DigiKnow branding that all partners use. A brand helps simplify the communication of support offered to local people and builds trust among end-users and referrers. Communicating the DigiKnow movement has been essential to its adoption and growth. All partners feed their activities into the directory and calendar of events on Stockport Council’s website and we issue regular news releases and bulletins for residents and VCFSEs.
Data and Insight
We use a variety of data sources on opportunity and deprivation, plus insight from our partners. eg locations of loans from the device library. We have a Digital Inclusion dashboard which draws together multiple sources such as benefit claimants,provision of social housing, indices of deprivation. The qualitative intelligence that grassroots organisations provide about communities help us to spot emerging trends and identify needs based on location and gaps in provision.
Specialist knowledge and expertise: DigiKnow partners offer each other support, so all benefit from individual areas of expertise, such as helping people with physical or sensory impairments, or personal data security.
Training and Skills development: DigiKnow partners can access DigiKnow Friends and Digital Champion training, get support with device or data loans and access resources to help with training. We share up-to-date information on Stockport, regional and national digital inclusion initiatives and opportunities. The DigiKnow Friends and Digital Champions training sessions are open to all VCFSEs, regardless of whether they are Alliance members.
Networking and communication: Digital Champions receive a weekly newsletter and invitations to meetups and special events. All Digital Champions are linked with volunteering opportunities through the Stockport Volunteer Hub or directly through partners. Mobilising support: During Covid, Starting Point worked with VCFSEs to help them to reach their service users remotely. A medical professional working with refugees said: “I can’t believe how quickly you turned this around. We only had a two-week window before this person stopped using our service. It shows what we can do when we work together”.
Recently they have supported with access to the databank: ” This is amazing. I work with clients in hostels, and many people tell me, ‘I missed that call from my doctor because I don’t have credit’. I’m so happy to know I can refer people to the databank now through DigiKnow.”
What are the key learning points?
For those wishing to replicate Stockport’s DigiKnow programme, the model is founded on:
Cross-sector partnership: Being partner-led builds programme capacity, joins up different experiences and insight, reducesduplication and helps with a rapid response.
Train the trainer approach and community power: Technology and formal approaches to learning about digital can make people nervous. The success and growth of the DigiKnow movement stem from the ‘trusted faces in local places’ approach to reach the digitally excluded.
Sustainability: A huge issue at a time when public and VCFSE organisations face increased demand for services alongside sustained cuts to public funding. DigiKnow does not depend on the resources of any one partner and, for the most part, can exist without significant injections of additional funding. All that is required is growing awareness of the benefits of digital inclusion, encouraging more community groups to build digital into their regular activities, providing further support for their service users.
Unified comms, marketing, and branding: Creating a shared brand for our digital inclusion programme enhanced the collaborative sentiment in the network, unified the messaging around the support available across Stockport from different partners and built awareness and trust.
Strong governance embedded into Council governance: Good governance ensures we meet the needs of our communities and leads to good outcomes for citizens and service users. We have established a robust reporting framework with monthly data reporting and quarterly impact reports that feed into the council’s stringent governance for activities reporting.
Being prepared to adapt to meet changing needs: We have already and will continue to tailor the programme in response tonewly emerging needs. Such as:
– Covid – The biggest challenge we have faced was the need to pivot the programme during the Covid pandemic, but the impact continues. Covid has widened the digital divide. As a result of the increasing use of digital among the general population, we expect a continued acceleration of digital transformation and the shift to online services. But there will always be some people who are unable to get online. Our digital inclusion strategy will always include face-to-face and telephone support options, as well as ensuring Digital Champions, council officers and the local VCFSE sector can help people access the information they need.
– Cost of living crisis – The cost of living crisis adds to the challenges of getting online for many of our most vulnerable communities. As a result, we are changing our approach to help people as much as possible. Starting Point, working closely with Good Things Foundation, was one of the first organisations in the country to promote access to the national databank, six months ahead of other areas in the UK. We are also maximising social value opportunities to increase access to free or affordable IT equipment for those most in need. Alongside this, we offer targeted digital inclusion support at trusted venues in Lancashire Hill, where 22% of the population are not online, and many do not want to be online. Key to this is recruiting Digital Champions from the local community, for instance, at food banks and local pantries, maximising the trusted faces at local places approach.
We also plan to enhance the training available to all Digital Champions so they can signpost people to the relevant cost ofliving information in their area. We have invested in developing a single access point for local information, advice and supportaround the Cost of Living Crisis.
– Health and wellbeing – We want to maximise the opportunities to link digital inclusion with health and wellbeing priorities. In 2023-24 we will roll out digital inclusion training to Community Champions, volunteers who work with public health around health promotion priorities. Training will focus on health and wellbeing and using the internet to find out about healthy choices and local help. Digital inclusion also ties in closely with the priorities of our new Ageing Well Strategy, which will include specific commitments to this end. Telling stories: Personal stories that illustrate the impact of gaining digital skills can be more persuasive than statistics ingrowing the number of partners and Digital Champions:
“This has transformed my life and given me a new focus. I turn up to the classes with a smile on my face.”
“I think I will feel less on my own now. I can call friends and family. This will make a big difference to me”.
“Having the device has had a big impact on my life. It has made things a lot easier for me, and I can use it as and when Ineed to.”
“I’m in my 80s now, so I don’t get out as much as I used to. I feel like this has opened things up again for me. Everything is on a computer these days.”
“This laptop is incredibly helpful. It’s a big weight off my shoulders.”
This is a nomination for all the DigiKnow Partners: https://www.digitalstockport.info/digital-inclusion-in-stockport/digiknow-partners/
Network support and blogs: