What’s up with the Digital Agenda? Momentum!

There is a great sense of momentum right now in the digital inclusion community. From grass roots volunteers getting people online across Europe, to the highest level policymakers, everyone has noticed it. Everyone is feeling it.

It was talked about when the ‘Gdansk Roadmap’ was launched and where Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission recently signaled that we should put digital education at the center of social change and economic reconstruction. It was also talked about at the Digital Agenda Assembly back in June in Brussels as a means to ensure that no one gets left behind as our economic and social reality goes digital.

There are new products launching, like the Key Competencies Employment Toolkit. Campaigns like the Telecentre-Europe Get online week are growing and evolving, year on year. Individual Telecentres continue to champion innovative new approaches to reaching new audiences. Momentum. Progress! Action! Stuff happening!!!

But this is just a taster of initiatives, there is so much more to the momentum than that. Strategic partnership work is happening like never before. New types of stakeholders are engaging, and seeing real benefits of their involvement. We recently learned that the National Bank of Greece is a key and primary stakeholder enabling digital inclusion in Greece. Supermarkets have also joined the fight in the UK. There is still a valuable core of long standing supporters of digital inclusion, like Microsoft, and a raft of telecoms providers, but the picture is changing. It is no longer just the technology and communications sector that recognises how important digital inclusion is to our increasingly digital world.

The story is not all good though, some governments are ‘refocusing’ during the economic crisis. They must make cuts to balance the books, we all understand that. But the cuts that are happening, time and again, are at local authority level, often in the community sector. It isn’t at all uncommon that a digital inclusion project has no more than 12 months of funding agreed. But how can networks plan for a long term vision with only 12 months of known income? Government funding is still there for digital inclusion, but it is reducing, in some cases more significantly than others.  

Hang on a minute…. Should we just be reliant on Government? Successful individual Telecentres are the ones that are entrepreneurial and collaborate with local enterprise. Shouldn’t we, the networks, be more entrepreneurial and collaborative with industry?

The number of industry sectors that see it as their problem is increasing, and are investing time and resources as they can see that there will be a payback to them in time. It is not only through altruism that industry is involved. It is simply good business sense to build your customer base. We absolutely welcome it.  

So, if the balance of investment is changing from government investment in the Third Sector to a more mixed economy with industry playing a greater role, is this not good? Yes, absolutely. There will be some pain first, and then everything will be alright. We will have a mixed economy with all sectors investing to solve the problem. Sorted…? Hmmmm.

And yet we are still seemingly running full tilt, developing products and running campaigns (increasingly for less). Are we running to stand still? If the numbers aren’t dramatically changing, (and across Europe they are not), and we are seemingly busier than ever (and we are), then what are we doing if the offline numbers aren’t dropping? Hmm, this is a nutty one. Well, we think the answer lies, in the middle section of a diagram we drew a while back.  

People are still being helped to get online at the start of the journey (the inclusion bit), but perhaps a majority are gaining the confidence to carry out transactions in the middle part of the journey (the engagement bit). Ebay, Amazon, banking, paying bills online: these are all VERY popular courses these days. Telecentres across Europe could run courses on these (and the social stuff like Facebook or digital photography) every day of the week. Transactions are what people want to know about. How to make them safely and securely. And they need a helping hand to feel confident enough to give transactions a try.

Errr. Hang on again…. Transactions? Isn’t Government then benefiting from industry and the third sector investment and support? It’s very convenient that citizens learn about having an identity (and protecting it), and completing a transaction, that includes a tax line, while learning about shopping and banking, which also applies directly across to government transactional services.  

So government has a business case here, too, a case that saves administrative funds.

In 2009, Martha Lane Fox, the UK Digital Champion, identified that the UK government could save £900m by getting all the remaining 10m (at that time) offliners to do just one transaction per month online.

And since that time, UK online centres have systematically researched this topic, and the actual figure is much more than this, potentially more than three times that figure. After surveying more than 700 newly online people through UK online centres, 60% specifically state that they have now shifted their relationship with government, and carry out more than 3 transactions per month online.

And there is a significant proportion of these people, who also tend to be the heaviest users of government services, now do more than 10 transactions per month. This is all hugely powerful stuff, (and it makes the government economists get all excited) but is it the same across Europe?  

Not yet. But we are just starting a project that will develop systematic social and economic impact assessment of the whole digital inclusion sector, across the whole of Europe. And then government (and industry or anyone else) will be able to measure the impact that digital inclusion is having upon government, society and individuals. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy, but it’s starting now, and we are really excited by it. We hope that it will lead to considered, sector-balanced, strategic, long-term investment in digital inclusion (and engagement, going back to the diagram) based on a sound business case.  

Today though, at our annual summit Telecentre-Europe will still celebrate our achievements through the Telecentre-Europe Awards, and continue to work hard to find sustainable partnerships and resources to support our work.  

The investment to keep these dynamic and impactful projects going now will be far less that to reinvent them in five years’ time. Let’s not let the momentum and creativity we see now around e-inclusion in the Digital Agenda escape us; let’s make sure that we continue to treat the agenda not as a list of things to do, but instead, an action plan.

Gabriela Barna, Chair of Telecentre-Europe AISBL & Ian Clifford, Deputy Chair

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Comment by Richard O'Farrell on November 1, 2011 at 10:57

What an excellent summary of where the Digital Agenda is at today - there is indeed a palpable sense of momentum as the DAE now enters its Going Local 2 phase. We saw that at Going Local in Ireland recently, just as others have seen it in their respective Countries. The DAE has come a long way indeed but still needs to complete what remains an ambitious and most challenging journey with many barriers ahead. For all of c.150 million people across Europe - who figure among those that are currently unemployed, low income earners, less well educated or the ageing population - or even to reach that DAE target of the next 50 million by 2015, will require serious Incentivisation of those target audiences by the ultimate beneficiaries.

Yes, the Governments will benefit enormously with lower cost online transactions as you have shown, and the Major Corporations will also benefit with both new (Eastern mainly) and new types of (lower cost, online) customers for sure - though it is the Communities themselves who are set to benefit most. They will gain most through access to new Jobs, Trades & Services, while winning increasing control over their lives and their future.

To cross that digital divide will need Incentivisation with impact to envigorate what (understandably) is an often dispirited audience - to create the will to cross the digital threshold, to engage in communications at home and across the 23 official languages in Europe, with 27 very different and unique Countries, each with their own individual Culture....to cross that chasm, that bridge to the Knowledge Economy....towards new, very often feared and little known ICT enabled Jobs of the future. And thats just on our collective home-turf, Europe, en route to the wider World that beckons in the East - with its own, far bigger language and cultural challenges.

Every Country howeve ris one nation of Communities. And every Community, indeed every Village, needs but has not got a Digital Centre (Digital Hub), new hot spots with access to the new online ICT tools required. It's their grassroots actions, rather than their Governments and the Corporations who are most in touch with what is really happening today and who will take (and continue to take) the lead actions - and the rest will follow. TeleCentre Europe is at the heart of it, that emerging E-Europe. Keep up your great work.

Comment by Markus on October 31, 2011 at 15:15

The biggest brake I see is actually governments. I will give some examples. I live in Finland - Online Day is not useful for us (everyone is online that wants / is able to be - certainly of working age).

BUT climbing the steps is mad every difficult. For example benefits can be claimed online - but a paper document is required for any work done. A tax paper document is required for any employment. This means filling in stuff online has no real benefit for many people.

 

Another example is that the Training and Enterprise centre here in Tampere blocks staff using new media such as Skype or installing their own software. Libraries and other government bodies introduce complicated approval processes - which in effect prevent use of Open Source and free software use. The result is that people are demotivated from using such new features.

 

At the EUropean level there are some others too. For example high roaming charges - not a right to roam stop phones developing in comparison to the USA or China. The lack of digital signatures across the EU means paper transactions have to occur for signing documents. When I can log into my bank and purchase services and goods from all over the world, the fact that I cannot do this at the European level means a cost and a barrier that prevents development of such things. (Anyone who has taken part in an EU funded transnational project will understand this).

So focus on these enabling things and people will use them and develop their skills and competencies.

 

Comment by miguel gonzalez-sancho on October 31, 2011 at 11:42
I indeed feel the momentum around the telecentres movement and e-inclusion in general. There are however challenges as you point out: poltical agenda being refocused around growth and ... austerity (which used to be a contradiction in terms) and public sector savings. Challenging times for social inclusion, i.e. compelling pressure to re-define this area. My feeling is that part of the solution will come from an equation in 3 ICT-enabled parts: digital economy (making the most of the single market) + smarter government + people empowerment. Looking for and demonstrating impact is indeed the way to go. Congratulations on your 1st birthday.

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