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