Better Connected Live - Birmingham May 24/25 - is bringing together top management, service delivery professionals, and digital specialists to talk about re-invention of local public services.
Yes, there will talk of transformative technologies and the latest ‘apps’, and of course, the Better Connected research, but perhaps the most important thing under discussion will be digital inclusion.
As Helen Milner, chief executive of BC Live partner the Tinder Foundation tells us in this video, there are some 12.6 million people in the UK who have not used the Internet or who lack basic digital skills. Add to this people who are online but lack confidence and make very limited use of what the Internet has to offer, and the number rises to a staggering 20 million.
Most decision-makers, says Helen, with their smart phones and ipads, tend to overlook these groups, assuming that ‘everyone is online these days’. But it is not the case, and those who might benefit most from digital connectivity and services – older people and those on low incomes – are the worst affected.
This should be a major concern for local authorities as they reconfigure in response to permanent cuts in government funding for their services. Council chiefs are responding to the ‘new normal’ by talking of self-serving, self-managing communities, with the burgeoning cost of care being managed downwards by enabling older people to stay independent and healthy, for longer, in their own homes. Meanwhile retained rates from local economic growth will provide the income to replace government grant.
But all the above actually depend on people being connected to the Internet and using all its facilities - not just checking Facebook or sending the odd email. Digital skills help people find and keep jobs or pursue other socially or economically useful activity. They connect older people who might otherwise become isolated (a major contributor to mental and physical decline), and they enable and support the volunteering and engagement that keeps communities strong.
Digital inclusion is clearly a strategic imperative for local and devolved government. So it is worrying that a significant number of elected representatives have limited digital skills, and that some of their senior managers continue to plead that they are ‘not very good with computers’.
Helen Milner will be speaking at the Better Connected Live headline conference on 100% digital capability – eradicating digital exclusion by activating, mobilising and connecting people and organisations at the community level. Colleagues will be following up with workshops on digital health literacy and digital inclusion and social care.
Also participating in Better Connected Live is Doteveryone. Director of Campus Rachel Neaman will speak in the headline conference, and her colleagues in our workshops, about the Digital Exclusion Heatmap, a tool created to provide details for every local authority about exclusion challenges within their footprint.
See you at Better Connected Live!