20th May 2019: Shaping Digital Participation – Transforming Policy Into Practice

Author: Chair of the AAA Digital Participation Group, Leela Damodaran.

This is a brief update on current work. Some of you will be aware that that the Socitm Policy Briefings, ‘Digital by choice: Bridging the digital divide’ were published in December 2018.

The purpose of these policy briefings is to:

  • Set out why a focus on sustained digital participation, underpinned by information and communications technology (ICT) support in the community and in the home, is becoming essential for engagement in 21st century digital society.
  • Dispel some of the prevailing myths about digital participation of older people and others.
  • Identify the most significant barriers to the use of the internet and associated digital technologies by many older people and other ‘slower adapters’ to changes in technology.
  • Set out the case for a locally led, ‘user-pull’ approach to achieving widespread digital participation and empowerment of older people and other ‘slower adaptors’.
  • Champion the unique role of local government in working in its locality and with its partners and communities to foster and sustain digital participation.

All 3 parts of these policy briefings are available to download from our resources page. Click the below link to view.

Following the publishing of this policy briefing series, our current focus is on developing guidance to support the implementation of the recommendations in these policy briefings. Alongside this, we are developing presentation material based on these briefings to promote awareness of policy issues and current practise.

As part of the Research Working Group of the DCMS, my colleagues and I are helping to update a national toolkit which is titled and designed to illustrate ‘What Works’ to inspire and provide practical tips to organisations and individuals seeking to improve older people’s lives through digital participation.

The focus on these pieces of work is to transform policy into practise, enabling organisations and individuals to embrace the most effective approaches to digital participation for older people.

As part of this, we are capturing an in-depth case study of one community group in the UK, who are enhancing the lives of older people through digital participation and this is an introductory overview of their work:

Over the last 14 years, volunteers of this group have sustained the provision of free, weekly drop-in sessions enabling older people to solve ICT issues in their lives. Since setting up library-based sessions in 2005 to introduce older people to digital technologies, activities have varied, ranging from structured ICT courses to ad hoc ICT assistance. The group have typically assisted 30 to 40 people per week through two weekly sessions, helping over 200 people in the last four years, and many more in the earlier years, to improve their ICT knowledge and overcome significant challenges including social isolation and loneliness:

One of the group members recalling how they benefitted from the group said:

“Initially I felt a bit techno-phobic, especially as a gentleman about 20 years my senior was studying commercial manuals for his iPad and Smart phone. We became great IT buddies & I was happy to register with Skype so he could then practise to ‘chat’ with his daughter. This became a regular non-session weekly event with us and sadly, when his daughter died, a vital friendship link”.

The reach of the group may be relatively limited in terms of the numbers supported, but the impact on individual people is profound. Feedback suggests that by addressing the barriers they face in using ICT, the depth of impact the group have had on individual’s lives has been significant. For example, one of their members with no other source of support and not physically able to do her grocery shopping, this assistance was life changing:

“I can now do my shopping on-line with ASDA and have my groceries delivered to my home”

The underpinning concepts of this group is deceptively simple, effective and low risk. By documenting their approach, we hope to enable others to make a similar difference in their communities.

If you would like to share examples of good practice and/or any guidance material you have developed, please send them to the AAA team.

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