Assisted Digital Thoughts

Last Wednesday (20th March 2013) I hosted the 2nd LocalGov Digital G+ Hangout and the topic was assisted digital (my last post had a rough agenda). It was an interesting start, as I posed the question “does anyone have any good examples of where people are doing assisted digital really well?” and there followed an eerie silence (yes, I did check to make sure the volume was turned up!). However, we did move onto some very useful discussions.

What is already out there?
There are already a number of areas within councils providing some form of assisted digital support, such as community learning, library volunteers, Adult social care staff, Customer Services teams talking people through completing online forms, etc. As well as support from within the council, there are also groups out there that are working to support and improve the digital capability of communities. We need to get better at pulling all of this together to ensure there is capacity to provide the right level of support across all services where it is needed.

John Popham has been working on something called “Our Digital Planet” – an outdoor street gallery exhibition highlighting the impact of the internet. This initiative focusses on finding the touch-points in people’s lives. If you can get people interested in getting online by using the things they are most interested in and enjoy, they are more likely to want to use the internet.

Ben Carpenter told us about the work done by Age UK to encourage intergenerational volunteering with their MiCommunity project. “The aim of the project was to use digital technology to bring together older people and younger people in the capital”. The website provides a toolkit to support people wanting to run similar initiatives in their own area.

What can we learn from what has been done?
Asking staff within organisations to support customers using digital channels is not always the best way. When a result of driving channel shift is loss of jobs, there is little motivation for staff to provide any kind of support to users.

Getting people to sign up to become “digital champions” in their community is easy; getting people to actually go out and support their community is not so easy. Oh, and using the phrase “digital champion” can put people off.

Once customers are able to complete transactions online, tell them about it. Some councils are finding channel shift isn’t happening as quickly as they would like, but when you look at the reasons why, quite often it is because they are still heavily promoting the non-digital channels.

Central Government have pulled together a list of standard transaction types (booking an appointment, providing/requesting information, requesting a licence/authorisation, requesting benefits/grants/loans, making a payment (taxes and fines), ordering goods). Ideally we need to look at these to see if local government transactions fall under the same types. I suspect we will have more, and they are likely to be more complicated.

What next?
We need to start pooling all of this information together. Where there are pockets of good practice, we need to identify, share and re-use these ideas. The LocalGov Digital steering group is the perfect place to start doing this, and I think one of the reasons we exist.

We need to watch out for what is happening with GDS and the framework of contractors that is being looked into for providing assisted digital services. Will local government be able to benefit from this framework and how could we support it?

Finally, I’ve got some really good names to make contact with and see how we can take this further.

Thanks very much to Phil Rumens, Ben Carpenter, Jason Williams, John Popham and Tim Dumbleton for giving up an hour of your time on a Wednesday evening, it was a really useful discussion with lots of food for thought.

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