Our Radical Challenge: Where does digital inclusion sit at a time like this?

By Jason Railton (Digital Inclusion Development Officer, SCVO) on 13th Jul 2023

When SCVO Digital embarked on a roadshow over the first quarter of this year, we wanted to use it as an opportunity to re-engage with people and organisations that are supporting people to get online.

The Connect23 sessions brought us together to discuss some of the pivotal issues that are facing us as a sector: widening digital inequalities, reduced resources, a crippling cost-of-living crisis, and a pressing need to ensure that those who want to get online can.

As part of this, we recognised that doing digital inclusion at this intersection of difficult circumstances is a new, radical kind of challenge. Since the decline of the pandemic, we’ve seen digital inclusion become deprioritised by services and people, even though in our increasingly digitised world we’re risking leaving more people behind than ever before.

This is why it’s such a radical challenge: we need to start making the case that digital inclusion is too important to push away. It’s time to change mindsets about the importance of digital inclusion as a key to unlock doors for people and organisations.

The thing is, we know that Scotland’s voluntary sector has always risen to challenges. Regardless of how difficult the landscape is, our vital charities and community organisations find ways to adapt – and SCVO will always be here to support them where we can.

We want to live in a Scotland where everyone has the opportunity to get online, and to do that we need to make sure that digital inclusion is everyone’s responsibility. To that end, we encouraged our workshop participants to make a pledge. We asked them:

“We are all responsible for digital inclusion. It’s up to all of us to make sure it happens. How are you going to prioritise digital moving forward?”

The breadth of responses, from the large-scale to the local, that we received across our events was a fantastic indication of the ambition and passion of our sector. The pledges were a demonstration not only of where individual organisations are, but were also an insight into trends and interests of the digital inclusion community in Scotland. We’ve spent a bit of time understanding what this means.

Where is the sector?

“Shifting the view of digital as a barrier”: We need to change mindsets about digital.

Organisations said they would take up the mantle of making the case for digital inclusion. By this, we mean encouraging service users to explore the benefits of being online, work within their organisations to highlight the value of delivering digital inclusion work and raise the profile of digital as an enabler across our communities.

“Inspire, enable and equip”: We need to provide the capacity and environment for people to access what they need.

Organisations said they would make sure that support was easy to access, whether they are service users, staff or volunteers. By creating capacity through the recruitment of digital champions, or developing the right environment by implementing plans and changing working practices, there was a real commitment to prioritising digital. Many organisations were specifically focussed on improving workplace digital skills.

“Connect and collaborate with other organisations”: We need to develop partnerships for the benefit of digital inclusion.

It was recognised that partnership working was key to enabling access to support, strengthening services, promoting sustainability and achieving the goal of reducing digital exclusion. Partnership working was promoted as a key element of designing services that supported people.

“Centering the needs of our community and pushing to remove structural barriers”: We need to make services more accessible and user-centred.

The way that people access services differs depending on their individual needs, and it was broadly recognised that those services need to be driven by user needs. Organisations said they would increase user involvement in the development of services, and look to see how existing resources (such as the Essential Digital Skills framework) could be adapted to meet their needs.

You said, we did.

Digital inclusion is everyone’s responsibility, and that includes us at SCVO. Now that we have a direct understanding of what the sector would like to achieve in relation to supporting people online, we can better tailor our support. What does this look like?

We want to make sure that it’s as easy as possible to start delivering effective digital inclusion support to the people you work with, and in doing so build a community of like-minded and passionate people and organisations that can share learning and resources for the collective benefit.

That’s why we’re starting with the launch of a series of Digital Inclusion Masterclasses – bite-sized webinars covering a range of crucial topics, with a range of sector leaders and experts. We’ll be getting our teeth into all the essential components of developing and delivering digital inclusion work – including revisiting Essential Digital Skills, talking about bringing your organisation with you, doing digital inclusion with limited resources, and chatting with senior leaders about making change.

Check the events out on our SCVO Digital events page.

These are radical times which require radical solutions. It’s important that as a sector, we push the same message: digital inclusion is everyone’s responsibility.