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Digital Inclusion in Liverpool City Region

Digital Inclusion Workshop

Held on 10th April 2018 Liverpool City Region Combined Authority began to strategize Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram’s, goal of making the Liverpool City Region the UK’s most digitally inclusive region.

But what is digital inclusion? Digital inclusion is a strategy and policy in which everyone has the skills, access and motivation to get online and use the opportunities of the internet.  Seemingly the digital world is everywhere yet a significant proportion of the population is digitally excluded because they lack internet access and/or have low levels of digital literacy. It seems that everyone is online via the use of a smartphone, tablet and laptop but what about those who aren’t?

The workshop was held by Ollie Martins and featured guest speakers Professor Simeon Yates of University of Liverpool, Norman Mellor of O2/Telefonica, and Adam Micklethwaite from Good Things Foundation.  The programme asked many questions in relation to the nature of digital inclusion within the region, what barriers were in the way and how to prioritize them. These were identified as employability, skills/upskilling, financial and social status; for example households with a working couple are the most likely to have internet access while non-working single households are least likely to have internet access.

Factor analysis presented by Professor Simeon Yates showed that digital exclusion was, at the bottom line, a matter of social status and wealth, as the information gathered across the past three years showed that users with the lowest income where the highest non-users. He went on to state that it was much more than just wires in the ground and online usage but that we must focus on the user rather than the technology. Therefore one the challenges of the policy is that the programme could provide everyone with the equipment and access to use the internet but how do we ensure the people experiencing digital exclusion are located, taught, and most importantly, have the want and motivation to use the opportunities.

One of the ways of overcoming part of this challenge came from O2/Telefonica’s programmes they initiated in St Helens, Leeds and Edinburgh and how to tackle digital exclusion. The case studies included a tablet share scheme in conjunction with Leeds City Council and Leeds Libraries in which they loaned iPads to people in their community who struggled to access library services in the ‘traditional’ sense (i.e. visiting a library to borrow books, find information, use a computer) and organised sessions with them to show them how to use the devices: searching the internet, downloading e-books and using apps. The scheme was also sponsored by Good Things Foundation who are working with Liverpool City Region on how to reach the ‘hard to reach’ and build a movement for social change and market the message.

A massive undertaking with many challenges ahead but, judging by some of the cases studies presented, it is an achievable goal but only with the cooperation of local authorities, local businesses and a multi-national company like O2/Telefonica to strategize, finance and market the policy.

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