Does digital inclusion support do any good?
Support for people who are digitally excluded is one of the key planks in the Welsh Government’s tackling poverty strategy. For the last six years there has been a significant investment in this support through the Communities 2.0 programme, which is run by the Wales Co-operative Centre. The programme is shortly coming to an end, and the Welsh Government is developing its approach to digital inclusion support in the future. As Dave Brown, the Centre’s Director of Strategic Development & Performance, writes, it therefore seems reasonable to ask: does publically funded digital inclusion support actually lead to permanent, positive changes in behaviour around computers and the Internet?
We know that Communities 2.0 has been hugely successful in providing targeted support to individuals. Over 52,000 people have been directly helped so far. Countless more are supported by local delivery partners. But do these people actually end up online? Do they get the benefits of being connected? Do they continue to use and develop their skills? Thanks to a new longitudinal study by BT and Citizens Online, we know the answer. And it’s a resounding “yes”.
The study looked at people helped by the Get IT Together project, which is supported in Wales by Communities 2.0. They tracked people attending training sessions and surveyed them when they did the session, and again two years later. The study found that 60% of those who did not have home Internet access at the start went on to install it. Many without a home connection accessed the Internet through public points like libraries, or used connections of friends and family. Clearly the message is getting through, to the extent that most beneficiaries go on to invest in the “gold standard” of digital inclusion: broadband at home.
It is the direct support to the person who is digitally excluded that brings the benefits. But digital inclusion sessions don’t organise themselves. One of the huge successes of the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme has been the way the Wales Co-operative Centre staff have led the planning and co-ordinating of digital inclusion activity locally. We have brought together partnerships, secured funding and driven organisational change to put digital inclusion at the top of the agenda.
The challenge for us now is to keep it there.