In 2010, the Panel developed a Consumer Framework for Digital Participation to help government and others increase the number of people using the internet. Against this background, the Panel has commissioned new research to consolidate stakeholders’ experiences and learning in supporting online participation among people who are less digitally engaged , and also to gather information about supporting people to take the next steps online. Drawing on this research, Bridging the Gap: Sustaining Online Engagement details the Panel’s clear recommendations to government and others.
In April 2009, the European Commission noted that “the internet has become a basic utility for homes and businesses in the same way as electricity or water” . In 2010, the Digital Agenda built on this, stating: “As more daily tasks are carried out online … using the internet has become an integral part of daily life for many Europeans.” Referring to those Europeans not online, and the professional ICT skills shortage, the Commission stated that: “these failings are excluding many citizens from the digital society and economy and are holding back the positive impact that ICT can have on productivity growth.”
In 2012, 22% of the UK adult population – eleven million people - still do not use the internet at home .
In the Panel’s view:
- the challenge to increase participation is underestimated;
- meeting the challenge is underfunded; and
- people who remain unable to access online services will suffer increasing detriment if the challenge isn't met.
To seek solutions to these challenges, the Panel commissioned research among people who are less digitally engaged, and has reached the following conclusions:
- For government to be able to maximize growth and fulfil the Digital by Default initiative, there needs to be a clearer and more comprehensive policy on take-up and use of, as well as access to, broadband.
- To enable this, there is a pressing need to strike a better balance between funding for broadband roll-out and funding for ongoing support to enable people to take full advantage of the benefits of the online world.
- To ensure that progress is made, it is vital that initiatives are open and accountable and that clear targets are put in place for take-up and use, based on an agreed definition of what constitutes an ‘active internet user’ for these purposes. Closer co-ordination between initiatives across the UK, and an evaluation framework, would facilitate the accurate assessment and monitoring of progress.
- The Panel considers that the frequently-quoted and widely-adopted measure of ‘those who have ever/never used the internet’ is not helpful for policy development. Progress should be measured by ongoing use, not by initial access alone. A more appropriate measure of people’s ability to function online would be whether they have gone online themselves in the past month, together with an assessment of the breadth of their internet use.
- Messages designed to encourage people to go online must acknowledge that people make an emotional and financial investment in going online. The messages need to explain online benefits in a language that connects with people’s everyday life.
- The Panel encourages suppliers to undertake the development of introductory low priced/low-risk products, teamed with low-cost broadband access, initially without long-term commitment, to reduce risk and promote trialling.
- The tactics used to reach people who are not yet online need to be re-thought; and it is important that there is co-ordination between stakeholders, and agreed strategic aims. The potential role of local authorities, housing associations, employers and other related agencies and workers in the community (e.g. care workers) should be fully exploited, to embed awareness and an understanding of the possibilities online.
- The Panel highlights the fact that the use of simpler technology, personalised support and emphasising the transferability of skills can bring real benefits for users and enable people to understand the usefulness of the internet.
- The Panel strongly supports the drive to make websites simpler, designed around user needs and experience rather than those of the provider.
- The Panel encourages coordinated overall support for agencies by Go ON UK, and a collaborative exchange of information. This would ensure a consistent message, and bring cost efficiencies for front-line agencies, to enable them to undertake more outreach activity.
Read the full report (pdf)