The dark side of the digital divide – and a damn fool question?

an imahe with statistics showing the 11m digitally disconnected in gre and the rest in green
A section from Tinder Foundation’s Digital Nation Graphic – click on it to find the whole thing.

A helpful visualisation was published by the Tinder Foundation this month.  It shows the digitally connected in the sunny highlands and the digitally disconnected on the other side of the divide – in the digital darkness.  It tells us the economic cost to individuals if they don’t have the skills or will or tools to get online – and it shows us that the wealthy are online.   Helen Milner – the chief exec at Tinder – blogged:

What’s really frustrating is that we do know what works. In the centre of our infographic is a tree of inspiration which has eight ‘leaves’ which cover how to do digital inclusion. They include outreach – helping people where they live work and play, hyper-local delivery in informal community spaces, local marketing, one-to-one support from volunteers and tutors, partnerships with trusted intermediaries to reach the hardest to reach, free, flexible access, and bite-sized, self-directed learning. No matter who I talk to about their programmes and schemes, these eight elements appear in some guise or another.

adding a plea…

It’s not just helping people to use digital, but using digital to help people. That’s about better use of data to provide personalised online learning that works for each individual. It’s about sharing data through APIs and using open source practices, embedding each other’s learning content, and working on platforms for co-creation to involve the learners in defining content and helping to produce it.

We also need to get cleverer about partnerships. We need to work together to amplify, scale and share the pockets of good practice. And to help us spread the word we need the ears of leaders in big and small businesses, local government, central government, innovative technology companies, social housing providers, further education colleges, libraries, think tanks, community organisations, Foundations and philanthropists.

All good stuff but not maybe that easy to pull off?

So what encourages collaboration like this?

  • Money certainly can.  Often the way money is shared around  is funders saying “offer us a solution to a problem and we’ll decided which of those on we we want to fund”.   It is rarely put on the table simply to encourage people who already have solutions to have the time to invest in working together.   Of course sometimes money distracts from collaboration. The relationships are framed around who will get which slice of the money – not what’s the best thing to do next and is it better if we do that together.
  • Working at the right scale matters.  Asking to collaborate on solving large problems – lets get 11 million people online – tends to mean opportunities for organisations that have scale.  Smaller groups of people are more likely to respond to “lets get my Nan and 9 other  Nans a cheaper holiday this year”.

In many ways the business of doing more of the good things and doing them cleverer is something we already understand.

When we run  a social media surgery we ask people what they are trying to achieve and then we show them things that will help them.  A neighbourhood forum might be able to use a facebook group.  We are focused on what they care about and in doing that we also get to do what we care about – which is growing the civic conversation online.  We have resources we can share with them (skills and tools), we offer them the ones that seem relevant and only expect them to take up things that make sense for them.

So what if this were closer to the way we built partnerships and innovated?  Perhaps a funder or a national org could ask those already doing things to bridge this divide what sounds like a damn fool question:

How can we help you?

The funder might have skills, a networks, new tools, money, knowledge, support in kind.  They answer to the question might be ” give me a million quid” but will more often be “some publicity or  half a salary for a year.” I don’t mean this question to be about intelligence gathering – I mean for funding orgs to use it as a means to distribute money and other assets.  Do what a surgeon would do – and give the people you are helping what they ask for, when they ask for it.

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