Unravelling the complexity around digital exclusion and providing tailored solutions for Westminster’s residents

A talk by Curtis Horne and Neil Samson
Westminster Council and Westminster Council

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About this talk

The hard edge of digital exclusion was starkly revealed during the Covid-19 epidemic. Some residents were unable to buy food as they were vulnerable and needed to stay indoors; some children were unable to access school lessons online because they did not have access to a laptop or the family laptop had to be shared amongst mum, dad and the chldren. Those who had always relied on accessing the internet in the community via libraries and othe community assets were left without access. Grandparents were not able to see their grandchildren growing up if they were unable to use video messaging apps. Those who had lost jobs which did not require IT skills were suddenly faced with fewer opportunities and many felt unable to use the internet to search for jobs or lacked confidence to move into roles requiring even basic IT skills. Some of our most vulnerable residents were unable to access day centres and other activities which they and their family carers relied upon for personal development and respite. Some of our businesses who did not have an online presence were unable to continue trading. In order to tackle these and many other negative consequences of digital exclusion we needed to develop a strategy and design appropriate interventions. We’ve taken an evidence-led approach to developing our digital strategy, based on the incidence and nature of digital exclusion in the borough. This evidence has been developed in four phases:

Phase 1 involved using existing desk research to identify the current data on digital exclusion at a national and local level and identify the gaps in knowledge

Phase 2 involved creating 20 personas of digitally excluded resident and business types

Phase 3 involved mapping the extent and likelihood of digital exclusion using a range of data sets

Informed by phases 2 and 3, we conducted a face-to-face survey with over 800 residents in Westminster and the Royal Brough of Kensington and Chelsea. Using data-driven segmentation, this has enabled us to characterise vulnerable residents based on their shared barriers to becoming digitally included, allowing us to provide tailored solutions to our residents.

Following the research, we have developed a wide range of initiatives which meet the diverse and multi-faceted needs of our residents and businesses. These include but are not limited to:

Providing digital skills training for care home workers as well as paring youth groups with care homes to provide skills and knowledge transfer and build intergenerational connections

Developing training courses specifically designed to meet the needs of four priority groups, deployed on a train the trainer basis

Building a digital hub where residents and businesses can access resources to help them with their digital needs, be that accessing a free device, face to face training or help setting up an online business

An apprentice scheme called Tech Lions which partners with leading tech companies such as Microsoft and Fujitsu to upskill young people in Westminster

CURTIS HORNE Formerly a marine biologist and university academic, I’m now a proud member of the award-winning 'Strategy and Intelligence' team at Westminster City Council. Drawing on a decade of scientific experience, I provide critical insights that help to improve local authority service delivery, guide evidence-based policy and inform campaign strategy. Whether investigating the effects of climate change on coral reefs or producing rapid discovery research about the impacts of Covid-19, my job satisfaction comes from making a difference.