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Leaving no-one behind
Can Australia be a truly digital nation?
Digital Culture Talk
Can Australia be a truly digital nation?
30 October 2015
In Australia, there are 3.7 million people who have never used the internet. On top of this, many Australians who do have internet access are not confident enough to do the basics. To become a truly leading, inclusive and global digital nation we need everyone to become confident internet users by 2020.
Helen Milner talks about her ambition of a 100% digitally empowered world and shares some transformative stories in the hopes of persuading everyone that we can't afford not to collaborate for Australia to succeed in 2016, the National Year of Digital Inclusion, and beyond.
In association with Infoxchange, Go Digi and Australia Post.
Audio Transcript for Leaving No-one Behind
Speakers: Anne-Marie Schwirtlich (A), Helen Milner (H), Brad Howarth (B), Brendan Fitzgerald (F), Audience (AU)
Location: National Library of Australia
A: Distinguished guests and dear friends and colleagues, welcome to the National Library of Australia. I'm Anne-Marie Schwirtlich and I’m the Director-General of the Library. As we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land which we are now privileged to call home.
The National Library’s series of Digital Culture talks highlights innovation and new ideas in technology. The series is a window into digital literacy, eBooks, social media, digital collecting and preservation with new ideas for libraries and cultural institutions. It’s hard to imagine in an Australia that prides itself on its take-up of technology that there are 3.7 million people or 15% of the adult population who have never used the internet. In addition, there are many Australians who do have internet access but are not confident enough to do the basics. Courtesy of Australia Post and Infoxchange, the Library is delighted to host today’s Digital Culture session with Helen Milner. Infoxchange is an Australian non-profit company dedicated to providing a quality information technology service to the community, identifying strategies for digital inclusion, proficiency and empowerment. To help tackle the gap, Infoxchange has joined with Australia Post to create Go Digi. Go Digi is a national, four-year digital literacy program with the goal of supporting more than 300,000 Australians to improve their digital skills. The partnership culminates in the National Year of Digital Inclusion in 2016, leveraging the reach of Australia Post to connect with communities experiencing a digital divide.
We are delighted that Helen Milner, CEO of the Tinder Foundation, is with us today. The Tinder Foundation is the UK’s leading digital inclusion delivery organisation. It has helped 1.7 million people to gain basic digital skills since 2010. With over 30 years of experience working in the online industry Helen has pioneered social and digital inclusion in the UK. Her outstanding work in the field of digital inclusion was recognised in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours by the award of an OBE. She also received the Award for Public Service in the first women awards, being commended for her inspiring, passionate and purposeful track record of supporting women to make a difference. Helen is a member of the Digital Hall of Fame and the House of Commons Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy and much else besides.
Today, after Helen has spoken, she’s going to be joined by Brad Howarth, a freelance journalist, author and speaker on the theme of technology-driven change, and by Brendan Fitzgerald, Digital Inclusion Manager at Infoxchange for the Q & A session. But first I would like you all to please welcome Helen Milner to take us into the heart of the subject. Welcome, Helen.
H: Brilliant, thank you. Really nice to see everybody and nice to be here in Canberra. Please do tweet so @helenmilner. Please do tweet as we go along, but I’m about to show you that nobody’s perfect because we’ve had our photos taken, I’ve got a microphone on but we haven’t actually put my slides on the screen. The problem me saying yes, I’ll have my own slides. Alright, I’m getting there. Here we go. Wasn’t too bad, was it? Just shows we’re all human.
So the lecture was posed as a question: can we be a truly digital Australia? And I’m going to tell you straight off so you don’t think there’s any messing about, the answer I think is yes, okay? And so I’m going to spend the next about 25 minutes telling you about why I think that’s yes and about hopefully for you to be inspired by some of the things that we have achieved in England.
We talk about digital inclusion and we’re going to have a National Year of Digital Inclusion and I just want you for the next hour to suspend that notion because I think too often when you talk about digital inclusion it feels like it’s about technology. This isn’t about technology, this is about people, this is about people who lack equality of opportunity so it’s not about technology, it’s about people and what they can do with technology if they’re given a chance.
One of those people who I have had the great pleasure of meeting a number of times is a guy called Roger Hamilton. I met him for the first time about three or four years ago when he had quite recently moved from living on the streets for 10 years in London to now living in a hostel and being a volunteer in the UK Online centre, their centre that helps people to learn how to use the internet. For him it was so transformational to go from a chaotic life of drug abuse, of isolation, of completely losing contact with all of his friends and family that he now wanted to give back that gift to others, the gift of supporting people to use the internet again for the first time and to transform his life. He now ... the great you know I love Roger’s story because he is now employed by that hostel and he runs a team of people who all help homeless people to learn how to use the internet and technology to improve their lives and to ultimately get a job.
And Catherine is quite a different story and I'm sharing this with you. We actually gave Catherine an award a couple of years ago. At the age of 72 she found herself isolated at home. Her mother had actually been her main carer ... she has multiple sclerosis ... and her mother died. Of course she thought the first thing that was going to happen to her that she will be put into a home but the local EdUK ... that’s one of our local partners in York where she was living ... went ‘round with a laptop and a dongle and taught her how to use the internet. They taught her how to use email and they said ‘so who do you want to email now?’ And she said ‘well I don’t know anybody with an email address,’ and actually it transpired she didn’t really know very many people at all. So the mentor who was helping her went back to the UK Online centre and said does anybody want to be Catherine’s pen pal? Catherine told me she was very upset because only women volunteered. So four women put their hands up and they still are in day-to-day contact.
One of the things that Catherine said was she does shopping on the internet but she also goes into town. It costs her £5 each way in a taxi to go shopping but when she’s feeling good she wants to go out and about. I think it’s such an important message, that balance. The internet has dramatically improved her life, she’s only living in her own home and having that independence because of the internet but actually those people who are her pen pals and the going out shopping in the taxi are also really important to her.
But digital exclusion isn’t actually a new thing, it’s actually social exclusion so now if you know 10 years ago we were talking we would be talking in quite a different way you know 10 years ago in the UK a third of the population used the internet and two-thirds didn’t. Now we have 80% of the population use the internet and 20% don’t. And so we live in a socially excluded world and we live in a digitally excluded world and digital just exacerbates those social exclusions that people are suffering.
Once again we do an infographic. Unfortunately for you this is our 11 month old infographic, the new one comes out next month so if you follow me on Twitter you’ll see it towards the end of November. But I like this picture because it so clearly shows that we live in a divided world. It became unfashionable ... well at least in the circles that I move in ... to talk about the digital divide but I'm kind of ... brought it back again. Because that’s what we live in, we live in a digitally divided nation with the people who are isolated on one side and the people who ... actually I should probably put a wall up in the middle ... who don’t even acknowledge these other people exist most of the time or don’t even believe that these people exist a lot of the time.
So who are they? They’re basically older, poorer, lack qualifications and don’t have good qualif ... sorry and who are disabled. In the UK half of the people who are not online have some kind of disability. But really it’s about poverty now, almost always so this is about internet use, this is about having it at home, this is about using the internet. Half of the ... disabled people in the UK are also poor, yeah? And half of disabled people don’t use the internet. We have two-thirds of people on an income less than £12,000 a year who don’t use the internet and we have 99% of people who earn more than £40,000 a year do use the internet. It’s clearly a divide of poverty and income.
And these are the reasons why people aren’t online so they lack the motivation. You’ll see the ... 82% of people say they don’t have the internet at home because they don’t understand the relevance. That’s massively important. If you work in closing the digital divide it’s massively important that you understand that for a lot of people they just think it’s not for them, they don’t think it’s relevant, they don’t understand how it’s going to make that change to their life. They lack the skills but they also lack the confidence, yeah? That’s really important. And sustained access is important but in the UK only 1% of people say the lack of broadband is the reason why they don’t use the internet, less than 1%. So internet access in the UK at least is about quality of access, it’s not about using it or not using it. And 82% say cost is a reason why they’re not online and that’s massively going up as a reason so a year ago only 22% said it was a cost so as the divide is narrowing the people left on the wrong side of the divide are the poorer people so of course cost is massively important. And in the UK ... I think it’s not quite the same here ... but we have more than a million people who eat at least three times a year from a food bank. And if you can’t afford food you probably can’t afford broadband.
And why should they go online? What are the benefits? Ninety per cent of jobs are now advertised only on the internet. If you can’t use the internet you basically can’t get work apart from someone you know. People who are online on average are £440 better off and that’s after they’ve paid for the cost of broadband. And the social value of someone getting internet skills for the first time is over £1,000 a year so the benefits are clearly there.
As Anne-Marie says, in Tinder Foundation we’ve helped over 1.7 million people in the last five years to move across that divide from being digitally excluded to be digitally included. We have the number on our website if you’d like to go and watch it go up. Our vision is a world where everyone benefits from digital. And of course it’s about people like Roger and Catherine benefitting in the ways that I’ve explained.
Our model, let me just tell you about our model, is basically local plus digital. Very simple. So local, we work with 5,000 partners at the local level and this is the ... really the most important part because we’re talking about human beings taking a massive step for them, learning brand new skills, learning something that they don’t understand the benefit of and also they are worried about their own ability to do it. Five thousand local UK Online partners. This bus down here, this is ... there’s a free WIFI bus run by a housing association in Leeds. It’s not only a bus where there’s computers on board, it’s also a free mobile WIFI hotspot so if you know it’s coming and you do have a device and you don’t have any data you could log on. We have libraries, this is a library over here and obviously there’s a library up there and then most of the others are community organisations. This one here is actually a pub because when I talk about working with centres they also do outreach so they take laptops and now they can take tablets out to pubs, to clubs, to social housing, to old people’s homes and help them to get online.
We don’t directly own or manage any of these organisations, they are all partners of ours. We provide some grant funding to around 5 to 10% of them so you can see that we have to be a big club with a shared vision. Our role is the advocacy, providing that glue between those very, very local organisations and the government ... big organisations, universities etc. And there are 25,000 volunteers, I think you’d call them mentors who are making sure that this works on the ground and most of those people are people like them. Eighty per cent of our users are socially excluded so it’s really important that people from those local communities are those people who are holding their hand and taking them on that journey.
And digital, for us digital is primarily Learn My Way so Learn My Way is an online learning platform that hosts very simple material for learning how to use the internet, basic digital skills. All of the courses have a reading age of nine because of course people with low educational attainment often are digitally excluded, often have low levels of literacy so we didn’t want it to be a barrier. Nobody else complains it’s at the reading age of nine. And then we also have an audio track on all of our courses so if you actually can’t read it you can listen to the words. So ironically actually it’s a tool for literacy, reading literacy and actually a lot of our partners who support a lot of people for whom English is their second language or maybe third language also are using it and embedding it in their English language classes because they’re learning to use the internet as well as learning English language as well.
We have financial literacy and employability in there too but we really want to work in partnership with others to provide content because our expertise is that content on basic digital skills and this is all underpinned by a very sophisticated data system which is how we know we’ve helped 1.7 million people and how when we go to government and others asking for money then we can provide them with that evidence. And also we can use that data to drive what we do. And it’s all mobile-optimised so people can do it on their tablets and smartphones if they want to.
We also do the learning and development on Learn My Way as well so there are free courses for all of the tutors and volunteers who work in the network and we also have done a big program for the library network so all librarians in England have been trained to be what we call a digital champion, a mentor with a slant on helping people to use online government services. So we provided ... we created the content through co-creation with the library sector and then that course was then rolled out as a train the trainer model across all of the libraries, 3,000 of them across England.
And I wanted to mention Go Digi because Brendan’s been kind enough to acknowledge that they had a good look at Learn My Way and also some of the other things that we do like the map, the look-at map so someone in a local area, if they want to send their friend or their mum or dad along to a session, can find where on is near them. It’s on our website but it’s also on Go Digi too and there’s great resources here for you to download and I really would recommend that you have a look at that.
So I’ve already crossed out the word digital inclusion so now I’m going to cross out the word digital literacy too. I think this is important particularly in my job because I spend a lot of time trying to persuade people who think this stuff is really easy about how hard the journey is, to take people from one side of that divide to the other. So people think that ... people, those bad people out there ... people think that actually you just need to teach people how to do a single task, how to send an email, how to fill in a form, how to shop online, how to return your tax, tick you know let’s tick some boxes, let’s teach them each one, one by one. Digital literacy is about bringing those things together and helping people to not just fill in one form but to fill in many forms, to understand that that skill they can translate into other areas. But digital fluency is what we really want, is we want people to be confident and ready to try whatever it is they have to do on the internet whenever they need to do it. I like to think of it as swimming you know we’re probably in the paddling pool with Learn My Way, we kind of want to help them to get into the swimming pool but really we want them to swim in the ocean. Or if they fall out of a boat that they’ll know what to do, yeah? So that’s what we’re talking about, we want people to have digital fluency.
This is a slide from the Peabody Group. You can’t actually see the logo but Peabody ... George Peabody was a philanthropist that set up a social housing organisation 150 years ago. And this is a slide that they’ve done just quite recently and I think it’s really important to get it into your head about how many people we’re talking about because it’s definitely going to be 3.7 million if not more so if you look at the bottom half here so first of all we have household internet access, 84% of households have internet access. But when you actually look at users 83% are actually internet users but then what Peabody calls digitally included are people who have got some of that digital literacy, they’re not even really talking about fluency, they’re saying they have the five or six basic skills that they can then put together, 79%. So you can see just ‘cause a house has got internet access it doesn’t mean that the people who live there are digitally included.
But then if you look at the Peabody Group themselves because of course they run social housing ... public housing, I think you all it here ... where their population living in their housing, they will be older and they will be poorer so exactly the kinds of people who are digitally excluded. They’re also based in London which geographically means they’re much less likely to be digitally excluded. So household income 76, internet users 71, digitally included 56. In the UK the people in the lowest socioeconomic group on average use five websites so if you’re an internet user and you’re in the lowest socioeconomic group you’ll use five websites ever, yeah? So just because somebody knows how to do one thing or two things it doesn’t mean they’re literate or that they’re fluent on the internet. And nobody can do this alone. Here’s just a bit of a ... yeah, a bit of a diagram of all of the people that we work with. Lots of organisations. The .. this is also how we get funded partly so the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are our bigger funder so 80% of our money comes from government. BIS gives us ... we’ve ... last year won a contract for five years for £15m to help one million more people so if I thought I could rest on the first million or the first one and a half million I can’t, I’ve got to get another million. And of course they’re getting harder and they’re paying less for it.
NHS England, we have a big contract with them so they are spending £100m a year on digital tools to help people to self-manage their health and to find health information online. Who are the people who are most likely to get ill or to be ill? It’s the poorest people in our society. Who are the most likely people to not use digital tools? They’re the poorest people in our society and so they talk to us about putting what they call digital health literacy on top of the digital literacy that they were doing. Down here are some of the nongovernment people we work with, Lloyd’s Bank I want to give a shout out to because we’re doing a very large program with them where they want 25,000 of their employees to become digital champions slash mentors and they’re paying us to train them through online learning and also train the trainer but also then to match them people in the community that they can then go and support.
I spoke to chap so Lloyd’s Banking Group runs three different banks, one of them being a Halifax bank. I talked to a manager there who actually is in Halifax and he went next door to the library and had just done his first session and he said to me it was the best day of his life. Seeing the smile on the person’s face when they realised that actually they weren’t too stupid to do this, that actually this was something that they could do. This man was a bank manager, it was the best day of his life.
So in England we have GDS ... Government Digital Service ... which is like your TO and their own calculation is by digitising government services they’re going to save £1.7b a year. It’s a lot of money, that’s a lot of services going online. We have something called digital by default. So most of my advocacy work is in Westminster persuading them that if they want to save 1.7 billion then they can just spend what I’m saying is £30 a pound ... the ones of you who are good at maths will realise that BIS are paying us £15 a head to actually help in the UK almost 10 million people who don’t have that basic skills and confidence to use the internet. And then what we do is we also measure the impact so it’s very well saying okay, here’s a nice picture, we’ve moved them from this side to that side but so what? You know?
I could tell you the story about Roger and Catherine but of the first million people we helped to learn how to use the internet almost 85,000 of them went from no work to work. We’re not an employment program, we’re not there to help people get work but of course using the internet, internet skills is a basic skill for employment and actually being able to look for work online is a basic skill for people who are unemployed. Just that one activity for that first million that did cost them £30m saved the government 678 million in not paying welfare and people paying tax. Yeah? It kind of like ... it doesn’t make sense not to make this happen and not to pay for it properly.
Having said that nobody ever runs into one of our UK Online centres and say hey, help me get my passport or pay my tax, it’s far too dull. So what we have to do is we have to embed the public services into the other content that we have so we embed using public services into our content. The job stuff is different, we have big unemployment ... well not statistically but in these poor communities there’s a lot of people who are unemployed and been unemployed for a long time so unemployment is a big motivator. And when people are using ... are getting those basic digital skills they are we know through our survey work and our analysis moving on to go onto central and local government websites and more than half of them are changing transactions from face-to-face and telephone to online. So we have the evidence ... this is not just rhetoric saying it makes economic sense, this is evidence that more than half of those people then shift and they shift a lot of contacts because actually they’re the people who are typically in touch with the government quite a lot.
So I just thought I would bust some myths. It’s not just about old people, yeah? That young people need help too and particularly when you think about what I was saying earlier about the number of different sites that people use are really quite small if they're on low incomes and have low educational attainment. Just because a young person can go on Facebook on their phone it doesn’t know that ... doesn’t mean they know how to apply for work online. I’ve met young people who you know really young people ... I’m talking about like 21 ... who don’t know how to search on the internet, don’t even know how to search at all on the internet. So it’s not just about old people.
The one I love, I do actually have politicians say to me well this is just a you know they’ll all die out and then everything will be fine so why do we need to do anything, yeah? So let’s just wait for the old people to die. Really, they do say that sometimes. So I love smartphones and tablets but right now there’s no evidence that they are a tool for digital inclusion. They’re a tool for going out in ... for outreach you know taking them in your bag and handing them ‘round and they’re quite easy for people to use but in the UK only 6% of the population only use a smartphone or a tablet to go onto the internet so there’s massive rise in the number of smartphone and tablet users, owners. There’s been a massive rise in people going on the internet via mobile broadband but it’s not their only device, it’s people like me, I think I have five, yeah? So it’s not a tool for digital inclusion. It does go slightly up for people in the lowest socioeconomic group, it’s 10% but that isn’t a big deal and it has been creeping up, it’s not like massive.
Broadband access is not digital inclusion. I have to hold my hand up here and say you’ve got a really different geography to me, yeah? I know that, I know you’ve got some like places that are really a long way away. I flew over it when I came over, yeah? It’s massive. Having access to the internet is really important, having good access to the internet is really important but using the internet is not the same as digital inclusion. We have cities and towns in the UK with superfast broadband running past people’s houses and they’re not using it. Yeah? You go to some of the lower income, the poorer cities, they have great infrastructure but people aren’t using it. Northern Ireland have the best superfast broadband in the whole of the UK, they have the highest incidence of digital exclusion. Don’t confuse the two things, access isn’t the same as inclusion because people have to use it.
And this is saying can we have a completely inclusive Australia and the answer is obviously yes. We had someone who wrote a digital inclusion strategy in the UK ... luckily she’s not there anymore but she said 90% was good enough. And ever since she wrote that I’ve been out there saying it’s not good enough. Norway has 98%. I think we’re as good as Norway. You know Norway has old people and they have disabled people. They have less illiterate people than we do but you know if they can get 98% we should get 98%. Let’s not stop until we know we can’t reach everybody, let’s not set ourselves goals that are far too low.
So I thought you might like to know what’s next for us just finally so to make digital inclusion activity work it needs to be mass and targeted so we’re now being funded by the big lottery to do some targeted work. We did some research that shows in five years’ time if we keep going the way we’re going 6.2 million people in the UK still won’t have basic digital skills. So we’re targeting homeless people, parents who are carers of disabled children and people with mental health issues, we’re trying a range of different interventions, working with those partners who know those audiences best and then we’re going to scale the ones that work.
And then mass, we already work with social housing a lot. Like I said we definitely can’t do this alone, this is a massive, massive task so part of it is about going to the people who reach big groups of people already so social housing is massively important but one I really haven’t tackled yet successfully are employers of low-skilled people. Yeah? Lots of those employers on that map I showed you before, they’re all the sexy high-tech kind of companies who want their staff ... who know how to use the internet to go out and help other people. Actually getting into the factories and onto the shop floors is a really different case in point because of the economics of it.
And our government won’t buy broadband and kit for people who can’t afford it and we know there are a few million people in the UK who just can’t afford broadband and kit and so someone has to pay for it. The government won’t ... be a PR disaster for them, it’ll get in the newspapers and then people won’t be happy about that. So we’ve got to find a good way to make that happen and then there are four billion people in the world using the internet and three billion who don’t so it’s only ... just half of the world are internet users. And we’ve just launched a trial with the Philippine government who are using Learn My Way to help people in the Philippines to learn how to use the internet.
So do keep using the term digital inclusion. It took us bloody long enough to get people to even think it was important to talk about but don’t think about it like technology, think of it as equality of opportunity and transforming people’s lives. The Year of Digital Inclusion is a movement, I don't think it’s quite a revolution, not yet but I think it’s absolutely important to get angry and to get organised. If you’re sort of polite about this I don’t think it’s going to happen as quickly as you want and every day that you don’t get someone digitally included it’s another day that they’re excluded from all of those things that you do and that you take for granted and their lives are already a lot harder than yours already. So aim for 100%, listen to the stories of Roger, Pat, Wendy and Mike on our Youtube channel and leave nobody behind. Thank you very much.
B: So thank you for that presentation. My name’s Brad Howarth, I work as a freelance journalist and advocate around the issue of digital inclusion so what we’re going to do now is going to a bit of a Q & A session so I’m actually going to perform the role of Michael Parkinson here and take a seat and drive some Q & A. I will take questions from the audience in a moment but because I currently have control of the microphone, which is my short-term superpower, I’m going to fire a couple of questions through first. We’re also joined by Brendan Fitzgerald. Now Brendan is the Digital Inclusion Manager at an organisation that you would have heard referenced called Infoxchange. So maybe just to bring you into the context of the discussion, Brendan, can you tell us a little bit about Infoxchange and your role.
F: Very much so. Infoxchange ... actually do the hi .. I’ll do the history talk. We began in 1990 ... 1988 like all kind of not-for-profit start-ups in a garage in Springvale. Our founding CEO was angry about ... he was a public housing officer in Melbourne and very ... very interested in what technology could do in terms of helping people find emergency accommodation so you know someone would come into Carlton one night and there’d be no beds and they’d find out the next day there’d be three at North Melbourne so the genesis story is that they got a small grant as most start-ups and not-for-profits get and developed a bulletin board to solve that problem. Now you might think a bulletin board is you know old technology now but it now ... that now sits behind our biggest I suppose product as a social enterprise, we now ... 120 staff across Australia and New Zealand and we run the biggest community sector database in the country which sits behind things like Lifeline’s referral service, something like 30 or 40,000 health service organisations across New South Wales, Queensland government so we’re a true social enterprise in that we earn our income from, you know, from products and services.
My area which has grown out of that, you know, Andrew Marr getting angry and thinking about how we could actually create change and, you see from our name, it’s information and change and the power of information and what that can do in terms of changing people’s lives. We’ve grown into an organisation that’s very much ... in some ways very similar to Tinder Foundation, supporting people becoming much more digitally engaged. My area around the digital inclusion space is very much about individuals and communities and ... but we also work across the not-for-profit sector with many, many partnerships with Anglicare, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Red Cross and so forth. So in a nutshell that’s our kind of work as an organisation.
B: Okay. Now some of you in the room might have participated in a workshop that we held this morning for an initiative that you’ve also heard discussed here called the National Year of Digital Inclusion which is something that I suppose was sparked by Infoxchange but has now become a much broader collective of people thinking about this notion of digital inclusion to the i ... to take that forward to the idea of declaring a Year or a you know 365 day period to be thinking and discussing this. Maybe just to once again bring the rest of the room up to speed tell me what is the National Year of Digital Inclusion and how can people get involved?
F: The National Year of Digital Inclusion is a part of the Go Digi project which is a four-year national digital literacy program that we’re working through with ... in partnership with Australia Post which was launched here in February this year and Go Digi has a number of elements. You’ve seen a slide of our learning platform which is very much inspired by work that’s been happening in the UK so when we were designing it we certainly did look at work that was particularly coming out of the UK but also around other parts of the world. But we also you know in building our website, building a learning platform. We started thinking about what are all the other elements that help people learn and embed that learning in their kind of daily lives so there’s a mentor program inside Go Digi, we’ve building a network partner you know similar to Tinder Foundation you know you’re out there swimming, we’re putting our toes in the water. We’ve got about 120 network partners and they are typically I suppose similar in some ways, public libraries and they would house community centres. Those sort of organisations that are doing a lot of you know digital literacy training on the ground and working with their communities. So we saw there was no point in re ... trying to reinvent that wheel.
We also embedded into that program the National Year of Digital Inclusion which in some ways draws its inspiration from the National Year of Reading which is essentially a group of librarians ... I’m simplifying this ... but essentially a group of librarians who decided they needed to do something about functional literacy, I suppose, in Australia which is really quite poor and continues to be quite poor when you look at it closely. So we thought we’d have a National Year of Digital Inclusion and there’s been some rather interesting moments where you know our partners, Australia Post, who are essentially still a government kind of agency keep asking who’s you know who’s in charge of this National Year of Digital Inclusion? You know is this a UN thing? And we keep saying no, we made it up. But it is inspired by the work that the National Year of Reading did and looking for that kind of collective impact.
In essence what we’re liking ... what we’re aiming to do is there’s a series of conversations that’ll roll around the country and these are mixtures of forums and conferences, for example mid next year there’ll be a major two-day conference at QUT who have quite kindly got on board along with the Queensland Government. So as Helen said we’re trying to create a movement here and we’re looking to do things that celebrate what we are doing well in terms of digital ... inclusion of digital literacy because our ethos behind this idea is really around how you know if you take a glass half full approach to these things and start thinking about what we’re doing well and celebrating what we’re doing well you start posing questions around what we’re you know the glass half empty, what we are do ... what could we do better? And how could we actually do better ... do things better? And I think you know building up those partnerships, creating a movement, yes, Go Digi is a project that has deliverables and a beginning and an end and some funding and it’s through our good partners at the Australia Post but you know if we can have true impact, the way in which I think the Tinder Foundation are doing, it’s building out those partnerships and the National Year of Digital Inclusion’s one of those kind of key platforms or key elements to do that.
B: Alright so in a moment I’ll ask our two mike runners to step forward and start taking questions from the audience but I just want to direct one to Helen beforehand which is my favourite question that I always ask. Why are you doing this? What is it that you saw or what is it that motivated you to take this on and drive it as far as you have? When you could be doing so many other things with your life, why this particular challenge?
H: Well I help set up something in the UK called Learn Direct which is a large ... it’s basically an online tertiary college but when we first started Learn Direct our vision was it was going to be an online tertiary college for the people who don’t go to college. And it was very much motivated about the people who have not or the people who need that second chance. But then the way that the government started pushing it was that it all had to be about qualifications and I knew that a lot of people who need a second chance need to dip their toe in the water, they don’t need to sign up to do a qualification. And that it became apparent that if I didn’t do it nobody else was going to do it. I mean literally nobody else was going to do it. When I took it on I had one member of staff and I had eight months of money. And that if I could ... like you said I could have taken the easy course, I could have kept doing what I was doing, I could have kept growing that but I just knew that those people who are most vulnerable and most excluded were not going to be swept into those other initiatives because they didn’t perceive to have enough value because giving a 30-year-old who has no qualifications a qualifications ... was seen to you know touch that bottom line more for the government and the time. And so I just said you know I’m going to take this on and I’m going to make it important and I’m going to make people listen and I have.
B: Good. Okay we do have a couple of mike runners there and we’ve got one hand up already so if we can take the gentleman in the middle of the room. If I could just ... anyone else got a question, if you can just raise your hand, it’ll just help us get the microphone to you quickly. So there’s another one here. Go ahead, please.
AU: Hi Helen. Thanks, wonderful, inspirational talk. My name’s Stephen Bartos, I’m on the Board of an organisation called Common Ground that’s trying to end homelessness and has just recently built a wonderful new facility for homeless people here in the ACT. We got from a donor computers for the residents for a shared computer facility with broadband, we got from a software company free software and they’re still sitting in the basement unconnected. Reason being is that we’ve subcontracted the running of the place to two different service organisations, Argyle Housing and Northside Community Service, and they’ve found all sorts of reasons why they can’t help the residents because their insurance won’t cover it, because what would they do if one of the residents downloaded a virus? Would they be liable? Because we didn’t specify in their contracts that they had to help the residents go digital but I think behind all of those excuses is really that the welfare organisations themselves are uncomfortable with entering this digital space. I’m wondering if you had any similar experiences in the UK and if so what was your strategy for overcoming that? ‘Cause I’d love to learn it.
H: Well I guess you know get angry, get organised. I mean I think the point is is that ... let me just tell you another story, I once got a letter from the Minister's Department where an elderly chap in a village in a rural area said he had 10 people who were volunteers who wanted to help people to learn how to use the internet but didn’t have any computers and could they help? And we don’t actually do that so the Minister sent it to me thinking that we could help. But we didn’t just write back and go sorry, mate, sorry, we can’t do that, we said we don’t but other people have got computers from local businesses, here are some local businesses, here is a local big company we work with, this is a person who works 10 miles away from you, why don’t you ring them up and see if they will help you? And then in the end they actually did get three laptops donated to them by one of those local companies.
I think what you’re talking about ... I mean I would just ... I mean God, just end their contracts like tomorrow, I mean definitely, they’re not doing what they said they’re going to do, yeah? If you’re willing to, you know, to set them up and put them on the internet then just ask the people in ... the homeless people who use your facility, ‘who knows how to do it and who wants to volunteer?’ ‘Who wants to show the person sitting next to them how to use it?’ And that’s the best way for it to happen. And that’s exactly how Roger, that story, that’s exactly what he did. And so he actually ... there was a facility in that homeless hostel but it wasn’t very big but once he had been shown by someone else how to use it he then stayed there and showed other people how to do it. It’s so that get your homeless people to be the volunteers, to be the mentor, sign up, be a Go Digi mentor ... I’m helping [unclear], you see ... and get them to do it but tell these other people just to go away. I mean that they ... procrastination is a moral injustice, yeah? That every day they tell you that they’re frightened of the viruses going to be on those computers they are denying a transformational change to those people’s lives. Just tell them it’s immoral what they’re doing and then they might change their mind.
B: Alright, we had another question here?
AU: Hi, I guess I’m probably going to play a little bit of a devil’s advocate here. I think the glass full approach ... half full approach is a really positive step and I think we should obviously aim for the 100% but my feeling is there is a reality that there will always be some people who will not be digitally included and the problem that we are having now is that those people are feeling that society does not value them unless they are prepared to engage digitally. And I’ll give the example of my parents who are 80 and very close to 80, they’re not dig ... well my mother is completely not digitally included, my father has been but his ability to be digitally included is actually diminishing, he’s not as good at it as he was 10 years ago and yet society is telling him more and more you must engage with us digitally if you want to be valued by us and they’re getting angrier and angrier about it and I'm getting angrier about it. There’s no options for them to not engage digitally. And how do we care for those people at 80 with dementia? My father is never going to increase his digital engagement.
H: Yeah. My mother-in-law is 86 and has dementia and she also isn’t doing it herself but she still Skypes to relatives overseas when someone holds an ipad in front of her, yeah? So you can be part of the digital society but you’re not doing it yourself. I think my point about the 100% ... sorry, let me just give you two answers from my point of view and Brendan might have another point of view too but ... is that in the UK not aiming for 100% will let people off the hook, yeah? They were saying people with a disability won’t use the internet. I mean blind people are actually amongst the sort of biggest disabled groups who are using it. Half of people who are blind, completely blind are avid internet users so to actually ... to sit in an ivory tower and say these people shouldn't if you like is my point, is aim for as much as possible.
The ... in the UK the government ... this is a government point of view ... has something called assisted digital so they ... with all of their exemplar services, and I think the DTO are following a similar pattern, there will always be an alternative channel for people who can’t do it. That what they want to do in the UK is they want to enable and empower as many people as possible to be able to do it by themselves but if they can’t there will be a channel for them. I think I’m slightly naïve to hope that some of the money that they will save by 95% of the population doing things online they will spend some of that in making sure those alternative channels are good channels. Like I said I'm probably a bit naïve but at least the evidence will be there, that they’ll be making a massive saving and some of those should be transferred.
So the you know we haven’t started it yet, the assisted digital plan has to be in place for every exemplar service when it’s rolled out but none of them ... their ... the time scale is getting close but none of them have actually got to that deadline where they actually have to publish and impellent those. That will be in April next year. But at least there is that acknowledgement that you can’t just switch everything off, that you know you have to have those alternative channels.
F: That’s true. I might just touch on the blind point. Two of our ... two of my friends are blind and they dropped into the office the other week with their dogs and kind of chaotic. They can’t wait for driverless cars and be able to go and pick up pizzas and get their own you know the ... their own dry-cleaning and do all sorts of things so ... and I guess that’s triggered in my mind ... just going back to your question around taking you know positive view of where we’re going .. is that one of the great ... the ... one of the other inspirations behind Go Digi was some work that CSIRO did around oh 2013 looking at broadband, the impacts and challenges from the digital productivity flagship area and they identified that one of the critical things that needed to be done was to really sell the benefits and really understand the benefits of being online and we’re not quite there yet.
So you know to ... I think we’ve got to get better at that kind of approach which is really looking at how people can use the internet well and use it effectively so if we were take a National Year of Digital Inclusion and sort of say you know the NBN should be this and you know take a kind of negative approach to what’s missing I think it would be a ... not a very clever strategy in terms of engaging people and organisations and corporates and governments into developing a partnership kind of model that can actually make some of those changes that you know your family desperately need. I totally agree with you on the frustration point of view in terms of people being left behind and certainly around you know of taking the digital government point of view, the challenges they’ve got ahead of them in terms of ensuring that people who aren’t digitally connected can engage with them in a way that isn’t frustrating and isn’t actually quite ... in some ways quite insulting so it’s a huge challenge, there’s no question about that but I think we need to really approach this in quite a positive way. I’m probably slightly more polite than Helen in terms of getting angry and getting organised but I do think the ... we do need to get organised but we do need to be incredibly positive about where we’re going and what we’re doing.
B: There’s a ... quite a large ...
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