The Citizens Online’s digital inclusion project in Brighton & Hove has been running for a couple of years now and provides a great illustration of how effective partnership working can enable an area to make significant progress in helping people to be digitally included.
The network of partners involved is wide – across all sectors – and there is strong leadership from both Citizens Online and the local Council providing strategic vision, a plan for activity and support to develop the capacity of local organisations to help people use the internet and access training and support.
A recent opportunity enabled me to see the progress being made within the project – through one of the well-attended regular network meeting(s) aimed at sharing good practice, this one with a focus on supporting people with different abilities to get online; understanding the implications of GDPR including citizen rights under the new regulation and updating on progress with the project. I also had a chance to visit the local Council and a local community group in the Whitehawk area of Brighton.
The Revenue and Benefits Team (and also Housing Team) in Brighton & Hove have begun to train their front line staff as Digital Champions. They started early in 2018 to have ‘digital days’ in which staff provided support to enable people visiting their offices to access the service digitally and directly.
A large space provides a bank of computers & scanners to enable direct applications online for services such as Council Tax Reduction or Housing Benefit. This has been a new role for many of the staff team and learning how to effectively support people has opened up understanding of some of the barriers and fears people have. There has been a high volume of visitors – averaging 70 a day which has kept the team busy. The time required varies and can sometimes involve repeat visits.
Around 45% of the visitors have been able to digitally self-help, others have required support or their query has been dealt with by staff more directly.
There is a plan to add additional capacity, and switch to three days of digital self-service, with more staff being trained and extending the project to include the Housing Team and access to housing services. This model of working – embedding Digital Champions directly into service provision, moving out from behind a desk to sit alongside the customer is challenging and rewarding for both the staff and local residents. The longer term benefits and impact of helping some of the most vulnerable to develop confidence in accessing services digitally is likely to be significant.
In contrast the project is also working at a very local level as a visit to the community centre, Whitehawk Inn, highlighted the value in embedding digital support into local community groups. In this case training for community volunteers enabled the successful creation of a Whitehawk Community Noticeboard on Facebook. Teaching skills such as protecting privacy, or building interesting content to community connectors builds community confidence in using digital and encourages more people to get online.