Defining and mapping digital inclusion is hard. There’s no single indicator to predict it, and two people living on the same street can have very different needs.
To illustrate this, we’ll use the 100% Digital Leeds 12 month dementia pathfinder project as an example.
Understanding the needs of individuals
We know that there are about 8,000 people in Leeds living with dementia. We engaged with around 800 people during the project and we learned a lot. Some of our work on the project informed our response during the COVID-19 pandemic, this recent press release highlighted the impact and it is mentioned in Leeds’s dementia strategy for 2020 – 2025.
What we don’t know
But even within that population of people living with dementia, we don’t know:
- what percentage of people are digitally excluded
- who would benefit from a free or loaned device
- who could be encouraged to use free access to the internet in libraries (or elsewhere)
- how many need mediated access and ongoing support
Digital inclusion at a personal level
To answer these questions, we’d need to look at digital inclusion at a personal rather than a population level. Even if we ask all of the people concerned, their answers would change depending on:
- the type of questions being asked
- who’s asking them
- the interventions that are being offered
- who’s offering those interventions
- the wider support that’s available
Building trust and confidence
Let’s say we find one person living with dementia, and ask if they would ever go online under any circumstances. They might say ‘No’. But we could build trust and engage positively with them over a period of time to show them the benefits of being online.
Then we could show them some of the things they can do based on the interests they have, so breaking down some of their other barriers around skills and confidence and their fear of being online. After all this, they might have a go.
If we just give or lend them a device, they might put it in a cupboard because they don’t know how to use it. If we give it to them as part of a wider engagement process and support them to use it, they might be more inclined to have a go.
And if we keep supporting them, they might become a confident and independent user. But we don’t know how long that might take, and it might all change again if something happens in their life that impacts on their health or their income or their wider living situation.
That’s one person. What about the person who lives down the street? She’s also living with dementia and is the same age as the first person. But she bought an iPad when she retired, she’s been online for the last four years, she has close family who live nearby and she’s a member of an active peer support network for people living with dementia.
Developing a deeper understanding
Mapping can help us to identify people and places at a ‘population’ level to target our digital inclusion activities. It can suggest places where digital exclusion is likely to be higher and it can tell us which people are more likely to be digitally excluded.
But the two people above:
- are the same age
- live on the same street
- have the same health conditions
- have a similar income
They appear to be just the same in all of the population and demographic indicators for digital exclusion. They’re not the same and one is much more digitally excluded than the other.
Finding people who need help at an individual level
To find people who need our help to become digitally included at an individual level, we need to develop a deeper understanding by working with and within communities. That’s why 100% Digital Leeds works with partner organisations from across all sectors who already reach, understand, and have a trusted relationship with local people most likely to be digitally excluded.
We support these intermediary organisations to better understand the barriers to digital inclusion and we work with them to adapt their interventions to help more of their service users become more digitally included.
Working with a local care company
Here’s a good example of what we mean. Memory Lane is a care company based in Leeds and designed to help older people in the community who are living with dementia. 100% Digital Leeds worked with Memory Lane throughout our Dementia Pathfinder. During the pandemic they had to close their day centre and lunch cafes and looked to adapt their services to ensure they still supported and reached their most vulnerable members.
They recognised a more urgent need during lockdown for people to connect with each other as visits from family and friends were restricted, so they approached us for additional support. This blog post from Amanda and Amy from Memory Lane illustrates how partnerships, trusted relationships, insight and understanding can make a real difference to people who are digitally excluded.