A device lending scheme is a great way of helping people overcome the barrier of not having access to digital devices or connectivity. A device lending scheme can help people and organisations access a range of devices, including mobile phones, tablets and laptops, as well as internet connectivity.
Why you should lend digital devices
Access to a digital device lending scheme allows organisations without devices or connectivity to trial integrating digital into their services. There is no financial risk to the organisation and it has the flexibility needed to take a ‘test and learn’ approach.
This allows organisations to experience the benefits of the technology. It can help them build a case for future funding requests to buy their own devices, either internally or through external grant applications.
Lending devices can also help people in a similar way. By getting short-term access to a device they can:
- become familiar with digital
- improve their skills and confidence
- make an informed decision on whether it is right for them
Choosing what digital devices to loan
Devices are not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are lots of options on what devices to lend. Which one to choose will depend on the specific needs of your users.
- mobile phones
- Android or Apple tablets
Some things to consider
Some things to consider when deciding on a device:
- the need to make phone calls
- the need to have a portable device
- the need to have a touch screen or a trackpad or mouse
- the need for word processing, for example for job applications, and whether a laptop or chromebook would be better
- the need for a simple interface – laptops and chromebooks can be confusing to new users, Android phones and tablets are extremely varied in their layout and simplicity, depending on the model and Apple products are more consistent in their user interface
- whether data is included – if the device is for use within a building with wifi, it may not be needed
- the cost of the device, your budget and how much of a financial risk it is if the device is lost
Device management software can help reduce some of the risks of loaning out devices by giving remote access to track, lock, or wipe devices. It can also provide a more consistent experience by allowing you to set up a default profile with automatically installed apps across all your devices.
However, it is also an additional ongoing cost, and requires a level of technical skill to maintain.
Deciding who to lend devices to
When setting up a lending scheme you have the option of targeting either the end user, or organisations which can loan out to their clients.
Lending directly to end users allows you to have more say over the target demographics. You will also have direct access to the users to provide additional support, or gather evaluation data.
An organisation loan allows them to trial different approaches to integrating digital inclusion into their work without the immediate need to invest in equipment or connectivity. This can help to increase the capacity of the third sector to offer digital skills support.
It is down to the organisation to decide how the devices should be used to support their digitally excluded clients. They may have a better understanding of their clients specific needs, and be able to provide additional specialist support alongside the loan.
How to support your lending organisations
Providing additional support alongside devices is essential for making the most of a lending scheme. For end users this is likely to take the form of skills training, or help to access specific services. This could be:
- as part of a course
- a one-to-one session
- integrated as part of a non-digitally focused activity such as art, photography, or music
When lending to organisations, training and support for staff and volunteers can help them to best identify and support their digitally excluded clients. Find out more on our page about Digital Champions.
Support you may want to provide to an organisation may include:
- staff training
- assistance in developing lending procedures
- help identifying funding opportunities to set up their own loan scheme
help to assess the impact of their digital inclusion work
Maximising organisational support
To maximise impact, you can also support them to develop a sustainable digital inclusion plan for their organisation going forward. This includes:
- understanding the need for digital inclusion within their organisation
- understanding how they can help develop the digital inclusion of their service users
- helping them overcome any barriers to delivering digital inclusion support
Device loan periods
You should carefully consider how long the loan period for your devices is. It may be a set loan period, which could be renewed, or a rolling loan based on receiving evidence of positive impact.
A short loan to an individual is not likely to help in the long run. Unless they are further supported to get more permanent access to a device, once the device is returned they will lose access to any services they were using, and essentially return to being digitally excluded.
The risks of running a device lending scheme
There is a certain degree of inevitable risk associated with loaning out digital equipment. While steps can be taken to minimise this, there should be an expectation that some losses will occur.
A loan agreement could be put in place to set out the terms of the loan and the expectations the organisations or individuals are expected to meet. This could include:
- maximising the use of the devices
- providing evaluation and feedback
- taking reasonable care of the devices, including keeping track of individual devices, reporting any faults, loss, or damage, and returning them at the end of the loan period
However, holding individuals or organisations liable for any loss or damage may act as a deterrent for taking up the loan. Often digitally excluded people can live chaotic lives, and should be encouraged to make the most use of the device without worrying about whether they will be left with a bill should an incident occur.
How to evaluate the success of a device lending scheme
Evaluation is important for showing the success of a lending scheme, and for discovering how it could be improved. It could take the form of qualitative data collection (measuring the quality) or quantitative data collection (measuring the numbers), or a mix of both.
The easier to complete the evaluation is, the more likely you are to get a high response rate. Completion of evaluation could also be a requirement for the continuation of the loan.
Evaluation information you may want to collect could include:
- lending and usage statistics
- learner survey related to impact on the individual
- organisation questionnaire
- case studies gathered through interview