BLOG: Tackling digital exclusion in Wigan, 12 months on…
Tackling digital exclusion in Wigan, 12 months on…
By Elizabeth Chapman, Online Services and Inclusion Officer, Wigan Council
Introducing Digital Wigan
Digital Wigan is delivered by Wigan Council and is integral to our ambitions for the borough as set out in our Deal 2030 strategy and works closely with Wigan Borough’s community to support residents to develop essential digital skills. Our service does everything from helping people to get online, keeping in touch with family and friends using video calls and signing up to council services online to educating families on how to stay safe online and teaching children to code.
Over the last twelve months, the Digital Wigan team have continued with their commitment to tackling digital exclusion. In June 2021, we launched a new digital strategy, which sets out our ambitions for how the Council’s future digital services should be designed, sourced and delivered over the next five years.
The new strategy and the Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint ambitions have become the main drivers for digital inclusion in the borough, informing our approach to the TechMates project and Digital Communities Partnership. This has allowed these initiatives to grow and develop into a robust and responsive services for our residents.
TechMates - a growing digital support community
TechMates is a digital mentor service run by our volunteers and council staff. The service provides one-to-one basic digital support over the telephone, via video call and in-person at TechMate Tea Parties. We help residents use digital technologies such as smartphones, tablets, computers, or laptops to help them build their digital confidence.
We have witnessed first-hand the difference digital access and skills can make to people’s lives. The project has adapted as we have moved into recovery, now offering both a remote and face-to-face learning experience for our residents.
During Digitober we launched our TechMates Tea Parties, where residents are invited to attend an informal digital support session in community venues across the borough. Listening to feedback, we have focussed in on themes that are problematic for our residents, such as the AskMyGP app and applying for council services such as Blue Badges online.
“I think it is satisfying, I love solving a problem and the lady that I speak with the most at the moment is so grateful… I think the most rewarding thing is just to sit and make a difference and it only takes me a day a week to help and its completely changed her life". - Tiffany, TechMate Volunteer
To advance our offer for TechMate volunteers, we have adapted our bespoke training and developed an AQA level three TechMates qualification. The qualification gives TechMates the opportunity to develop valuable skills to add to their CV. Our hope is to inspire people to turn their passion for digital into a career path for the future.
Using our new form product to create an automated process, we have reduced the time spent completing administration tasks in relation to the TechMates project. This gives the coordinators of the project back more time to have those important conversations with both learners and TechMate volunteers.
Wigan’s Digital Strategy
Our new digital strategy, fostered by the ethos of Wigan’s Deal 2030, is underpinned by 4 key pledges that we're committed to delivering on.
Digital one: Transforming the way we work as a council
We want to re-imagine the workplace and consider how we're utilising the best in-house technology and digital practices to transform the way we work, improve our use of data, and maximise our opportunities.
Digital two: Transforming how our services work for residents
We want to shape service delivery that doesn't just focus on technology, but aims to understand business processes and what services need to deliver digital tools that improve the customer experience.
Digital three: Fully digitally enabled
We want to empower our communities by providing a pathway to education, economic, social and financial benefits and supporting them to live happier healthier lives.
Digital four: Transforming the places we live and work and promoting community wealth and health
Whether it’s job opportunities, new skills, or the chance to run their own businesses, there are many digital opportunities for business and employment growth and we want to make the most of that.
The Digital Communities Partnership
We launched our Digital Communities Partnership in October 2020, re-invigorating the previous Digital Taskforce. The partnership is a group of local community organisations offering a variety of courses and learning opportunities across Wigan borough. Since the re-launch, we have recruited 21 new partners and created a Slack channel to further embed this collaborative approach.
During Digitober, we offered small pots of funding to enable partners to deliver and create exciting new digital inclusion opportunities and long-term digital offers for our residents. The partnership ultimately assists us to engage with residents facing digital exclusion and help us to gain a better understanding of their challenges and identifying opportunities. It also allows us to translate this understanding into practical ways of enabling residents to access the internet and build their own digital skills and confidence. We also opened up our TechMates online learning module to the partnership to help them support their customers.
We are now providing support to create a collaborative evaluation framework, which will enable them to gather evidence and to understand the current digital inclusion landscape so that it is embedded in everything they do.
Moving forward and the launch
Our digital strategy is a working document, adapting to the changing needs of our community and implementation of new technologies. It is important to keep our residents at the heart of any decision making, we are engaging with our community to understand their digital needs now and in the future.
At the beginning of Digitober; we took the opportunity to work with a group of young people at Wigan STEAM’s digital imagination club. We were enthused to find their vision for the future of digital aligned with our strategy. It was clear from discussions, access to affordable technology and software and technology that would help their community was important to them. This is also something that has been raised during our Digital Communities Partnership meetings with key stakeholders from across the borough.
We still believe we need to focus efforts on providing access to devices, connectivity, and digital skills for those in greatest need. We have invested in a Tablet Lending Library working closely with our Libraries services and community partners, which will make 100 tablets with connectivity available to our residents so they are able to learn digital skills and access vital online services.
To keep up to date on digital inclusion work taking place in Wigan; follow us @DigitalWigan on Twitter and Instagram.
We also regularly update our Digital Wigan webpages to offer a hub of resources for people of all ages and skills.