On Wednesday night I took part in a LocalGov Digital G+ Hangout run by Kate Sahota, another member of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group. The session focused on Assisted Digital, and as well those working in Local Government it included Ben Carpenter, currently seconded to Age UK and John Popham, who's work promotes digital inclusion.
As more government services go, or are created purely as digital, providing help and training for those who are unable to use them will become much more important. Central Government has created an Approach to Assisted Digital, but this is fairly high level stuff and though some individual departments are supposed to be providing Digital Champions for services such as Universal Credit, in reality I'm not sure if this is happening everywhere.
There's an even bigger issue around the digitisation of society and how this is changing the lives of everyone. For example if you aren't digitally literate it'll soon become very hard to obtain music that isn't mainstream and supplied by one of the big supermarkets. Let's not get into this one right now though.
As some people find it increasingly difficult to access government services as they go digital, it's likely they'll turn to the most accessible means of engagement with government in their area, often Local Government. This means that in reality the Digital by Default agenda by Central Government is increasing demand on Local Government services. Perhaps this isn't happening everywhere, but I'm aware that it is in some.
Because of this I've been looking at Assisted Digital in the organisation I work for and found that actually, it's already occurring in all but name in our Libraries, in Children's Centres through Adult Community Learning and through more services we provide to the public. What's more, speaking to Ben and John in the Hangout last night, it seems that in some areas there's already provision for Assisted Digital not only by Central Government, by from the Third Sector too. The thing is, it's patchy in terms of coverage and from my point of view there's no joined up strategy around deployment, but perhaps I just haven't seen it.
So what's next for me? Well the easy part is to help join up what we do where I work and publicise it. When I say easy it's all relative, but getting five or six council Service Units coordinated should be a lot easier than trying to asses what's happening locally, regionally and nationally and then try to help bring this together for my area.
Assisted Digital is just one of the elements in a framework for digital services and communities and if you'd like to discuss this then you can find me at https://twitter.com/PhilRumens