Defining Success in Social Impact Poll#4 Digital Engagement
The fourth scenario in the series ‘Defining Success in Social Impact’ considered the very topical issue of digital engagement. The situation given was:
“As part of your Social Impact programme, you undertake to co-ordinate 6 site visits (into your workplace) for school children and local residents (NT8/RE10). Because of Covid19 the decision is made to continue with these as ‘virtual’ visits.
You realise that benefits include reduced staff workload and engagement of people from a geographically wider area.
After a while however it is brought to your attention that children and adults from poorer or disadvantaged households struggle to engage in the virtual programme, and as a result are missing out.
The question asked was “Would you view the programme a success?”
Everyone who voted on this question believed that No, the programme would not be a success. And understandably so. But it’s interesting, because we know that certain groups of people (those living in certain social and economic circumstances) ARE excluded by digital engagement strategies, yet the trend continues towards increasing reliance on digital engagement.
Let’s explore the benefits of digital engagement:
Safety in a global pandemic
The world has changed beyond recognition in the past year, and we’ve all had to adapt and improvise in order to continue to earn a living at the same time as staying safe. The application of digital technologies has been a critical enabler in this and has proven the value of embedding digital communications within all workplaces, particularly enabling people who are shielding for health reasons to continue to engage with the outside world.
The use of digital communications technology widens our geographical reach globally. In the past few months I’ve attended new networking events with international peers. I no longer need to consider how I can get to an event, it’s there, in my living room.
Software for digital communications is, largely, free to use. This is a fantastic leveller, and enables access for anyone with a phone, laptop or PC, internet connection and data allowance. And let’s be honest (and with no criticism intended), in many cases, when it comes to digital engagement such as work experience and work place visits, it’s much easier and cheaper to have a member of staff work digitally than plan and deliver face to face provision.
For all the reasons above (and for many more not listed, such as remote and home working, carer commitments and mobility issues) digital engagement is a truly marvellous thing.
But we must use it carefully. It must not become another barrier which further widens the gap between the haves and the have nots. The https://www.goodthingsfoundation.org/ specialises in promoting digital inclusion. Its focus is on making sure that digital development is delivered in a way that ensures that everyone, regardless of age, income or ability - has the same opportunities.
Digital is an enabler of change, and digital social inclusion is fundamental to this change. However, we need to recognise that creating an environment where digital strategy enables equitable opportunities is complex. It needs to consider not only physical infrastructure requirements, but also social causality. As we develop digitally as a society, the risk of further excluding some members of society grows.
How to tackle this
Being mindful and aware of digital exclusion is much of the battle won. When you plan your engagement activities, hold in mind the potential barriers which people face.
Think about your target group. If this is young people and their families, consider the challenges that poverty, unemployment and lock down might be causing in a household. Map the resources that you anticipate are needed for engagement, and how you might enable these.
Space: where is the user going to sit whilst online?
Quiet: how can you encourage a quiet environment to aid concentration?
Hardware: How can you support access to hardware in a family with competing demands?
Software: How can you help ensure that the correct digital communications software is installed and up to date?
Data: How can you ensure that the user has sufficient data for a reliable connection, again in a household with potentially competing demands.
Encouragement: How can you support an environment where a user is aided and encouraged to engage by those around them?
By creating systems and processes which consider potential barriers to digital engagement, we will move a long way towards overcoming them, and can make informed decisions about when, where and how to deliver both on and offline services to ensure access remains available to all.