At the moment I seem to be engaged is several digital inclusion initiatives and strategies. Some practical and some still at the vision stage. Being an operations kind of person at heart this period of my digital inclusion journey is incredibly frustrating. The issue is clear. Anything between 8 and 16 million people (depending what figures one reads – source http://www.ukonlinecentres.com/about-us.html and http://www.go-on.co.uk/challenge/uk-snapshot) people in the UK are deemed to be digitally excluded. Either way its a lot of people.

Why does it matter? I mean, really, millions of people live in the UK without needing to recourse to online, honestly, I know, I know, I would feel a bit odd without a hefty dose on online in my working day too.

This month saw the publication of the Government Digital Strategy. Digital by Default is coming like a juggernaut. Below are just a few lines straight from the strategy that highlight why the brakes are not going to be applied.

By digital by default, we mean digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so whilst those who can’t are not excluded.

We estimate that moving services from offline to digital channels will save between £1.7 and £1.8 billion a year.

A 2012 SOCITM study across 120 local councils estimated that the cost of contact for face to face transactions averages £8.62, for phone £2.83, but for web only 15 pence.

The strategy document is packed with interesting and sometimes amusing facts backing up the by default argument. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you agree with me.

In principle I agree with the government. Engagement should be digital for many reasons including cost. However I do worry that with 18% of the population not online and two thirds of them unwilling to participate (figures from the document); are we on the super highway to writing off our citizens? There will be some as yet to be defined assisted access, but 18% of the population is a lot of assistance.
Its tricky. Hats off to the Cabinet for taking it on. At this May’s Go ON: ND2012 – the 7th National Digital Conference – as senior civil servant stood on the podium and said that the civil service has never been known to waste a good recession. At the same conference Lord Freud said that the 12% unwilling participants would engage because there was the incentive of money in the form of benefits I suppose. Maybe he is right in what he says. If the only way one could benefit from the welfare state is digitally then maybe people will change their mindset and up skill. I still worry that many people will fall through the net and I worry that as a society we’ll let them fall.

Brings me back to the wood for the trees work I’m currently engaged with. Policy, strategy, paper, conflicting data from competing sources – does it really matter? Of course it does but not from a committee audit point of view.

And the address for the Government Digital Strategy in case you haven’t already read it is http://publications.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/digital/strategy/

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