Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Luddite. I have the tablet open when I watch TV, I have been known to message my wife when she is in a different room, and I manage personal and work Twitter and Facebook accounts. But people, and especially the local authorities we engage with, need to stop thinking that digital is a cure for all their issues.
On more than one occasion recently I have been faced with new local authority plans to go digital. This is often in relation to new projects, many of which have been born out of measures to cut costs as their budgets are slashed.
So what is my problem? We work across the Cambridge, South Cambs and Fenland and the rates of connectivity are alarmingly different, I do not have the exact figures but some information can be found on http://www.connectingcambridgeshire.co.uk/ It is fair to say that connectivity is not as good in the more rural parts of the county, and our anecdotal evidence is that use of digital is not as high in the more remote areas (not surprising if they can’t get a decent connection). This means that digital is not relevant to many of those looking to use council and other services.
The latest joint CVS research in the county shows that most of our members, who are predominantly the smaller voluntary organisations, have accepted the use of email but have not embraced social media. We need to remember this and remind people of this. Digital is not the norm, especially for those who might most need the information that voluntary groups and statutory partners are putting out there.
There are some great projects that are helping people get on line and ensuring that people have access, but how many of us know an elderly relative who refuses to get online (Dad, that is you I am talking about) or who is online but has had no support and training and frankly struggles to find out what they need to know even when they remember to take their tablet or phone with them (Mum that is you).
Digital, in all its forms, is an important part of the communications mix BUT it is only a part. We have to keep doing the more expensive stuff as well, be that putting up posters, sending bits of paper through the post or even talking to people face to face. Helping people get the right information when they need it is key to helping them to help themselves, whilst a website can do this for many there are still those out there that can not access it and we need to include them in our ‘single points of access’ our ‘one stop shops’ and our ‘no door is the wrong door’ policies. Along with this we need to continue to invest in the infrastructure that will allow everyone to access the internet and Connecting Cambridge is a great project that is making this happen. More importantly we need to invest in training and support that gets people using digital communications, that shows them the benefits, and that alleys their fears.