Are you Digital by Default?

The buzz phrase that is exciting and frightening equal numbers of people in the UK is ‘Digital by Default’. This is the government’s formal stance as they drive to improve services – but how digital are you?

Last week’s 9th National Digital Conference took the theme ‘Empowering People’. It’s all very well for government to decide they are digital by default, but a large part of the population are still running to catch up. Russell Davies of the government’s Digital Service, director of strategy for .gov.uk, summed it up well: “Everyone is affected by the government’s technology choice.”

Digital Inclusion = Social Inclusion

In Poles Apart: Challenges for business in the digital age, we talk about finding your reason to get online. This is the biggest step that you can make, or help others to make. If it’s true, as Chi Onwurah MP said, that digital discomfort is the norm, and 7m people will never be digitally literate, then that’s a huge number of people who will drift further and further from help and support and social interaction. Digital is here to stay, and if you don’t keep up then you start to be excluded from the normal functioning of society. Three quarters of disengaged rely on friends and family for digital support: this means you!

The reason you find for someone to engage may not be obvious. When the Department of Health started to look at the services which would make the best use of the online space and new technology, they were startled to identify dementia as the top choice. Why? Because younger carers and relatives of dementia sufferers were already very active in online support forums, and touchscreen technology (tablets and smartphones) is so intuitive that dementia sufferers themselves can use it, looking at photographs and videos and stimulating memories. My own personal experience – getting support for a mother with Alzheimer’s, and helping her to remember by digitising photographs and handing her a touchscreen – backs this up entirely.

Digital by Default empowers

The thing to remember about Digital is that it’s not changing habits for the sake of it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, say the people who re happy with phones, letters, and the library. But digital is fixing things we didn’t know were broken. Using software to map farms accurately has revolutionised the management of subsidies from the EU – and saved the lives of desperate farmers (Sopra). Digitising the ancient Gazette, repository of legal notices since 1665, has speeded up legal processes and improved provision of information.

Time for action!

What can you do to empower your friends, family and colleagues in the Digital by Default world?
Find their reason to engage
Do the tough stuff like technical setup
Help them to see the new opportunities and begin a journey of empowerment!