Leeds was one of nine councils awarded funding as part of the Local Government Association (LGA) Digital Pathfinders Programme. LGA was designed to support councils in seeking innovation and in developing initiatives to advance digital inclusion, digital connectivity, and cyber security. In this context, 100% Digital Leeds was funded to develop a community-based model for digital inclusion, which was launched in December 2022, after four years of intense work in the field. Leeds City Council’s unique program aims to ensure that every person across the city and region of Leeds has the equipment, connectivity, digital skills, confidence, resources and knowledge to engage with digital tools and services. Ultimately, this approach seeks to make every person able to make informed choices on the use of digital tools and services, for them to make the most out of them according to their needs.
This model is unique because of its holistic and embedded approach: it looks at integrating digital inclusion within the services already in use by individuals. Digital inclusion is seen as an enabler to achieving existing priorities and outcomes, while it ensures better digital access to support people’s independence and ability to make informed choices. The 100% Digital Leeds team works with partners across the city in many different settings – third sector, public sector, health and care – to strengthen digital inclusion infrastructure in communities, increasing digital access, engagement and participation.
The community-based model is broken down into four stages:
- Focus and partnerships
- Barriers, assets, and opportunities
- Coproducing solutions
- Understanding and measuring success
1- Focus and partnerships:
The first step of this model is the identification of a target community that is likely to be excluded – a geographical community or ‘community of interest’ –, such as people experiencing poverty, people that are out of work, or people that have mental health issues. The community-based approach recognises a variety of communities of interest and that they all have different barriers, needs and motivations. Like DigiCo, 100% Digital Leeds’ objective is to reach the ‘furthest first’ to support wider Council and City strategies on inclusion, health and well-being, and inclusive growth.
Therefore, 100% Digital Leeds partners with other organisations to build a connected digital inclusion ecosystem across the city, working with different partners who already support communities likely to be digitally excluded. By fostering collaboration between key partners working with the target community, they better understand digital inclusion needs and codesign bespoke solutions to meet those needs. Through these partnerships, they help these organisations understand the benefits of digital inclusion and their role in delivering digital inclusion interventions while ensuring that the ecosystem collaboratively responds to the changing needs of people.
2– Barriers, assets, and opportunities:
Through listening to the knowledge and experience of their partners, 100% Digital Leeds identifies with them the community’s gaps, barriers and motivations and coproduces potential solutions to overcoming those barriers.
Each partner uses its strengths and assets to play a part in that solution. Every organisation supports the network in a mutually beneficial way, to achieve shared objectives and positive outcomes, for the good of their target community.
Along with its partners, 100% Digital Leeds demonstrates the value of digital inclusion and builds up an approach embedding digital inclusion interventions into its partners’ existing services. This way, digital support is integrated within those organisations where the communities feel safe and they can automatically receive the right support, where and when they need it.
3– Coproducing solutions:
As mentioned, plans are designed considering the strengths and assets of 100% Digital Leeds’ partners. 100% Digital Leeds then supports a staged implementation that builds upon identifying resources to maximise the outcomes: from quick wins to long-term, sustainable objectives.
This needs-first, immersive approach meets the needs of communities and enables partner priorities. Interventions are sustainable because they are designed around and embedded within existing systems and services. 100% Digital Leeds additionally supports their partners through advice, resources and funding.
The result is increased digital inclusion for communities and appropriate access to a full range of available services.
4- Understanding and measuring success:
KPIs adopting the binary “digital inclusion or exclusion” definition are incompatible with the complex and multifaceted challenges faced by those working to increase digital inclusion. Therefore, when considering measuring its impact, 100% Digital Leeds’ model avoids talking about the “number of people digitally excluded” or “return of investment”. Instead, this model frames digital inclusion as an enabler to other behaviours leading to positive outcomes. For instance, they measure the amount of digital inclusion support around their communities and analyse the amount of delivered support, to better understand its level and to potentially scale it up.
Over the last 12 months, 100% Digital Leeds has significantly increased the capacity of community organisations to support digital inclusion. For example:
- They have partnered with 220 teams, organisations and services
- They have secured over £ 1 million in funds for community organisations
- Through their partners, thousands of Leeds residents received SIM cards with free data, borrowed a digital device to get online and received one-to-one digital skills support.
The model’s holistic approach:
100% Digital Leeds believes that digital inclusion is social inclusion: those who can most benefit from digitalisation tend to be those who are least likely to be online.
100% Digital Leeds’ model enables three outcome levels:
- For communities: it ensures better digital access to support individuals’ digital autonomy and ability to make informed decisions. This approach increases health and well-being, social opportunities and connections, financial resilience, access to online services, education, training and employment.
- For its partners: it enhances service offers and improves efficiencies, maximising reach and impact.
- For Leeds city: it enables the delivery of Council, City, and Regional priorities and strategies.
100% Digital Leeds’ model was developed to be implemented at a local level (e.g. city). However, the model’s learnings can be replicated at different and wider scales.
Since its beginning, 100% Digital Leeds has developed different Digital Inclusion Networks to bring together partners working collaboratively to improve digital inclusion for specific communities. Each of these networks has its set of priorities and objectives, where they discuss common challenges, best practices, and opportunities for partnerships and funding. Through these schemes, 100% Digital Leeds ensures that organisations are supported on their digital inclusion journeys, as well as save time and effort by working collectively. These are their current networks:
- Older People’s Digital Inclusion Network
- Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Network
- Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network
- Sensory Impairment Digital Inclusion Network:
- Reducing Reoffending Through Digital Inclusion Network
MODEL’S IMPLEMENTATION: The Old Fire Station
The Old Fire Station, a key delivery partner of 100% Digital Leeds, is a community space hosting six local charities supporting the East suburb of Leeds, becoming a one-stop shop for activities such as healthy living, mental health, and cookery lessons, among others.
Trust is at the heart of this organisation: the thousand people visiting The Old Fire Station weekly perceive it as a safe place, where they are heard and understood. The Old Fire Station’s approach is holistic and community-based: as people are already going there to do some of the many available activities, they have found different ways of embedding digital services and activities among others. They work with their tenants and local organisations to upskill those who may have difficulties in accessing digital support and information and integrate digital interventions into all of The Old Fire Station’s activities.
For example, they organise drop-in sessions for people to receive expert support on different digital issues, such as setting up an email address or learning how to use FaceTime to talk to their family. They also offer free use of an iPad at the reception, where the staff encourages and helps individuals to research for information themselves (e.g. bus schedule, addresses). Every time they ask for information, they receive an upskilling intervention that makes them more digitally autonomous.
All the staff is encouraged to incorporate “digital” in every conversation they have, to up-skill individuals with digital skills applicable in other areas of their lives. Additionally, The Old Fire Station has recently employed a Digital Inclusion Officer with the support of NHS Health Inequalities Funding secured by the council. This staff member works with the larger community in East Leeds to support local organisations in running their activities and to increase the digital inclusion support available to meet the needs of the population.
“The Old Fire Station is excited to be hosting the new role of Digital Inclusion Officer in the York Road LCP area. With this new role we hope to support the community to become more digitally included by providing activities and information to increase knowledge and skills.” – Fran Etherington, Development Manager, The Old Fire Station.