Tackling digital poverty in the North East: Lessons learned from the region's VCSE community

Throughout much of last year, as we all began what would turn out to be 12 months and counting of living our professional and personal lives online, we found ourselves increasingly talking about who was being excluded from the online world.

Digital exclusion isn’t new; it was an issue pre-Covid. However, without 'real world' options, concerns grew for those people who were unable to access equipment, skills, connectivity - or a mix of all three.

It became clear that although data exists at a national level by the great work done by organisations like The Good Things Foundation for example, and that some fantastic work was being done by the North East sector to meet the needs of the people it works with, there are gaps in our understanding of the issues and potential solutions at a regional level.

In late 2020, VONNE worked with Not Equal research centre and Newcastle University's Open Lab to design and promote a series of workshops for the VCSE sector to explore the current state of digital inclusion in the region, and to gain insight into what policy makers, funders, and technologists can do to support the community in digital inclusion.

Facilitated workshops were run by Adam Parnaby, PhD researcher at Open Lab, and a number of recommendations were drawn out focusing on three main themes:

Complexity

Policymakers and funders should recognize the complexity of doing digital inclusion work ‘on the ground’, and that addressing digital poverty in a sustainable and effective manner requires a long-term view of funding and commissioning.

Collaboration

Funders and commissioners should wherever possible foster a collaborative eco-system of digital inclusion practitioners. Work should be undertaken to cultivate an environment in which many organisations can collaborate closely to address different aspects of digital poverty in a particular locality.

Training

VCSE sector practitioners and technologists should be supported to engage with one another to develop guidance around the development of technology which is as accessible as possible to those experiencing digital poverty.

These issues won’t be resolved quickly, or without significant regional and national investment, but the findings of this work will be fed into future regional research and VONNE’s projects supporting the VCSE sector with digital.

Download the full report Tackling digital poverty in the North East of England: Lessons learned from the region's VCSE sector.