London’s Chief Digital Officer explains digital inclusion aims and approach

London’s first Chief Digital Officer, Theo Blackwell, has explained the capital’s approach to digital access and inclusivity – with dementia carer support an area of specific focus.

In an article on behalf of the Smart London Board, an organisation driving city-wide improvements via data and technology, the CDO outlined aims and initiatives to ensure Londoners have access to the online and digital resources they need.

Entitled ‘Digital Access for All: London’s approach’, the publication considers how the digital divide, heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic, can be prevented from “becoming the next entrenched inequality”.

Blackwell, who is also chair of the Mayor of London’s Digital Exclusion Taskforce, writes that barriers include lack of a device, lack of and problems with Wi-Fi connectivity, and a lack of skills to use the tools that are available. However, he also states that, despite being complex issues to solve, “a priority — or mission — set by the city’s Recovery Board” is for “every Londoner” to have access to those three things or the support they need “to be online” by 2025.

Discussing the city-wide approach, which he says began to be shaped during summer 2020, Blackwell explains that the London Office of Technology & Innovation (LOTI) at London Councils and Greater London Authority (GLA) have begun working with practitioners to “map digital exclusion” across the capital – to help boroughs to identify the areas and groups most affected.

It’s hoped that this ‘Digital Inclusion Mapping Project’ will provide actionable insights for decision-makers and test how data can help target digital inclusion services “more effectively”.

The three key elements of London’s approach are:

  • Connected London – work to ensure ‘last mile’ connectivity and affordable full fibre connections for underserved and ‘less commercially viable’ areas, including making connectivity and mobile infrastructure considerations mandatory during building planning
  • Essential Digital Skills for adults – a statutory skills entitlement that means adults aged 19 or over can access fully funded Level 1 digital skills courses
  • Digital Inclusion Innovation – a programme that brings together London boroughs and partners across the public, private and third sectors to develop and scale initiatives that support the digitally excluded.

Current projects include encouraging the public sector to ‘upcycle’ retired devices, providing digital inclusion in temporary accommodation, and developing “digitally-enabled ways” to support the carers of people with dementia.

As for further projects going forward, the programme is also set to “work closely” with NHS London to “understand needs from a health perspective, including digital inclusion as part of social prescribing”.

One action the programme hopes to make is to develop an “access package” that will provide digitally excluded Londoners with options and “affordable provision” to meet their needs, while staff across a range of support sectors will also be easily able to access “quality information, resources, services and peer support on digital inclusion” to assist the digitally excluded individuals they’re working with.

Ultimately, Blackwell signposts readers to a range of useful organisations and resources already running initiatives in this area, and also puts out a call for other businesses and organisations to get involved, and for Londoners to share their lived experiences.

“Our goal is for Londoners to get the support they need wherever they live in the city,” he says, “to see digital access as a service by understanding and meeting needs; using data better, and developing solutions together which can be easily shared and reused,” he concludes.

To read more about the approach, click here.