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The challenges and the opportunities of driving digital inclusion

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In this article, I would like to highlight the challenges that we are facing with driving digital inclusion (aka bridging the digital divide), why it is important and how we might be able to address it. Please note this is currently a working article. Comments are always welcome. Last updated 25 Nov 2015.


We are living in the Information Age. Using information technology and accessing information and services on the web have become the norm. We often take this privilege for granted. However, in the UK, 10+ million people, 18% of the population, do not have the means or the skills to get online. 23% of small businesses don’t have Basic Digital Skills [1]. Looking at the even bigger picture, 4 Billion people in the world, 57% of the world population, don't have access to the Internet [2]. The worrying fact is that, the problem is growing. So what can we do about it?


By Martha Lane Fox @Marthalanefox on digitalinclusion


In the UK, we are fortunate to have many charities, social or non-profit organisations such as Tinder Foundation, Go On UK, Digital Unite, UK Online Centres, Citizens Online, LearnMyWay, Digital Housing Hub and Community How To are working together with other organisations and businesses to help the UK population to get online. They have created many programmes and initiatives. There are many success stories and we should celebrate that. The programmes are based on volunteers and business co-operation. It is great to see the two are working together, the challenge is how to keep the programmes continue indefinitely (with continuity and consistency) to create a long-term impact.


Digital Nation

Tinder Digital Nation Infographic


The challenge

The trouble is, just like the universe, technology is not static, it is expanding. It advances at such a pace that many are left behind without a chance of ever catching up. Today's efforts might not be sufficient to solve future problems. The advanced skills digital skills today will be basic skills tomorrow. Basic skills today might be irrelevant tomorrow. We are trying to close a gap that is constantly and exponentially expanding. No wonder it's such a hard work!


At Lxpert, we are taking an approach capable of addressing the digital divide issue not only for today but also for tomorrow. We have implemented and tested the idea. And it works. Now we need to scale it up to advance the country and the world.


The idea is very simple. It is “to give everyone access to a personal IT expert (local, in person, 1-to-1)”. We’ve found a way to make that happen. In this article, I would like to share with you 3 key elements of the Lxpert approach.


Just like building blocks:

  • First, as the foundation, a business founded with a social purpose
  • Second, as the framework, seeing the customer digital journey as end-to-end
  • And finally, as the body, local crowd-to-crowd - connecting the 'non-digital' individuals with local IT experts


A business founded with a social purpose

People often say that a business has only one aim – to make a profit. If making profit is the starting point, then CSR would sound like a distraction. But what if a business was founded to create positive value for people, society and the world and as a result created profit? Then CSR would become the core value of the business and everything it did.


Some interesting talks and discussions by leading thinkers at London Business School:


At Lxpert we are doing exactly that. We are here to help people get the most from technology. We do this by connecting them with personal IT experts who can meet them in person and provide quality assistance. As a result, this creates new possibilities, enriches lives and drives digital inclusion.

CSR work

To extend our ability to help more people, we have partnered with AgeUK Suffolk. Together we are offering older people FREE computer advice and support every week at the local AgeUK help centre on a regular basis. It has been very successful. We received top marks feedback. It is constantly fully booked! It brings a lot of business benefits to us too!

AgeUK Suffolk Ipswich


Look! My Nan did a selfie!

To illustrate the transformational power of what we do. I would like to share with you a story from one of our customers. Let’s call her Betty.

Computer help 


Betty uses our free computer advice and support service at AgeUK on a regular basis. She is a grandma in her 80s. She is in good health and she is active. She lives by herself in Suffolk. Her family doesn’t live around the area.


As a loving grandmother, she loves staying in touch with her children and grandchildren. She was given a tablet by her daughter, but she didn’t know how to use it. So she came to see us to learn.


At the start, she had very little digital skills. So I started by showing her the possibilities and telling her about the risks and danger. She said: “Wow, I didn’t know you could do all these things on this little tablet”. Then every time she came to see us, I would teach her something new such as finding things on Google, sending emails and catching up with her favourite TV shows. If there were anything broken, we would fix it for her too. She said, “I am getting a hang of it slowly and I am getting better at it.”


Recently, I taught her how to use the camera on the tablet to send her grandson a selfie. Yes a selfie! Her grandson was very impressed. He told his friends, my Nan did a selfie!


Yes! We love what we do!!


What we really love about our work is the transformational power of what we do. We often see people coming in, feeling a bit confused and overwhelmed. We can see that in their body language. When they leave, they often feel inspired and upbeat.


Getting elderly people online is good for them

It is important to help elderly people to get online. Not only because they can now search for things or shop online, but also they can get in touch with their friends and family or engage with local interest groups e.g. book club, gardening club and knitting club etc. These activities help them to stay stimulated, connected and active. So that they can live a longer, healthier and enjoyable life.


End to end customer digital journey

Ride a bike


The next key element is “seeing the customer digital journey as end-to-end”. Let's start by talking about riding a bike. Now I am going to need your help again:

  • Can you ride a bike?
  • Do you remember the first time you learnt to ride a bike?
  • Do you remember how you learnt?


Now imagine, you were an elderly person and you had never ridden a bike before. But you were living in an era that to get to anywhere or to get in touch with anyone, you needed to be able to ride a bike. Learning to ride a bike was very scary for you as you were worried that you could break the bike or got yourself into huge trouble.


People told you that you could learn by reading it or watching videos at some places. However, you couldn't do that, as you didn't know how to ride a bike! How could you get to those places? Catch 22!


Your son was a regular biker. He had recently bought a new bike, so he decided to give you his old one. He set it up, and then he handed it to you and let you get on. He thought that you didn’t need any help to learn, as to him, riding a bike was his second nature. Besides, he’s very busy. You tried to ride it. You had a few goes, but since you didn't know what to do, you gave up at the end.


It is heart breaking, isn't it? However all you needed was someone by your side, holding the bike, showing you, guiding you and giving you some extra confidence that everything would be okay. Then you would be able to learn to ride a bike and perhaps even a motor bike!


Now let's replace the bike with computers or the Internet. Can you see the picture? This is something we see every day. That's why we view the customer digital journey as an end-to-end process. In order to help people get the most from technology, our experts need to support them all the way throughout their digital journey:

  • From providing independent advice,
  • Through setting up, fixing or upgrading devices,
  • To teaching the customer how to use their devices well at their comfortable pace,
  • All on a one-to-one basis.


We found this is the best way to help people to adopt technology and it is working. We call this bootstrapping. Once our customers gain confidence, all the extra help from resources such as UK Online Centres, Digital Champions or any other resources (such as Learn My Way and BBC BiteSize) would only make them better.


The 3 key things you need to get online - ADDS

There are 3 things you need to get online:

  1. Access – e.g. broadband, 4G or WiFi
  2. Device – e.g. computer, tablet or smartphone.
  3. Digital Skills


The first two things (access and device) are relatively easy as they can be given, purchased or built. However getting everyone to have digital skills is the toughest challenge, as it requires everyone to learn the required skills. Learning a skill takes time and there is no guarantee that everyone can do it. Besides, each person has different learning needs. This is where a personal IT expert can make a big difference.


We also believe that our end-to-end approach helps to bind the three together, like super glue. By helping people throughout their digital journey, we stand a higher chance of getting people online.



Local crowd-to-crowd – the body

The final element, local crowd to crowd:


On one hand, we have a large group of people who need IT help. On the other, we have a group of IT experts who can help. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could somehow put the two together?


This is what we are doing at Lxpert. We are gathering all the good IT experts out there in one place. We vet them and certify them. We incentivise them and empower them to use their skills to help others. And then make them easily accessible by people who need their help. Done!


We are doing this via our ecommerce platform and our volunteering programmes.


Leveraging local IT experts has many advantages. To name a few:

  1. Minimum training – since they are already IT experts
  2. Trust – people tend to trust people from their neighbourhood or local area
  3. Convenience – because it is local
  4. Effective – Personal 1-to-1 is the most effective way to help people
  5. Green – less travel, means less carbon emission


Incentivise and empowerment

Let’s talk about incentivising and empowering our experts.

We offer our experts the opportunity to use their skills to help others, on a freelance basis or on a voluntary basis or both. Our platform collects customer reviews and ratings. So we are rewarding for good work.


With all the IT experts in one place, we can do community building. The plan is to organise regular meetings and events. This will give our experts the chance to network, to share, to grow, to learn and to get support from one another.


Furthermore, we can create volunteering opportunities for our experts so that they can use their skills to create more positive impact. For example, helping to teach computing in schools; even travelling to 3rd world countries and teaching children STEM subjects.


The great news is we have already started similar work with our partnership with AgeUK Suffolk. We are looking to expand the service to other regions of the country with AgeUK so that more people will benefit from it.


Gathering IT experts

To speed up our momentum in gathering all the good IT experts, we have recently started a Meetup group called “The League of Digital Superheroes”. We are inviting people with IT/Digital superpowers to join us! Do you have Digital superpowers?


Future proofing

With the constant supply of IT experts and the growth of the IT experts' skills. We are future proofing the solution.


In summary

Lxpert is driving digital inclusion by “giving everyone access to a personal IT expert”. The idea is working and we just need to grow it so that it can benefit more people. I have also shared with you the three 3 key elements of the Lxpert approach: business with social purpose, end-to-end view of the customer digital journey and local crowd-to-crowd.


Driving digital inclusion is like a mission to Mars. It is difficult, challenging and it requires a lot of effort. Let's imagine that Lxpert has a state-of-the-art rocket that can take us to Mars. All we need now is the fuel and the crew.


You can help us get those by doing the following:

  • For the crew: help us get in touch with organisations, partners and IT experts
  • For the fuel: help us spread the words about what we do. Tell your friends and family, tell your followers, tweet about us, like us and blog about us. Make some noise!


Remember: the more experts we get, the more people we can help, the more powerful this rocket will be and the sooner we can get to Mars!!


Thank you.




[1] http://www.go-on.co.uk/issue/

[2] http://www.zdnet.com/article/reality-check-billions-still-lack-internet-access/



Image source

Bike http://www.oldbike.eu/emancipation/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/girls_learn_to_ride_bike.jpg




#digitaldivide #digitalskills #social #socialimpact #CSR #digitalinclusion

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