Are they essentially parts of the same whole?
A few months ago, I was sat in a meeting with colleagues trying to put the finishing touches to the digital inclusion strategy. At one point we got into a debate to what extent the digital inclusion strategy is actually part of a broader digital strategy or if the two are distinctly separate efforts.
*I’m parking a disclaimer here which I’ll come back to at the end.
Understanding those you’re trying to help
A good portion of digital inclusion is about having empathy with people on the other side of the digital divide. Understanding how they could benefit from the technologies of the Internet and making a compelling case to them.
This knowledge of why, how & where people want to interact with the organisation seems like really useful information that could be used to shape digital services.
Something people often forget in the rush to digital, not everyone will be convinced to use digital services. For them, we need to ensure there’s a non-digital fall back option — but this should not be the primary destination for most people. (Last year we found around 75% of tenants were digitally included to some degree)
*Great* digital services are easy to use
If you work really hard to make digital services intuitive and easy to use for beginners it actually benefits everyone. Digital newbies appreciate not being confused by clunky interface design and the tech savvy appreciate being able to do what they want without wasting time jumping over hurdles.
Designing a great digital user experience is deceptively difficult. Counter-intuitively, it’s easier to create something overly complicated.
Most organisations have a patchwork of systems behind the scenes serving different needs & departments. From the user perspective we often have to work tirelessly to disguise this and make it seem like a cohesive whole.
Which brings me on to my next point..
‘Selling’ digital inclusion is tough if your digital services are poor
If you’re making the case for digital inclusion on the basis of saving money and making life easier, you should be covering these bases with your own digital services.
In the case of Housing Associations, can a tenant easily manage the entirety of their tenancy online? If they have to pick up the phone or visit the office for vital parts of the service your digital inclusion evangelism might start sounding a little bit hollow.
Digital inclusion *is* digital transformation in action
The need for digital inclusion is a reminder that digital has transformed the world around us. Not that long ago only the most nerdy would even attempt to buy something via the Internet, now it’s the default option for many.
However, the pace of digital inside our organisations hasn’t been moving anywhere near as rapidly. To keep up with the majority of people who use our services we must make efforts to digitally include ourselves.
That means ensuring that the way we design systems and processes are compatible with the technologies of the Internet and have an awareness of the needs of the user.
It also means investing in staff and ensuring they have the digital skills to make the most of the technology they’ve got and enable them contribute meaningful toward the conversation on future improvements.
Anything digital requires a coordinated effort.
Whether you’re talking about digital inclusion or digital strategy, the need for a proper joined up thinking is absolutely vital. It cannot be the sole remit of a one department or confined to certain bits of the org chart.
Whether it’s creating services, or communicating with the outside world, having an awareness of how different people use technology (of if they use technology at all) should really help inform how we go about doing things.
To reap the biggest benefits from the connected digital age we (unsprisingly) need to connect all the different parts of our organisations. That means having a cohesive vision of what citizens/customers/tenants/users need from us and working towards giving it to them.
I think this is why there’s an obvious overlap between digital inclusion and digital strategy. They should ultimately describe the same future goal of enabling people to interact with the organisation with less friction and better outcomes.
I’m often loathed to use ‘digital services’ and ‘digital strategy’ for broadly the same reasons. In this day and age the inclusion of digital should really go without saying. HOWEVER, I am also aware that for many large institutions digital is not yet the default, so is often included as a reminder of where we are and where we need to get to.
Also, I use the term digital transformation knowing that it’s not a singular activity that will be ‘done’ but more of a continuous journey.