Exploring the potential of how digital hubs and digital technologies can enhance the lives of residents
We know that there are currently huge issues for local residents in Lincolnshire in accessing the internet. In addition, local health care providers are often frustrated by the lack of connectivity that may be stifling advances in delivery of care. This is largely due to rurality and residents/whole communities being unable to receive a signal as well as lack of options of internet providers (often there is only one choice in the rural areas). Cost can also be a significant factor for communities that are more deprived and in addition there are gaps in skills and knowledge with residents (and sometimes practitioners) not knowing how internet services can be best used. There are residents who also do not recognise the benefits of internet use, this cohort can often and will increasingly be left behind as more resources and services move to digital.
This project would seek to provide robust evidence to enable informed choice and future benefit for local residents and health care providers. For example, the project will seek to collect and collate evidence which will ultimately lead to resources for improved access to internet services for residents through the creation of such things as Digital Hubs.
Complementing the work of our Broadband Team, the project will work with local venues, such as libraries, pubs, village halls and shops, to explore the creation of a network of hubs where residents can access free internet, computer services and improve digital skills (creating ‘digital communities’ for the participants). This work could include installing Wi-Fi in natural focal points within communities that currently do not have them and work in partnership with venues to be pro-digital, promoting the use of digital services in their establishments. This aligns with the aims of the Industrial Strategy (2017) and the plan to promote new adult digital skills.
Following on from this the project will also explore ways to help those more vulnerable in our communities to utilise digital tools more e.g. online shopping, ordering repeat prescriptions and using Alexa/Google for general day to day reminders. As well as assisting those that need help completing online benefit claims. This aligns with the aims of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Industrial Strategy, ‘Further develop and implement new ways to support the health and care of people who live in hard-to-reach areas, and support people through innovative ways to live well and independently for longer’.
The current assumption is that there are large numbers of residents that currently do not have internet access, either due to cost, availability (connectivity), skills, or a lack of understanding of its benefits. Furthermore, it is widely recognised that internet services are under-used in the provision of care for vulnerable residents and improving access and knowledge to services such as Alexa and Google, could make life easier for those with additional needs.
The Lincolnshire County Council Broadband Team through the OnLincolnshire programme are currently implementing superfast broadband services to most of the county and encouraging communities to incorporate connection services through the Gigabit Broadband Voucher scheme. However, services and terminology can remain confusing for residents and we feel that communities need a more ‘hands-on’ approach to address these issues.
The Adult Care and Wellbeing Team at Lincolnshire County Council are keen to explore how technology can be employed to tackle social isolation, support intergenerational community development and transform the delivery of health and care services and the Digital Inclusion Fund offers a unique opportunity to explore this in more detail.
Research will be undertaken to explore how well ideas have worked elsewhere in the country, noting best practice and lessons learned.
Our Community Cohesion Team (CCT) has ensured that the citizens of Lincolnshire continue to be informed, engaged, connected and are able to take action. We have experience of data gathering in a social setting, and translating data into user-friendly learning information for a wide variety of audiences.
Data will be gathered through a number of methods including desk research, interviews, and conversations. Surveys will be used, collecting a range of quantitative and qualitative data. Engagement activities will be undertaken to explore issues and determine if ideas are reasonable and viable. The CCT have previously used successful methods to engage, particularly our Join the Dots events, a community engagement and project development tool where ideas are explored in partnership with communities and community organisations, which enable residents to come together and explore collaborative and inclusive solutions. These have been very successful with a high attendance rate (average of 40 residents per event). We will work together with the district councils to deliver three of the events in each district.
The team’s ability to connect across communities, services and partners has enabled the delivery of activities that have cemented communities’ sense of place and belonging, increasing opportunities for local project development.
This funding will enable LCC staff to work with communities in the East Lindsey and South Kesteven districts of the county to research and evaluate the advantages of stronger connections and increase in digital use, including, but not limited to the development of Digital Hubs.
Staff time will amount to 2 full time equivalent (fte) posts from within the LCC CCT for a period of 15 weeks.
The exact cost of the problem in Lincolnshire is unknown due to the hidden nature of the issue however, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) states that there are five key areas where individuals benefit with basic internet skills, on average:
- earnings increase between 3% and 10%;
- people are more likely to look for work;
- shopping online is 13% cheaper than in store;
- people communicate with friends, family and the community 14% more;
- Government and banking transactions are 30 minutes shorter online than in person.
The report, The NHS at 70: What will new technology mean for the NHS and its patients? (2018) recognises that technological developments offer significant opportunities to improve health care. The main points recognise that the impact of changes should not be underestimated and that:
- Technology has the potential to deliver significant savings and increased productivity for the NHS
- Patients are embracing new technology and increasingly expect their care to be supported by it.
- New technology could fundamentally change the way that NHS staff and care services are delivered
In addition, and highlighted by the Telegraph ‘poor broadband is helping to kill off rural society’. The National Housing Federation (2017) has warned that family life is being damaged as children increasingly leave home for university or to work and fail to come back because of poor facilities in the countryside. “We know that many people choose to leave rural areas and commute to nearby towns and cities to work, with some choosing to move out altogether for that reason”.
It is also worth noting that Lincolnshire has the largest gap in the EM region between the employment rate of the healthy and the employment rate of those in ill-health, increased internet skills can help those with poor physical or mental health to enter the labour market. The productivity and value that this represents to the economy are huge, as are the social and individual benefits.
The Community Cohesion Team for the project already cover the identified areas and have excellent knowledge of the localities and communities within them.
Agile working will be utilised in partnership with the other local authority offices to minimise time spent on travel and to increase opportunities to build face to face relationships.
All partners will be involved in the delivery of the Join the Dots engagement events, in order to share cross district learning and encourage cooperation and project involvement.
Catch up networking meetings will take place with all partners every two weeks, with the location alternating between the two districts in order to be fair and limit travelling time.
Terms of Reference for the partnership will be drawn up and put into place at the first networking meeting to ensure efficient and effective coordination, certifying objectivity and constructive project delivery. Lincolnshire County Council will facilitate these meetings.
We would be keen to explore the possibility of working with the Local Digital Collaboration Unit for both support during the project and sharing findings afterwards.
Following completion of the project and based on the recommendations of our evaluator, our project plan will then be to look at implementing these initiatives based on the Discovery phase of the project. This will include sourcing appropriate funding for the project to deliver in the initial two areas with the view to eventually widen this out across all of our seven districts. We plan to work closely with our Adult Care and Wellbeing Team and Broadband Team to deliver these plans.
We would also be interested in working more closely with the private sector to help in the improvement of services, training for communities and implementation of technology. With the expansion of the broadband network across the county there will be more opportunities for the private sector and we would like to engage with these parties to ensure that adequate support is offered to the most vulnerable, to ensure that opportunities for those less well-off are promoted and for any collaborative project to be discussed.
We would be interested to be a part of any further work under the programme and MHCLG and would welcome their involvement and support.