Understanding digital exclusion and inclusion in Local Government

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

We would like to learn more about digital skills, exclusion and inclusion in relation to local government digital services and understand how to reduce non-participation and improve the delivery of those services in ways that put users first.

Existing data is often out of date, at local authority level, and not necessarily reflective of how people engage with other digital services and solutions.

The project will generate data and learning at ward level and will draw on, test and extend current knowledge and assumptions. We will work with ward level data and undertake direct user research to establish common reasons preventing people from using council digital services, obstacles they face and the support they might require. Importantly, this phase will also work with residents who do participate, enabling us to examine factors contributing to participation and choice, to learn from positive experiences of active users.

We will establish a method of explaining where people are excluded locally, and crucially, uncover reasons why. Factors might be common and shared amongst the five participating authorities, or more local and specific. As well as producing a transferrable method for assessing digital skills and exclusion at ward level we will update definitions of this common problem. We will also develop use cases for the design, development and promotion of digital services and digital inclusion activities to deliver maximum benefits to local authorities and residents.

The Newcastle University Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) will deliver the project with input and direction from a virtual steering group of the 5 participating authorities. Each council will contribute data, knowledge, skills and local resource. Examining variation between the five participating authorities will ensure the learning and outcomes are relevant to other councils.

The project will be delivered in 3 phases (Data and Policy Analysis; Primary Research; Outcomes, Recommendations and Final Report).

Key tasks, outputs and outcomes will include

    • Identify and appraise data sets on digital skills, exclusion and take up, including gaps
    • Test the validity of existing data
    • Identify other data sets to create a ward based analysis
    • Produce a heat map showing likelihood of digital exclusion at ward level in the five participating local authorities
    • Identify wards / residents / digital services suitable for further research (e.g. face to face / workshops / focus groups / telephone surveys) to see whether this reinforces earlier findings or provides new insights
    • Consider the council-based governance issues that can also impact on channel shift
    • Make recommendations for changes to future digital service development and inclusion / promotion activities

The final research report will include

  • Detailed understanding of digital exclusion in the 5 local authorities
  • Understanding of the potential take up of digital services in each local authority area
  • Estimated cost to local authorities of non-participation
  • Potential savings and other benefits from increased take-up
  • Use cases for the design, development and promotion of digital services and inclusion activities to deliver better outcomes
  • A methodology that can be used by other local authorities to understand their local landscape in terms of digital skills, digital exclusion and the uptake of digital services.

Unless digital exclusion and digital skill levels are addressed, and non-participation in council digital services better understood, many people will be unable to benefit from the digital transformation of public services and councils will be required to maintain and invest in multiple contact channels. A recent report published by the Good Things Foundation, Bridging the Digital Divide, estimates that 11.3 million adults in the UK lack the essential digital skills necessary for life and work. In ten years, it is anticipated almost 7 million adults in the UK – 12% of the adult population – will still be left behind as a result of digital exclusion. The report finds that providing everyone in the UK with the essential digital skills they need by 2028 will lead to a benefit of £15 for every £1 invested, with the UK benefitting by £21.9 billion within a decade by upskilling. For government, savings from digital efficiency and increased use of online services could total £487m.

This project will identify the scale of the task of addressing localised digital exclusion and where direct savings can be achieved through digital take-up. Digital technologies offer councils opportunities to redesign service delivery and reduce costs, a shift to online channels would realise significant financial and procedural efficiencies. The impact of channel shift includes the lower cost per transaction via digital channels. For instance, time savings through freeing officer time from face-to-face or telephone exchanges. Or with residents moving away from more traditional means of interacting with the council, the considerable potential savings from reducing postage costs. End to end digital delivery can also reduce ‘failure demand’, removing areas of potential failure during service redesign while the pro-active digital notification of a service resolution or disruption will remove many queries and complaints, freeing up even more employee resource.

The five councils will collaborate as equal partners while the involvement of CURDS will ensure that there is a comprehensive and validated evidence base about digital exclusion, digital skills and the use of council digital services within the 5 localities and nationally. Partnering in this way offers opportunities to explore common problems at ward level, focused on resident experiences and users of council services. The project will examine shared issues as well as findings that are more localised and specific; this is essential for councils wanting to examine local concerns.

 The final research report will be relevant to other councils. The use cases for the design, development and promotion of digital services and inclusion activities can be utilised by other local authorities and there will be a methodology that will help other local councils understand their local landscape in terms of digital skills, digital exclusion and the uptake of digital services.



The outputs from this discovery project will help better understand actual levels of digital exclusion across local authorities, with an innovative focus on exposing digital exclusion at ward level.

The outputs will include

A final research report incorporating

  • An analysis of the usefulness and validity of existing data sets and indicators around digital skills and digital exclusion
  • Potential new data sets and definitions
  • Heat maps showing likely levels of digital exclusion at ward level for the 5 local authorities with information about the data sets and methodology used to generate the data
  • Likely demand levels for local government digital services in each area with an explanation of how this has been generated
  • Data and findings from face to face surveys / workshops / telephone calls with residents
  • Data, knowledge and experience from the 5 participating local authorities

A business and benefits case incorporating

  • Further information on the costs of non-participation in digital services, and the potential savings from increasing take-up in general and in targeted service areas
  • Information on the other benefits arising from increased levels of digital skills and digital inclusion including local and regional economic benefits, social inclusion etc.

Use cases for the design, development and promotion of digital services, digital inclusion activities and other targeted initiatives to maximise uptake and benefits.

A methodology for other councils to use to develop a better understanding of digital skills, digital exclusion and digital services uptake in their locality.

A recommendation for an alpha project to improve digital take-up for a different named service in each of the five local authorities. The aim would be to develop and implement an effective and targeted channel shift strategy for each service area and to generate learning that would be transferrable to other services and councils both locally and nationally.

User engagement will take place in the second phase of the project which is focused around primary research. The virtual project team and CURDS will review the findings from the first phase of the project (which is an analysis of existing data sets, indicators and policy documents) along with local knowledge (from employees, managers, members) about current service provision and take up to identify wards, residents, digital services and current or potential users of digital services across all five LA’s to contribute to the primary research. This will be conducted in a number of ways and could include face to face interviews, focus groups, workshops, telephone surveys etc.

The objectives of the primary user research will be to validate or challenge the findings of phase 1 and the existing data sets and policy work, and to identify any other factors or considerations that influence digital skills, digital inclusion and the take-up of digital services.

The experience and knowledge of our staff, particularly on strategic issues and sensitive matters within different services, and the views of our portfolio holders and elected members are also very relevant to digital take-up and channel shift. Proposed changes to council services must be mindful of the decision making processes of individual councils and its governance processes. Part of the user research will explore this further and with five participating authorities there is an excellent opportunity to review shared issues and differences and to learn how to progress channel shift internally.

We do not anticipate that we will require additional support for the discovery project.


No funding has been granted for this project previously.