In conversation with Helen Chicot: the link between social and digital exclusion

To what extent is there a link between digital inclusion and social exclusion?

There is a clear link – not that I would say it’s cause and effect necessarily but it’s certainly true that the people we meet who are struggling, in crisis or chaos, benefit massively from having access to technology.

For some, it’s about being able to access the things that many of us take for granted, being able to communicate, find out vital information or use online systems.  For others, it’s about the opportunities for learning new things, life skills, wellbeing, financial capabilities that you get through technology.

How do you think technology skills and education can be integrated more effectively as part of a citizens curriculum?

The Citizens’ Curriculum comes from the work of the Learning and Work Institute.  They believe that it’s vital that everyone has the core set of skills they need for living and working in the 21st century – English, maths, digital, civic, health and financial capabilities.  The programmes we run are learner-led and have digital at the heart of them.  For many adults with low skills, a computer is a fantastic place to start learning.  As one learner told us “a computer doesn’t judge me.”  The drop-ins we run in our communities bring all the Citizens’ Curriculum capabilities together in one place so that adults can come along, build a trusting relationship with a worker or a volunteer they can trust, and begin to learn the things they need to make things better in their lives.  For some, this programme has resulted in significant reductions in calls to police or other services, replacing crisis with learning and the hope that things are getting better.

Rochdale has been using data led targeting to reduce vulnerability and demand on crisis services. Can you explain why this has been so successful?

For us, it’s about combining tech and data with human beings.  We’re able to use data to tell us what and where the risks might be.  By bringing this information together, we can get a fuller picture of what’s going on.  For some cases, looking at all of the available information tells us more about what’s going on and what a person, household or family might really need.  Then we can develop a good, bespoke response from the human beings in our system who can approach the person with an offer that’s meaningful.  By bringing the different bits of the system together, led by data, we can share our resources and provide what people need.  It might be that the thing the person needs is learning and social contact, for example, but the savings are realised in a different part of the system – in reduced call-outs to the police.

What projects are you currently working on, and what are your priorities for the remainder of the year?

We’re developing and expanding the public service networks in our communities and a big part of our action this year is improving the level and impact of the involvement of citizens and members of the community.  They’ve always been involved in our work and we’ve learned that they often have the right answers to the tricky issues.  By changing how we design and lead our work by understanding issues together, we’re finding that we can take action together.  A great example of this is the work we’re doing with a local group:  “Heritage Hackers”.  They have formed to share and develop their invention an making skills and have a great deal of enthusiasm for developing tech based solutions to everyday social issues.  By working together we can provide them with the space and links to do their work safely and reach the people who’ll benefit the most.

Helen Chicot works for Rochdale Borough Council, who were awarded the 2018 MJ Award for Digital Transformation. Helen is the Place Integration Lead at the council and will be speaking on ‘The Social benefits of bringing people and tech together’ at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 20 November. To register or find out more, please click here.