There is no silver bullet to tackling digital exclusion

Digital exclusion is deepening inequalities in our increasingly digital society. The latest report from the Ofcom Communications Affordability Tracker July 2023, estimates that approximately 900,00 Londoners struggle to afford internet access. And according to the Lloyds Digital Consumer Index 2023, 1.3 million Londoners lack basic digital skills to access online services. The cost of living crisis is making things worse and widening the digital gap with 2.4 million people UK wide struggling to afford broadband connections.

To address the capital’s deepening of digital inequalities, in June 2022, the Mayor of London and the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) partnered with Good Things Foundation to launch Get Online London (GOL), a pan-London digital inclusion service. GOL offers digital devices, connectivity and digital skills to Londoners via a large network of voluntary and community sector organisations (VCS). Its aim is to reach 75,000 Londoners by June 2025.

So far, we’ve distributed over 48,000 mobile data sim cards, almost 3,500 digital devices and the network of VCSs has grown to include more than 700 organisations providing the front line support on the ground, in every corner of our city.

GOL relies heavily on donations from all sectors, in order to provide usable devices that meet local demand. We’re grateful to the boroughs and other public and private sector organisations who have supported the service by donating almost 9,000 of their disused devices – all in less than 18 months. More needs to be done in this space given the nature and extent of need is changing and likely to continue to do so, whilst cost of living pressures continue to rise.

This means that GOL is not the silver bullet to digital exclusion in London, rather it’s a complement to what other partners are already doing.

Triaging needs

For example, boroughs may have a critical role in providing devices and skills to people or groups who may not be engaging with the voluntary sector, or those who may be in contact with their libraries, housing, social care services etc. On the latter, we conducted one useful pilot with four boroughs where we tested four different approaches for identifying and then triaging people who may be experiencing digital exclusion. You can read more about the methodology and the four case studies on the LOTI website.

Creating pipeline of devices

When it comes to creating a pipeline of devices, the guide to sourcing digital devices is a tool we created to help borough officers looking to maximise the number of devices available. It has lots of useful tips and case studies of boroughs that have used crowdsourcing quite successfully to generate devices or funding for purchasing devices. It also walks you through the entire process, guiding and advising on the best approaches and tools for each step.

Once a bank of devices has been set up the guide to lending and gifting devices then helps boroughs design device distribution approaches that work best for them and for the needs of their residents.

Through GOL, thanks to our refurbishing partner, Reconome, we’re able to refurbish large volumes of digital devices used by professionals, at speed and high quality. However, we know there’s a whole ecosystem of individual device donations that we’re unable to tap into as part of GOL. The reason for this is mainly owing to the smaller volumes, varying quality and specification of devices, which makes it difficult to keep costs low and therefore benefit from the economies of scale.

Saying this, local, often smaller refurbishers’ can have an invaluable role here – they can often not only refurbish smaller volumes of devices but also train and upskill local people simultaneously. To support this sector, we put together a guide to upcycling devices which helps borough officers understand and implement the end-to-end process of device upcycling / refurbishing. Our (now probably outdated) list of local refurbishers is a helpful starting point for boroughs looking to mobilise their communities in refurbishing disused devices.

Data supply

We’ve focused heavily on devices partly because that’s the part of the service that requires quite a significant amount of thought and effort and also partly because partners such as Vodafone, Virgin Media O2 and Three have generously donated sim cards which are either distributed alone or alongside a device, depending on the demand from the individual.

Digital exclusion in dementia

Digital exclusion is nuanced and can exacerbate (existing) health inequalities as well increase the social isolation of older people or those living with mental and/or physical conditions. One of our early projects in this space looked at ways in which we could reduce the social isolation of people living with dementia. This work was delivered for LOTI, by the Helix Centre at Imperial College and the supporting dementia care toolkit covers the project methodology as well as outputs and evaluation.

Building a business case

Another related, but slightly different issue that has come up recently is that of funding cliff-edge which many boroughs either already have or will face in the coming months. This has prompted us to come together as a digital inclusion community once again to collectively think about the continued business case for digital inclusion. The summary from the first workshop and second workshop captures key points from the participants.  The third and final workshop will be held on 20 March 2024.

In summary, our aim with this work is to directly support Londoners via GOL, as well as to support boroughs and VCS organisations working in this space. We’re keen for our digital inclusion community to have a role and say in what we do as well as help share good practice and lessons learnt. For this reason, LOTI brings together this community both online and in person, throughout the year. If you’d like to join the online community on Basecamp please get in touch.

Get Online London

Genta Hajri
16 February 2024 ·
Skip to content

Join the LOTI conversation

Sign up for our monthly newsletter to get the latest news and updates