Guide to Sourcing Digital Devices
Case Studies

Essex County Council – Closing the Digital Divide


Overview

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Essex County Council (ECC) crowdsourced devices from individuals and businesses to be refurbished or stripped for parts and subsequently sold on. The council used the funds raised from these sales to purchase devices for digitally excluded families in the county. Since December 2020, over 5000 laptops, tablets and Chromebooks have been distributed.

Running a successful campaign

ECC contacted council suppliers directly to ask them to donate their unused devices to the scheme. Communications were aligned with holidays or key dates throughout the year – for example, on Black Friday, online posts reminded people to donate their old devices if they were buying a new one. 

Managing the donations

Individuals and businesses could donate their devices at any of the county’s libraries. All the donated devices were sent to a current supplier of ECC that had been contracted to securely dispose of unused council devices. The IT partner would either wipe and refurbish the donated devices and sell them on or sell them for parts. The funds made from this process were used by ECC to purchase new devices for digitally excluded residents. Devices were given to local secondary schools to distribute to families who had no access to a digital device. 

Recommendations

  • As ECC was in a position of responsibility, it had to ensure the donated devices were being data wiped correctly. It chose to use an external partner to guarantee this would be done. 
  • Initially, ECC was receiving unusable devices that could not be sold on, which created a cost for the council. Developing a list of minimum requirements for the devices (e.g. condition and technical specification) would help to prevent this.