Tuesday 29 October 2013

GDS & assisted digital – the project that keeps on starting

When Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox decreed that all public services should be digital by default (14 October 2010) she created a problem – how do you avoid all the people unversed in digital ways being excluded by default?

The problem was given to the Government Digital Service (GDS) to solve. A strange choice. GDS's expertise is in building websites, not helping old ladies to fill in attendance allowance forms. What special knowledge would they bring to bear? None. GDS's natural inclination would be to devise a digital solution. That's their approach to all problems but in this case it's definitively inappropriate. It's strange that GDS accepted the rôle.

But accept it they did and they gave the problem a name – "assisted digital" – and they started blogging about it (28 July 2011). Nearly a year later (30 May 2012) they published Getting started on assisted digital.

Assisted digital keeps on starting. Another year later (23 May 2013) GDS published Starting the conversation about providing assisted digital support. It started again a month later (20 June 2013), Engaging the market: "Last week we held our first ‘market engagement’ event for suppliers interested in providing assisted digital support for government services. It was really popular ...".

Then (2 August 2013) they held a workshop to answer the question What about people who aren't online?. Yes, that is the question, that was the question on 14 October 2010, what is the answer?

What is the answer? Consultants.

Peter Ziegler from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design was called in and blogged (12 August 2013):
My research has been a very fruitful introduction to the problems older people may face when accessing digital products and services. There have been two key early observations that keep coming up:

1. People who do not have much confidence in their digital skills are more comfortable conducting a one-way search query than a two-way personal information transaction.  For example, people may very well be confident with searching the Internet for a shop’s location, but they would not feel comfortable going to that shop’s website to make a purchase to be delivered to their home.

2. Older people who do not have access to computers or who lack the skills to confidently navigate the Internet are concerned about where they will get help to access the services they need. As services are increasingly administered online, there is a requirement for assisted digital provision to be in place and be adequately publicised to ensure these people know where to go for help.
Who knew?

A few weeks later (2 September 2013) Mr Ziegler produced Early design ideas for assisted digital from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design:
Digital bike delivery
And now, three years after Lady Lane Fox fired the starting pistol, where are we?

GDS have launched a new assisted digital blog.

It's a new blog but the same people are blogging. Including the indefatigable Peter Ziegler (22 October 2013), Exploring assisted digital for electoral registration with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design:
I asked myself questions such as:
  • what is already in older people’s wallets?
  • what do older people already do at home?
  • where do older people go during the day?

Updated 12 December 2013:

Ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken has produced his December 2013 quarterly report: "GDS has been running a research project with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design on how assisted digital support can meet the needs of older people".

That's true.

The question is why? According to the quarterly report, "the project has helped government to understand the reasons why older people are completely or partially offline, and with exploring potential design solutions".

It's because they're old. And they're not confident with computers. And they don't have computers at home. That's what we've learned from Peter Ziegler of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design. But we already knew that. That's why we have an assisted digital project.

And here's another "potential design solution" – this time, not a cargo bike in sight:

Digital dialogues

The quarterly report tells us also that: "We’re benchmarking the success of digital inclusion initiatives, sharing what works and what doesn’t work, to help people go online. We will publish digital inclusion principles, developed with help from our departmental colleagues and our cross-sector partners, early in the new year. We will be consulting the public on these principles as a first step towards a digital inclusion strategy that we will publish later in the spring. This will say what departments, partners and GDS will do to help people go online".

"First step towards a digital inclusion strategy"? "Publish later in the spring"? Assisted digital's not going to be started again, is it, re-re-re-started?

Updated 29.8.14

"What", you ask, "has been happening to assisted digital since your last update?".

Good question.

One answer came yesterday, with the publication of Assisted digital user personas on the Government Digital Service's assisted digital blog:
We have developed a set of 8 personas that reflect the citizens who need help to use digital government services as they lack either the means, ability or confidence to do so independently. One of these represents the needs of service providers and the challenges they may also face with the move to digital by default. Collectively the personas highlight the range of complex and hidden assisted digital needs we identified through our research.
... we looked at the persona ‘Greg’, a farmer with no internet access and low digital skills. The challenges he faces when he completes his application for a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payment are largely the same as when he buys a fishing rod licence or completes his self assessment tax return. Presenting the challenges through this persona gave departments the opportunity to see how they could work together to be more efficient in delivering support and to provide a better service for Greg.
"Buying a fishing rod licence isn't even remotely the same as applying for a CAP payment", you may say, "but, be that as it may, how is 'Greg' being helped by GDS's efforts?".

The personas have really helped us to explain, in an engaging and empathic way, who assisted digital users are and what their key concerns are in accessing digital services. Sticking their pictures on the wall and using them in workshops has also helped to open up wider discussions about what assisted digital support could look like.
'Greg' still doesn't have any internet access and his digital skills are still low but, never mind the user needs, GDS are now engaging and empathic, whatever that is.

Updated 11.11.14

GDS have had so much experience now, starting assisted digital, that they're offering consultancy advice to other organisations, please see How to get started with your assisted digital user research.

Updated 17.11.14

From The Register:
UK digi exclusion: Poor families without internet access could 'miss out' on child tax credit
By Kelly Fiveash, 16 Nov 2014

Brits who aren't online but are entitled to access to the Tory-led Coalition government's childcare tax break could lose out, it has been reported.

According to the Independent on Sunday, which was handed a leaked letter to MPs from Exchequer Secretary Priti Patel, up to 200,000 families could be affected when the new tax is brought in next year ...

Updated 3.8.15

GDS's assisted digital project started, remember, on 28 July 2011. And on 30 May 2012 and 23 May 2013 and 20 June 2013, please see above.

1,464 days after the first start, it's started again. On 31 July 2015. Please see GDS puts out feelers for inclusion support:
The Government Digital Service (GDS) has stepped up the effort to get more people going online with the first stage of a procurement for training services.
This is just the "first stage" of procurement. Not even that, really, more a case of putting out feelers before the first stage.

Updated 19.11.15

GDS's assisted digital project, which started on 28 July 2011 and 30 May 2012 and 23 May 2013 and 20 June 2013 and 31 July 2015, will next start some time after 18 January 2016 – that's the date when tenders must be submitted to join "a framework agreement for suppliers to provide training and digital support services to help reduce digital exclusion".

That's what the Government Computing website tells us today in GDS and BIS tender aims to tackle digital exclusion. Unchanged since 28 July 2011, the idea 1,575 days later is still to "reduce the number of digitally excluded people in the UK".

We learn that "around 10.5m people in the UK lack basic digital skills" and what's more Rachel Neaman, chief executive of Go ON UK, says: "Our latest research tells us that there are still 12.6 million adults in the UK without the Basic Digital Skills they need".

This Rachel Neaman gets about a bit. She's also the Chair of Digital Leaders. If you've ever wondered what you have to do to be called a "digital leader" in the UK, it's easy. Sponsor Digital Leaders. 16 companies have worked that one out, including our old friends Skyscape, Kainos and Methods.

Wasn't Martha Lane Fox going to sort out digital exclusion with her DotEveryone idea, floated at this year's Dimbleby Lecture? You may well ask.

Whatever, the Martha Lane Fox/digital-by-default problem remains unsolved. The unwebbed are excluded by default. All 10.5 million of them. Or 12.6 million. But at least GDS have made a start. Again.

Updated 30.1.16

This assisted digital lark isn't as easy as it looks. Yesterday's Rollercoaster recruitment ride - A story of recruiting participants with Assisted Digital needs tells us just what a rollercoaster it can be trying to find/recruit anyone who needs assistance with their digital.

The Government Digital Service's crack user research team tried farming out the work to recruitment agencies. There are problems with that approach. Problems which lead GDS to conclude that:
Our key learning point was that it might have been better to do the recruitment ourselves. We discovered that the agency’s recruiter had gone for the obvious options, which we could potentially have covered more effectively ourselves as well as searching further afield. Some services have found this to be more effective as well as better value for money.
"It might have been better to do the recruitment ourselves"? Nothing gets past them ...

... except that it might have been even better to start "recruiting" research subjects 1,646 days earlier on 28 July 2011 or 30 May 2012 or 23 May 2013 or 20 June 2013 or 31 July 2015 or any of the other dates on which the assisted digital project was meant to have started.

Presumably there's no hurry. Presumably the assisted digital team don't expect digital-by-default to start for a long while yet.

Updated 31.3.16

It looks as though GDS's assisted digital may at last have had its final start. It hit the ground running we learn today, five weeks after the event, fittingly enough with ... a retrospective, Back to the future - assisted digital retrospective workshop,

The assisted digital blog started on 28 July 2011. Since then "a lot has been learnt about researching user's assisted digital needs and developing support to meet those needs". For example, we already know that "a range of capability currently exists".

Lots of assisted digital suggestions were elicited at the workshop ("all captured on a sea of post it notes of course!") and "the key finding from the day was that departments and services need to work together to make these ideas happen".

"All in all it was a great day and a brilliant example of what can be achieved with everyone working together".

Updated 8.4.17

It's just over a year since GDS published Back to the future - assisted digital retrospective workshop, In all the time since then they've managed just two posts on the assisted digital blog, one in May 2016 and one in October.

No-one is asking GDS to do anything hasty about digital assistance. And in the 2,078 days since the assisted digital blog started on 28 July 2011, they haven't.

There again, we do have a census coming up in the UK in four years time – 2021 – and there's some hope among the powers that be that maybe it could be conducted largely on-line. You know the sort of thing ... filling in forms on screen rather than on paper ... the sort of thing you might expect GDS to have achieved after 10 years ... the sort of thing that will be difficult if we still have 12½ million adult residents incapable of using the web ...

... which is no doubt why the baton has been passed to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), please see It’s all about inclusion: how ONS plans to support the digital have-nots. GDS can't be expected to do everything.

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