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Digital Strategy for Wales – One Year On: A Digital Communities Wales reflection

Programme Managers Cadi Cliff and Dewi Smith consider the impact the strategy has had to date.

Before looking at the impact on Wales and the clients we work with, it’s first useful to consider how Welsh Government’sDigital Strategy for Wales’ has helped focus the work of Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being (DCW), and also how the work of DCW helped shape elements of the strategy.

The experiences of DCW and wider stakeholders fed into the areas of focus of the Welsh Government’s ‘Digital Inclusion Forward Look: towards a digitally confident Wales’, which helped inform the ‘Digital Strategy for Wales’. Last year, following recommendations from an initial evaluation, DCW developed a new ‘Theory of Change’. The Digital Strategy helped focus our new outcomes framework, positioning the work of the programme within the wider digital landscape and ensuring alignment between DCW and the Welsh Government’s vision for digital in Wales.

Here are a few examples of how DCW contributes to two of the six missions of the Digital Strategy for Wales:

Mission 2 – Digital Inclusion.

In Wales, 7% of adults are currently not online, and this increases for older people and people with disabilities or long-term health conditions. In line with the ‘Digital Strategy for Wales’, DCW recognises the importance of listening to the needs of people with limited digital access, basic digital skills, and confidence.

DCW developed a ‘Digital Skills Audit’ to allow the programme to learn from people who are digitally excluded so that we can understand their needs and the barriers they face. This allows us to take an informed approach in working with organisations and communities to equip people with the motivation, access, skills, and confidence to engage with an increasingly digital world, based on their needs.

In Summer/Autumn 2021 we provided 197 devices to First Choice Housing Association (FCHA) tenants, recognising a critical opportunity to promote the benefits of digital to one of the most digitally underrepresented groups in Wales – those with disabilities or long-term health conditions. Devices were provided alongside an easy-read skills survey for tenants to complete (with support where necessary) looking at their access, motivation, skills, and confidence in relation to digital and technology, with a particular emphasis on health and wellbeing. This allowed for DCW and FCHA to understand first-hand experiences of the tenants in relation to digital. A suite of appropriate learning resources was developed for support staff and carers to have more confidence in using digital technology with the tenants, and to increase the skills and confidence of the tenants themselves. In February 2022 a follow up skills survey was sent to capture the distance travelled over the last six months and to inform future support needs.

In Winter 2021 DCW launched its ‘Digitally Connected Communities’ six-month training project aimed at organisations in Wales working with ethnic minority communities – its purpose is not just to improve the skills and confidence of staff, but also to provide the opportunity for the organisations to come together as a network to discuss digital inclusion collectively. The programme covers a range of topics that help to break down barriers and get communities online and includes collaborative discussion forums to share the lived experience of the communities the cohort of organisations are working with, ensuring DCW training sessions are informed by those experiences.

Mission 3 – Digital Skills.

Over the course of the last year, DCW have been working with all manner of organisations to help create a workforce that has the digital skills, capability, and confidence to excel in the workplace and in everyday life.

In October 2021 we signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with Unison Cymru and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s Estates and Facilities Directorate for delivery of the ‘Digital Skills Training Programme’. The programme will undertake an audit of all Estates and Facilities staff with the aim of coproducing a programme of training and skills development opportunities. This work will support with the delivery of the BCUHB’s digital strategy, ‘Our Digital Future’, specifically in relation to ambition 2 – connected staff.

DCW has been working extensively with Newport City Council to ensure that digital inclusion is an important theme of the Council’s digital strategy. This has involved recognising the need to upskill the local authority workforce and ensuring that community members have the required essential digital skills, especially those from ethnic minority communities. A DCW digital skills audit has been undertaken with the local authority workforce, with the results helping to inform the new strategy. Newport City Council are a part of the current ‘Digitally Connected Communities’ cohort and have facilitated DCW providing ‘Digital Companions’ training to a mixture of staff and community members, alongside essential digital skills courses in local community centres across Newport, to embed sustainable digital skills in the community.

In his ministerial foreword to the Digital Strategy for Wales, Lee Waters talks about wanting to provide the people of Wales with the confidence they need to engage in their communities and in modern society. DCW as a programme is committed to and driven by this. DCW’s ‘Digital Inclusion Alliance Wales (DIAW)’ plays a key part in ensuring that everyone in Wales has the opportunity to engage with digital services and the digital world. The DIAW Network brings together people from across all sectors in Wales under one banner, committed to taking joint action to significantly shifting the digital inclusion agenda in Wales. The complexity of digital exclusion requires us to collaborate to improve people’s lives and the move towards a digitally confident Wales is and must be a collective endeavour.

From Cadi Cliff and Dewi Smith