Posted: 11 May 2018

Evaluating our Digital Reach programme

In September, we started our Digital Reach programme, an innovative pilot funded by the Nominet Trust, which aimed to provide digital training courses to 500 young people across Newcastle, Manchester, Coventry and Birmingham.

Delivering the Digital Reach programme

For Digital Reach to work, it needed to be tailored to both the needs of young people in each area and the capabilities of the service delivering the course.

This resulted in three interventions that looked quite different but that were all focussed on the same goal - delivering a Digital Skills programme to young people who were likely to have experienced some kind of digital disadvantage in their lives, which gave a good opportunity to learn about what works and what doesn’t.

What we did in each area

In Manchester, we ran the project through our Missing from Home and Care service, focusing on young people who had had issues with their online behaviour identified during Return Home Interviews.

In Birmingham, our focus was on Refugee and Migrant young people and we ran sessions out of a set of our services, including Pause (a drop-in mental health service) and MyPlace (youth clubs that support young refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking young people). Additionally, we delivered workshops in local schools, focusing on issues around privacy and self-esteem.

In Newcastle, we ran several groups for different cohorts of beneficiaries within our SMART (Supporting Migrants, Asylum Seekers and Refugees Together) service. SMART works not only with refugee and migrant young people but their parents as well. Sessions were delivered through a young persons’ group, a women’s group and through an open-access drop-in and one-to-one scheduled appointments.

What we found

While there were many findings which we are in process of working through to inform our next steps for the project, these were some of the most striking:

In Manchester, we found that often social care professionals followed an ‘abstinence-first’ policy with regards to young people and their access to technology and specifically the internet. This meant that rather than helping young people understand about why their behaviour on the internet may have been risky or inappropriate, and educating them accordingly, they were simply banned from accessing it. In some cases, this led young people to leave their home in search of free WiFi.

This played out differently for the young people who engaged through our refugee and migrant services. Many of them didn’t have access to laptops outside of their schools and only had access to smartphones. This meant there were areas of required skills-based learning, such as creating email addresses and other required online profiles.

Physical access to support as a potential barrier or enabler of digital inclusion appeared in Newcastle, where parents weren’t confident with young people travelling to services by themselves, so our project workers provided them with transport to make sure they were able to benefit from the service. This wrap around support to enable skill development for young people disconnected from the online world appeared crucial.

One of the most important aspects in some of the groups we ran was the social contact, and how this could be a springboard to greater inclusion and skills development. Social isolation can be an issue for all young people and in particular young refugee and migrants. It was important that for our sessions to be well attended and productive they needed to balance digital skills offer with a strong social element, so that attendees could connect with others in similar situations to themselves. In the Midlands, we developed this further by including an advocacy worker from one of our other services, who could follow up with any issues that the young people discussed about other areas of their lives. In Newcastle, they also ran a Women’s Group, which, in addition to supporting them to develop digital skills, improved their feelings of independence and self-esteem by teaching them to manage their own finances.

What next for digital reach?

With the funding coming to an end, we are now investigating ways in which we can continue the work started in the pilot. One of the immediate benefits of the funding was that we were able to purchase new IT equipment so that children and young people could be working off technology that was new and accessible, rather than an old dusty computer in the corner of a storage room.

With each service being delivered slightly differently, we are looking to see which elements worked best. We’ll see what learning we can take away from the programme and how we can work further on a defined service model. 

With the digital progression of society, we want to not just run an independent service focusing on digital skills, but have a digital service as our offer to all the young people we work with our practitioners developing as ‘digital professionals’ able to support young people on that journey. While we are not there yet, this programme has helped us lay the groundwork for future development in this area. 

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