While a number of organisations have been developing groundbreaking programmes to enable older people to access and make best use of the web for many years now, recent governmental initiatives have greatly increased the number of new Internet users of all ages.
To date, digital inclusion strategies have largely focused on encouraging people to access the web. However, as more people get online it is becoming increasingly important that community organisations and social resources at every level keep pace with this new facet of our shared culture.
My own experiences providing web and digital design for a number of community projects has allowed me to participate in the development of online services for local communities across Edinburgh. Time and time again I have witnessed firsthand the powerful and positive benefits that digital technology can have at a real grassroots level.
However, I have also been made acutely aware of the many problems community organisations and groups have in accessing the skills and resources needed to get full benefit from the web and digital media. While most organisations now make use of e-mail and can send photos or word documents via attachment, many have problems (for example) with the creation of PDF documents or have to rely on, often expensive, commercial resources to create and maintain their websites.
As local populations obtain greater access to the Internet the demand for local online services and information will become even greater. New strategies will need to be developed and implemented to ‘digitise’ our community infrastructure. One means of achieving this could be adapted from the highly successful Community Education sector, where small teams of ‘Community Education Workers’ work closely with a wide selection of organisations within a given local area.
The proposed ‘Digital Education Worker’ could hold two key roles -
1) Using their own computing skills they could directly assist community groups and organisations in the creation or development of digital media such as posters, PDF documents, video/audio podcasts, websites or online social networks.
2) By way of workshops, group training sessions and direct consultation, they could also enable and advice local community organisations on how to create, maintain and develop their own online services - And how to achieve their full digital potential.
This method would allow a limited amount of skilled labour to be of maximum benefit to a wide range of organisations that may not have the funding or resources required to obtain similar results without assistance.
The digital revolution is rolling swiftly on and playing an increasing part of everyday personal experience. Outstanding work has been achieved at so many levels in encouraging people to get online. What is needed now is action to ensure that groups and organisations working within our communities do not become the next ‘Digitally Isolated’ section of our society.
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