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Last reviewed: 02 March 2021

Doing more for digital inclusion

Last reviewed: 02 March 2021

The coronavirus pandemic made it clear how much some people are excluded from online sources of help. Use this page to learn about steps you can take to better include those you work with and for.

Talk to the people you want to help

The first and most important thing is to ask people what barriers they face when it comes to using online information or services. It’s very important to check any assumptions you may have by doing research.


Swerve Community Arts wanted to know why a sketch and share session that had moved online – for people with severe mental health issues – was losing members. Staff thought it was because many were on benefits and might not have access to the internet.

When asked, sketch and share members said the problem was voice chat, which they hated. Swerve Community Arts now uses a shared drawing screen and a messaging system instead of voice calls.

Understand the barriers

Be prepared to help people deal with a wide range of issues.

Access to technology or data (internet connection)

7 million people did not have home internet access in 2019 (Ofcom, 2019) because:

  • they’ve no smartphones, computers or laptops (devices)
  • they’re using very old devices
  • they share the same device with others in the family
  • they can’t afford data
  • internet connectivity in their area is very poor.

Essential digital skills

Based on government standards for essential digital skills, 9m people struggle in one or more of these five areas (Lloyds Bank, 2020).

  • Communicating, collaborating and sharing things online.
  • Finding, managing and storing information securely.
  • Registering for services, buying, selling and applying for things.
  • Finding solutions when things go wrong online.
  • Being safe and legal online.


Digital services and activities are not accessible to everyone. Most commonly:

  • software and tools don’t meet the right accessibility standards so they don’t work with screen readers or other assistive technology
  • having to use technology that isn’t suitable or hasn’t been properly explained causes anxiety.

Lack of confidence

Even when people have skills and can get online, they may not be able to fully benefit from digital activities because:

  • they don’t believe their skills are good enough
  • they’re worried that they’ll miss out on face-to-face opportunities by doing things online
  • they worry about their privacy and safety online
  • they can’t take part fully because there’s no support to raise their accessibility needs.

Once you’ve decided which barriers the people you support are facing you can decide what kind of digital inclusion project you need to run.

Collect and give out tablets and laptops

Making devices available can make a big difference to the people most in need. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you get started.

  • Who can we persuade to give us tablets or laptops or phones (devices)?
  • Would our supporters find it easier to give money?
  • Where can we buy refurbished devices without getting ripped off?
  • How do we make sure the devices are clean - with no old data or dodgy software?
  • How many people can we help - do we need to track what they do with the gift?
  • Can we also get cheap or free internet access to go with them?


Vibe is an afterschool club in a small city estate. Most of the seven to eleven year olds they support do their online learning by taking it in turns to use their parents' mobile phones. Vibe set up a 'donate an old tablet' scheme but they realise they don’t know how to make sure the tablets are safe and have no old data on them.

Luckily a volunteer, from one of the companies that responded, helps them to work it out. They also hear about Reboot and use it to review and improve their plans. The online Reboot toolkit asks questions about what kind of project you’re working on. It makes recommendations tailored to your needs.

Try the Reboot toolkit.

Connect to local providers

In most areas you’ll find groups offering digital skills training and confidence building online or face to face. Can you team up with them?

Many across the UK are registered as online network centres with the Good Things Foundation. Find out if there’s one close by. Use the interactive map of online network centres.

Groups may also be running digital inclusion activities that are not registered. In most areas there’s at least one organisation that focuses on knowing all about voluntary groups and charities in your area.

Introduce people to online courses

These are great for people who can get online and who find a semi-formal approach to learning useful. They can pick a topic, receive an explanation and practice doing the activity.

Designed by Good Things Foundation, Learn My Way is a website of 32 free online courses for beginners. Try Learn My Way courses.

For those who’ve mastered the basics, there’s Make it Click. Also designed by Good Things Foundation, it’s a collection of free online learning resources. Make it Click resources.

Or, help people check what they already know with a toolkit, produced in Scotland by SCVO.

The Essential Digital Skills Toolkit.


Swati runs a storytelling group for older people that has to move online. She chooses Skype because many of the group use that to talk to their grandchildren. Swati’s surprised when Joe stops coming along as she knows he has a tablet.

She phones him and discovers he’s worried about downloading Skype and getting it right. Swati helps him use his browser to find the Learn My Way instructions.

Move your activities online

Online versions of activities people love can be important as their first step to digital inclusion. It also helps to build people’s confidence in online opportunities. Think about what you could do.

Here are some good case studies for inspiration.

Recruit Digital Champions

Digital Champions help others to build confidence and skills to get online. You don’t need to be a digital expert to be a Digital Champion, but you do need to be confident in your own digital skills.

You must also have the patience, enthusiasm and passion to help others. Champions can be staff, existing volunteers or new volunteers who come from the people you help.

The support that's most useful will depend on the type of project you most want to plan. Here are some places to start.

Try NCVO's guidance on working with volunteers.

Get free specialist help for older people and disabled people

Older people, or disabled people of any age, can get free help from Ability Net. Their volunteers, across the UK, provide free IT support. They have guides and can help with software for people with impairments. Find out more via this link AbilityNet volunteer support service.

NCVO worked with Good Things Foundation to create this guidance.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021

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