For the Go On NI team, that impact meant putting a complete hold on delivering the usual regular face-to-face learning and training opportunities to our specific target audience - those most isolated, vulnerable or elderly at risk of being digitally excluded from society. Disruption to our usual work patterns also created a chance for Go On NI to look at developing new opportunities to make a real difference. The pandemic forced us to urgently identify solutions to the problems we encountered and to put in place brand new ways of working so that we could continue to reach out to those most in need.
By working very closely with key training partners such as Business in the Community, Libraries NI and Supporting Communities, the Go On NI team were able to re-programme many of their planned events for delivery using online platforms such as Zoom or MS Teams. This helped us reach a number of our usual target clientele from early Summer 2020 onwards - particularly those who had some ability to access broadband or internet-enabled devices within their own home environments.
Others in our target groups, however, needed some further assistance to get online - or even to deal with some of the more difficult or frustrating technology issues that can affect us all at any time. Go On NI was able to develop a free Digital Help text service which successfully launched in July. Users simply text the word 'DIGITAL' or 'DIGITALHELP' (one word) to 67300, together with a short description of what help is required and one of our digital help volunteers will call back to help with their query within 48 hours.
Such initiatives simply couldn't cover everyone and Go On NI still wanted to try to help reach those who remained digitally excluded as far as possible. To do this, Go On NI and their training partners began work on developing a scheme - the 'Connected Devices' pilot - specifically targeting those adults who have never previously used the internet before and therefore remained in danger of being left behind from being able to access any online service. The main aim of this 'Connected' project is to help offer people in that position basic access to the internet as well as providing some relevant training and information sessions to help develop a wider knowledge and understanding of the online world. The project also focuses on improving the confidence of participants when using the internet and to help keep users safe when online.
To achieve this goal, Go On NI has worked to secure a number of Lenovo tablet devices and these are now being provided to participants 'on loan' during the pilot rolling out during March 2021, together with a small free monthly data allowance to enable them to take part in the training.
The ultimate achievement of this pilot scheme, of course, will be in ensuring that around 130 or so isolated or vulnerable adults who have never previously been able to access the web will now have a gateway to getting online over the duration of the 6-month programme. In being able to readily access the internet they will, in many cases for the first time be able to enjoy the many benefits that the online world can bring - be that through the increased connectivity and social aspect or easy access to information, entertainment and businesses.
Constant feedback from those participating in the six-month long pilot will provide the Go On NI team with hugely valuable information on how the scheme has been able to impact those most in need and, just as importantly, anything we might have been able to do better. This, in turn, will help steer the direction for the wider Digital Inclusion programme over future years so that we can continue to reach those most at risk of being digitally excluded.
More information about the 'Connected' pilot scheme is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org