Who Can Deliver Digital Inclusion Programmes, Digital Devices and Internet Access, by Utilising a Partnership Approach?
When COVID-19 hit in early 2020 and the UK went into lockdown, Kent County Council and Medway Councils’ Public Health teams recognised a challenge with service users accessing online services. In line with government advice, where practitioners could not fulfil these in person, service users were invited to attend health support programmes and appointments online. However, some service users did not have access to connectivity, devices, or data, which prevented them from engaging with support services.
Although both councils are working to develop their own Digital Inclusion strategies, Kent and Medway came together to tackle this digital exclusion challenge together. Although a digital need had been identified, digital inclusion did not have funds specifically allocated to it prior to the pandemic. By utilising data from their Public Health teams and departments, they successfully applied to funds such as the Controlling Outbreak Management Fund and Public Health Grant for the initialisation of the project.
The Councils conducted desktop research that uncovered how other councils ran their digital inclusion schemes, including tablet borrowing schemes, training programmes, supporting residents over 65 to access digital, drop-in sessions, and new mobile applications. These programmes helped the Councils to structure their requirements when approaching a supplier to find a solution to this challenge. Cantium was chosen as a preferred partner, who worked in partnership with Kent and Medway to design a bespoke solution that met their needs and is tailored to their current circumstances and goals.
Working in Partnership to Design and Deliver a Pilot Programme
By working in partnership with Kent and Medway, Cantium’s digital experts designed a solution that enables access to vital services, including health visiting, maternity services, social prescribing and substance misuse. These service users can now engage with services while increasing their digital skills, capabilities and confidence.
After carefully designing this service with the Councils, the pilot scheme started in April 2021. Cantium, as a Managed Services Provider (MSP), delivered networks, data and over 50 devices to service users during the pilot period, where the processes in place were tested and adjusted to ensure smooth service. Since October 2021, the programme has started to be rolled out to other service providers across the county.
The Councils identified a list of requirements for their solution and the goals they want to achieve with the programme. These are:
- Improve Service Outcomes – Completion of courses, increased video calling and service uptake, online appointments.
- Improve Personal Outcomes – Increased use of health-related apps or changes to health-related behaviour
- Improve Digital Literacy and Inclusion – Increased digital confidence or skills, increased use of digital in everyday life for online shopping etc., the purchase of a device in the home, awareness of internet safety
- Cost-Benefit Analysis – Cost of the device vs reduction in service costs by delivering online
- COVID-19 Outcomes – Increasing ability to isolate by reducing their need to leave the house, awareness of symptoms and use of the NHS app.
- Added Value – Deliver other benefits to service users
Our partnership approach was key to designing a service that was tailored to the needs of Kent and Medway and is something that both Councils can be proud of.
Together, we decided on which devices were suited to each service, including smartphones and, tablets. Next, we agreed on a build for these devices. This included deciding which applications were included as standard on the device, which were available to download, which sites should be blocked for each service user group and more. Then we designed a call and data plan for the service users with a mobile phone that supported attendance at their online appointments, and provided surplus for personal use. Finally, we built a management portal where devices could be ordered, produced and shipped. The Councils also use this portal to log support tickets and report devices as stolen or lost.
Providing Digital Inclusion as a Service
Cantium is supporting the Councils by leading on the technical aspects of the programme, including:
- Building and managing the service portal
- Managing the mobile devices (MDM), connectivity, data and delivery
- Providing 2nd and 3rd line technical support
- Providing the devices and cyber security protection
- Asset management and device delivery
The Councils have introduced a ‘Digital Inclusion Coordinator’ (DC) role that is supported by ‘Digital Champions’ (Champions). The DC coordinates the first line support for service users while informing and onboarding the service providers and gaining feedback from the service users and the Champions provide the service-user support. These roles are important to the programme’s success, acting as a central liaison for Cantium and the Councils and providing valuable insight from service users.
The Digital Coordinator and Digital Champions at Kent and Medway are approaching service users to complete a post-programme survey to determine if they have achieved their programme goals. The results of this are due to be released within the next couple of months. However, initial feedback is positive and includes comments such as:
- Having access to this technology has changed my life
- The technology is amazing, and I cannot live without it
- Requests – even early on or after delivery, asking about what happens at the end of the project, project extensions or buying devices. Even with offers of payment for devices.
- As well as others saying how this has helped with their social isolation, and communication and helped them to stay on track with drug and alcohol meetings.
The feedback is positive overall, despite the challenges users have faced with technical aspects of the programme. Due to the current health climate, all first line technical support has been delivered remotely. However, some service users have requested face-to-face support, which will start to be delivered with drop-in support hubs around the county once restrictions allow.
“Digital technology is now a key way to use important services, including healthcare and this was accelerated by the pandemic. That’s why during the pandemic we developed this project to support targeted public health groups to continue with their health programmes, despite government restrictions in place at the time.
This project has shown the strong partnership working, which has been strengthened as a result of the pandemic, and we are proud to be working closely with Medway Council on this project.”
– Clair Bell
KCC Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health
The Digital Loan Scheme is providing a valuable resource to enable continued engagement with health programmes. We have early positive results from clients that have used the scheme and both Kent County Council and Medway Council are working closely in tackling digital exclusion and improving outcomes for people.- Sam Lain-Rose, Digital Lead, Kent County Council
During the pandemic, our fantastic public health team continued to support Medway residents and moved a number of services online. Residents were invited to online programmes and appointments but some did not have access to the internet or appropriate devices. The digital loan service is continuing to help vulnerable residents access vital support.- Councillor David Brake, Portfolio Holder for Community Services, Medway Council
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