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How Peterborough boosted digital inclusion

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The drive for channel shift and service improvement is urgent and far-reaching and risks excluding some who cannot keep up.

Those at risk of digital exclusion must be seen as people with a complex mix of individual needs, experiences and abilities, rather than faceless socio-demographic groups.

Peterborough City Council’s transformation strategy seeks to improve and redesign digital access to information and services, encourage significant channel shift, drive increased customer self-service and reduce dependency on high-cost face-to-face contacts whilst meeting the needs of all customers.

Serco’s work on the digital access element supported the council’s strategy and was designed to engage and prepare the people of Peterborough to access council services online.

To help ensure no-one in Peterborough is left behind by the shift to digital, Serco has focused on a specific group of residents and through very carefully tailored design and delivery, provided a programme that has successfully moved vulnerable citizens comfortably towards a new way of engaging with the council and others.

The goal was to build relationships with groups at risk of digital exclusion to underpin current and future channel shift work as each new council service area moves more of its interactions online. This was done in a phased approach but because the 70-74 age group was set to increase by 40% in Peterborough between 2012 and 2020 the initial focus was on elderly people.

The key aims with this cohort were to:

  • Help people use online services safely and securely
  • Build confidence in using the internet and make it the preferred method of contact
  • Build awareness of council services available online
  • Create a network of agencies who work with and/or support people at risk of digital exclusion

The initial phase of work focused on building a network of elderly people through local friendship groups and sheltered housing schemes. Working with Age UK, Axiom Housing Association and the council, Serco set up tailor-made, small, friendly workshops to break down the barriers that individuals over 65 had to using online channels. These sessions also helped identify those elements, such as fear and lack of knowledge, we could target to increase online activity.

The workshops collected information from residents to ascertain their initial skill level, provided basic IT training, problem-solving and support with technology including tablets and mobile phones. Using feedback from the individuals and our supporting partners, it became apparent that this age group needed additional assistance. We held a series of more hands-on sessions to start building closer relationships and give the participants the support and confidence to go online.

Our approach was to introduce people to technologies and allow them to explore at their own pace. We did not say “we are here to show you how”; it was very much “we are here and if you would like to know anything, just ask”. We did not just focus on council services but on using the internet and new technology for everyday events or activities such as how to Facetime their grandchildren or order shopping for home delivery.

We developed a new specific Facebook page entitled ‘Digital Inclusion’ to enable workshop participants to practice what they have learned in a safe social media environment. We designed the Facebook page for beginners and it could only be accessed by invitation. Knowing everyone was a beginner and in the same boat helped very new users feel more confident to explore. The page also gave new users the opportunity to network, support each other and help answer any questions they may have, making learning together fun. In time we hope they will become guides and teachers as more people join.

Our overall approach was very successful, as demonstrated by the number of requests from participants for repeat visits to learn more, and by the feedback we received.

“The residents all said the session was very informative and well-paced and they did not feel rushed. They all said you were very patient and understanding and felt confident asking questions. They feel motivated to learn more and look forward to you coming back.”

Angela McDougall, Axiom Service Manager


“I thought I would pass on some positive feedback that was communicated to me at today’s Axiom Residents Forum regarding the excellent service that you and one of your colleagues provided at Kestrel Court. The resident informed me and the rest of the committee that your care and patience with computer issues that they were experiencing and the residents was excellent and that you made a big difference.”

Sareeta Sharma, resident involvement co-ordinator, Axiom Housing Association


“Me and the residents at Steve Woolley Court would like to thank you for coming out in regards to digital inclusion and the new city council website and for all the help and advice you gave them. Everyone really enjoyed this and a couple have bought tablets now because of the ease of use. I know a few residents here go to different places and they have spoken really highly of you for the good work, help and advice you have given them in the few hours you were here and I will be in touch to arrange another session if that’s okay. Once again a big thank you.”

Sean Siggee, Hyde scheme manager


Using a relaxed, non-invasive approach, individuals built their confidence. It also gave them the impetus to conduct some of their everyday business online.

It has also given the council useful insight into what prevents or encourages this type of resident to use the internet.

The aim of the transformation programme was to ensure we are delivering the right service to the right people at the right time. The digital access programme has allowed us to work closely with our customers and gather better insight to understand their needs. Involving residents from the outset ensures services were designed with the user in mind and, particularly with the move to channel-shift, will bring all customers on board.

The work we did and the resulting data that we gathered and analysed has already informed the redesign of the council’s website, and the council continues to use this for webpage improvements.

We’re using data, along with other profiling work, to support and understand local community habits and needs, enabling more targeted work where required as well as highlighting hotspots in the city that may require more direct innovation. This not only relates to the digital exclusion activity but also focussing on how we can improve and divert high cost channel usage such as telephone or face to face to more cost effective digital channels.

Overall, the programme is building a confident older generation across Peterborough, who are able to access services online. There has been significant engagement with key individuals and organisations, which has helped to create and shape a new and vibrant digital network which will help support people in the future.

For further information please contact: Heather Darwin m: 07717 067022 e:


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