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Digital inclusion is essential as sport continues to recover

We must be conscious about when and how we choose to apply digital, as not everyone has access to the internet.

11th August 2021

by Allison Savich
Strategic lead for data and innovation, Sport England

“The internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” United States President Barack Obama said at the announcement of the Connect Home initiative in 2015. 

Connect Home aimed to address the harsh reality that one in four American citizens did not have access to the internet at the time.  

While some things have changed a lot since 2015, one thing hasn’t - inequalities remain and there is still a digital divide that needs to be addressed.  

A group of women walking

During the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic we've seen a step change in digital access and skills. 

Internet access is at a high of 94% of UK households while we've seen unprecedented adoption of digital technology for personal and business uses.

However, the risks associated with digital exclusion have been magnified and the impact can be more disempowering than ever before.

Ofcom’s data indicates that 1.5m UK households remain offline and the groups most effected are those aged 65+ (18% without access), lower income households (11% without access), and the most financially vulnerable (10% without access). 

Our Tackling Inequalities Fund investments are also learning that not everything needs a digital solution, with an always-online culture starting to wear us out.  

We hope that by bringing the leisure sector together to explore their current understanding and use of digital, we can help drive improvements.

We simply can’t assume that digital is for everyone, so we need to become more nuanced in our understanding of when digital works well, and when it simply doesn’t. This is a key role for our applying innovation and digital catalyst over the coming years and we think it is important for two main reasons:  

  1. Because we care about people and ensuring that the experiences they receive are of the highest quality. When digital is applied in a way that puts people’s needs at the heart of the design, we believe it can make experiences more relevant, inclusive, and sustainable.   
  2. Digital is a brilliant basic if you are running a modern business. Currently we've lower levels of digital literacy than other sectors and competing priorities mean it is never quite at the top of our agenda. We've highlighted it as a catalyst that we want to collaboratively tackle. As the pace of change around us continues to grow, we need to act now and catch up.   

This week we're taking our first step to build our understanding of where we are now from a capability perspective. Working with ukactive, and several other fitness and leisure partners, we've launched a digital maturity and effectiveness tool that'll be promoted to all their members to complete by 8 September, with the findings published later that month.

To be known as ukactive Digital Futures, the programme will evaluate the sector’s digital maturity and effectiveness via a sector-wide consultation. The tool and consultation will look at understanding, usage, accessibility, inclusion, and satisfaction, with the aim of helping us better understand these issues.

We hope that by bringing the leisure sector together to explore their current understanding and use of digital, we can help drive improvements in these areas, particularly accessibility and inclusivity, to ensure that we aren’t worsening the digital divide that we know exists.  

Sector support

We understand that organisations will be at different stages of digital transformation, with some pivoting to online delivery during lockdown but some also moving back to in person with restrictions lifting. We're keen to ensure the ingenuity over the past year is not lost and we're pleased to see that the digital tool covers the breadth of topics that are needed to ensure an organisation is digitally effective.   

This work will help us to build a valuable baseline and develop a blueprint for digital transformation to help inform our support to the sector. We expect additional support to include further research to ensure we are applying digital to meet the needs and demands of the consumer as well as defining areas in need of government support and regulatory change and provide a sector-wide blueprint that will enable each individual organisation to go on their own successful transformation journey.  

If you've any questions or ideas concerning digital inclusion or innovation, please get in touch. 

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