Digital Champion Approach

Increasing digital participation is a tough challenge involving many strands of work, namely:
  • influencing organisations to commit to increasing digital participation;
  • encouraging digital participation activities at the grass roots;
  • raising awareness of the importance of digital participation; and
  • advising the Government of its provision of digital public services.

In the UK, the approach of the Digital Champion and team can be categorised into 3 stages which took place over a two and a half year period. The first 6 months were focused on research and strategy development; partner recruitment took place over a 12 month period and for the subsequent 12 months, the focus was on supporting delivery and leaving a legacy.  Advising Government has been continual process throughout.

Research and Develop Strategy

Begin by researching the issues and environment, in order to generate insights and define the strategy for increasing digital participation.

The UK team set out to understand the issue and the situation by visiting approximately 50 organisations already helping people to get online.  They also reviewed existing research and papers on the topic.

Key Learning: It’s about motivation as well as affordability and skills

In reviewing existing research, the UK team found that many people were offline by choice yet much of the support that already existed focused on the other barriers to internet use, namely affordability and skills.  People needed to be inspired to use the internet and shown how it could benefit them.

Consequently, the team looked to change the message from the disadvantages of being offline to the benefits of being online to bring about behavioural change.

Key Learning: There are benefits for all

Digital participation should be viewed as an opportunity to deliver enormous benefits for all organisations including government: moving people online has the potential to increase the customer base of some organisations and reduce the cost to serve customers in other cases.

Key Learning: Broad engagement not ‘pilots’

To create the capacity required to bring about large scale behaviour change, the UK adopted a broad engagement approach with all sectors.  It was a conscious decision not to deliver a ‘pilot’ as this could only ‘pin prick’ the issue, and future roll-out would be uncertain.

Key Learning: Break the national challenge down into manageable parts

The Race Online 2012 team developed a Go ON Places strategy describing how it aimed to leverage the support of national Partners at a local level and inspire digital champions to “get active wherever they live, work or play”.

There are four pillars to the strategy:

  1. Digital Infrastructure: Removing affordability as a barrier by increasing access to low cost hardware and connectivity for the most disadvantaged people and charities in local areas.
  2. Local spaces: Increasing the number and range of local places where people offline can get sustained support to build their digital capability
  3. Digital champions: Recruiting and supporting a thriving local network of local digital champions so that sustainable one-to-one support is available in every neighbourhood
  4. Marketing/ PR: Developing a strong local marketing campaign to promote the benefits of being online and inspire people to take up the support on offer

Originally piloted in Leeds, Liverpool and other UK town and cities, the model is designed to be tailored to local needs and priorities.  The strategy for Go ON it’s Liverpool, for example, focused on the benefits to economic growth and regeneration in the city.

The model (now called Go ON Get Local), has now become embedded within Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the agency responsible for the rollout of superfast broadband in the UK.  BDUK has adopted the model as a blueprint for local demand stimulation programmes to ensure the rollout of superfast broadband infrastructure is viable and sustainable.

Next : Recruit Partners

Recruit Partners

As Digital Champion, you need to influence others to take action. The most effective way to do this is to target organisations (as opposed to individuals) as they have the resources and reach to have the greatest impact by:

  • encouraging their employees to get online and help others get online;
  • spreading the message to their customers, using their own communication channels and budgets; and
  • making decisions about policy or strategy, product and service design, and investments that can support digital participation.

Key lesson: tailor your message to align with the strategic objectives of partner organisations

For example:

  • Channel shift – many organisations are moving services online and increasing digital participation will enable them to serve as many customers as possible through this channel.
  • Growth – the offline community represent a large ‘green field’ market of new customers, and the internet is a new way of engaging with them.
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) – increasing digital participation fits into the CSR agenda of many organisations.
  • Efficiency – serving and supporting the offline population via traditional channels is expensive and digital participation can reduce this cost. This is particularly relevant for the public sector that serves all members of society. Better use of technology and the internet can also increase an organisation’s efficiency and improve the quality of service.

“MLF has been very smart at matching organisations’ objectives to the cause.”  Race Online 2012 Partner

Targeting the leaders of organisations across multiple sectors in this way will result in significant volumes of activity that will trickle down to the offline population – a hard-to-reach group, who may currently underestimate the benefits of being online.

Key lesson: take a personal approach to influence the influencers

In the UK, the Digital Champion first approached the leaders of 10 big organisations including Google, Microsoft and the BBC, before launching the Race Online 2012 Partner programme at scale, writing personally to the Chief Executives of the top 350 UK companies.  By the end of the campaign 1,300 partners had been recruited from the private, public and charitable sectors.

Consider using the media to encourage leaders to commit to the cause and to encourage the online public to help non-internet users online.  This was used to great effect in the UK.

Key lesson: ask partners to make public pledges

Use a partnership model to encourage organisations to join in. Ask organisations to make a “pledge” to take action to increase digital participation.   Work with the largest, most influential organisations to help them define their pledges and provide examples of activities for others, for example:

  • Inspiring their employees and customers to become digital champions
  • Developing digital participation programmes or supporting existing ones
  • Spreading the message about the benefits of digital participation

By signing up in this way, partners are making a public commitment to make use of their workforce and resources (including their communication and marketing channels; budgets; branch networks; technology skills; influence; service design) to promote and encourage digital participation.

The Race Online 2012 team also followed up by asking Partners to provide “Promises in Action”, describing how they were delivering on their pledges.

Next : >>

Support Delivery and Leave a Legacy

Although a Digital Champion should not become heavily involved in delivery, you should be prepared to provide partners with tools and support to make it easy for them to implement your recommendations.

Key lesson: launch a campaign to build momentum and provide a focus

In the UK, the Race Online 2012 campaign was developed . The name was chosen to link the campaign with the London 2012 Olympics making it positive and exciting and signal that it was a short term, one off initiative with a big goal (and date) in sight.

The key streams of work in the Race Online 2012 campaign were:

  • Raise awareness of digital participation in general, including the promotion of  Partner activities.
  • Encourage activity at the grass roots, ensuring sufficient face to face support for those offline.
  • Influence businesses, charities and the Government to commit to increasing digital participation, including acting as a critical friend and supporting and challenging organisations on digital participation policy and programmes.

Key Learning: Consider developing an identity that is instantly recognisable and unites different initiatives, partner activities and materials.

In the UK, Race Online 2012 developed and promoted the Go ON badge.   It was promoted as a label that all partners could attach to their campaigns alongside their own logos and brands.

Race Online 2012 developed a toolkit including badges, widgets, website banners, images and text characters to be used on t-shirts, posters, mugs, badges, websites, flyers and other marketing material.

Key Learning: Consider providing direct support to the largest, most influential and most engaged Partners

In the final year, the Race Online 2012 team switched focus from recruiting partners to supporting a selected few to translate their commitments into action.  Be  clear about the limits of the support your team can provide, for example:

  • helping partners to identify what they can do;
  • brokering relationships between partners who can collaborate; and
  • raising the profile of partner’s activities.


Key Learning: Create a network of local digital champions to provide personalised support

The offline population is hard to reach, as many are also socially excluded and tend to receive fewer messages through other media and are more likely to misunderstand or underestimate the benefits for being online.  Many need to be inspired to go online and they are most likely to respond positively with face to face contact in a familiar location.

Create a network of people to provide personalised support through promoting the concept of local �?digital champions’ – internet users who can be a trusted face for offline people and help them to overcome barriers, particularly motivational ones, to getting online.  They can show how the internet is uniquely beneficial to offline individuals for their own personal interests and hobbies.

Previously in the UK training courses were the most common resource offered as support.  By asking the general public, rather than experts, to be informal trainers their skills, together with the enthusiasm they could generate, is beneficial in helping people take the first step online.  Race Online 2012 adopted this strategy after finding that a third of internet users were already passing their skills on and helping friends and family to get online, created a network of digital champions and provided them with ideas, encouragement and support through a regular newsletter and Facebook page.  They recruited local champions mainly through partners and national and local campaigns, including Go ON Places initiatives, and also provided toolkits and other resources to support them.  Learning partners like Digital Unite also created accredited digital champion training packages.

Key Learning: Ask Partners to recruit and support local digital champions within their own organisations

Companies and other organisations are often willing to encourage their employees to coach customers, retired colleagues and similar.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron talks about local digital champions

Key Learning: Create a national conversation

Make the topic media worthy with personal stories about the benefits of the internet and recruit media partners to reach out to your target audience.  For example, the UK’s Go ON Give an Hour campaign asked people to become digital champions and spend an hour helping someone get online at the end of British Summer Time, when the UK gains an hour as the clocks go back. The campaign included radio, television and print editorial endorsed by celebrities. Race Online 2012 also secured regular features, often written by the Digital Champion herself, with popular consumer media titles.  Read The Daily Mirror case study

The BBC’s review of the Give an Hour campaign

Key Learning: Develop a series of recommendations for all types of partner organisations to adopt in the form of a manifesto

The UK team produced the Manifesto for a Networked Nation with clear calls to action for different types of partners, including government, business and the media.

The manifesto identifies three categories of work required to increase digital participation:

  • “To inspire more people to go online” – demonstrating the relevance and benefits of the internet
  • “To encourage people to go online and reward them for doing so” suggesting that government make some services available only via the internet
  • “To support those who need a helping hand” – providing cheaper or free access and training. 

Key Learning: Don’t underestimate the convening power of the Digital Champion and broker relationships between Partners

The UK team organised regular ‘Get Togethers’ to bring Partners together and invested a lot of time in brokering relationships between Partners. The intention was that by working jointly Partners could co-create and deliver plans themselves, leveraging the resources, capacity and capability from multiple organisations.  Bringing Partners together has the additional benefit of creating sustainability as these relationships could continue beyond the tenure of the Digital Champion.

Recruiting partners, and supporting them to work together, creates a broader ownership of the agenda. As a result of this way of working, more organisations should be in a position to lead future digital participation work after the main campaign has ended.

Advise Government


Key learning : Champion greater digital capability within government so that high-quality public services can be delivered at lower cost

The UK team developed recommendations for the future of Directgov, the government’s online services portal, and recommended that public services should be “digital by default”.

Examples of recommendations from Directgov 2010 and Beyond: Revolution not Evolution, and outcomes include:

Make Directgov the government front end for all departments’ transactional online services launched in February 2012 ( and has been hailed as a new and very different approach to IT for the Government, where services are developed iteratively rather than through a large scale IT programmes. The project could save the UK Government £50 million a year.

Make Directgov a wholesaler as well as the retail shop front for government services and content

The new single domain platform is being built to provide a range of open APIs for reuse by others. It uses open standards to ensure that the material can be readily repurposed.

Change the model of government online publishing

The Digital Champion recommended that a new central team in Cabinet Office be put in absolute control of the overall user experience across all digital channels, commissioning all government online information from other departments. The Government Digital Service (GDS), launched in November 2011

Appoint a new CEO for Digital in the Cabinet Office with absolute authority over the user experience across all government online services

An Executive Director for Digital was appointed in July 2011 to head GDS.

In addition the Digital Champion and her team have been supporting the Cabinet Office to implement these recommendations. For example, two members of the Race Online 2012 team were seconded to the Cabinet Office and the Digital Champion advised the Cabinet Office in the recruitment of an Executive Director for Digital.

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