Emma Weston: Learning How Best to Deliver Digital Skills at Scale

 Emma Weston OBE, CEO of Digital Unite, shares the success of the Digital Champions Network as an effective way to extend digital skills with the IG Central and Local Government Hub

11.9 million people don’t have good enough digital skills and 53% of the workforce don’t have good enough digital skills. In an increasingly digital world, basic franchise is requiring the citizen to participate online, or to be able to. Benefit reform – Universal Credit – is in reality the tip of the iceberg. 8% of adults will still be digitally disengaged by 2030 if there is not some step change in provision to support them to engage.

The paradox here might seem to be digital itself.

Digital allows us to deliver things at scale and with reach. ‘Things’ might be information, all manner of products and services … from lighting to learning.

Digital defies time and geography – it facilitates mass distribution at scale.

Digital allows us to build in diagnostic and measurement tools into that distribution. It means we can be smarter about how we tailor what sort of things we deliver to who. And we can also then track that distribution and come to an informed view about its impact.

The power of digital has led to, can lead to, uncomfortable and even illegal activities and there are innumerable examples I could mention here which will fill us with gloom and rage. At Digital Unite, while we are not wilfully ignorant about the problems we are determined to remain wilfully optimistic about the potentials too.

That is why we created the Digital Champions Network. We are using digital to improve digital skills and increase inclusion. It’s no paradox: digital has massive potential to solve the inequalities it has also created, or at least if not created, exacerbated.


We know – and the evidence proves that most of those who feel digitally excluded want personalised support to overcome their skills and confidence deficits.

A widely distributed network of Digital Champions (or some equivalent – they might be buddies or advocates or friends) is the only way to deliver personalised support to those who need it, where and when they need it. The ‘trigger’ is usually one prompted by some ‘life event or circumstance’ be that paying a bill, getting a pay slip, finding a train time, ordering a repeat prescription. Learning new skills to be able to do more, and new, things in vocational and non-vocational ways.

Those Champs may be in the workplace supporting colleagues, they may be in organisations and business providing services to others. From landlords to banks to super markets to GPs surgeries; social, private, public organisations and businesses – they all have a role to play.

Digital itself can cohere and leverage and underpin the people-potential of Champion networks and support them at scale, whatever the time and wherever they are.

That’s why I’m as excited as ever about our fabulous Digital Champions Network (DCN), now used by 200 organisations to train, support and resource their own Champ networks across the UK.  Between them they have trained 6,000 Champs who have supported over 30,000 people on personalised digital learning journeys.

DCN delivers learning and training resources to the Champs, and their learners, and the project managers who oversee the networks, and the leaders and managers in the organisations who use them. It’s all trackable and measurable. And the impact is significant, in a multi layered way – right down the beneficiary chain.

What’s more we grow it through co-commissioning and co-curation which means that the people who use it have a real say in how its developed.