Turning a digital adoption report into a game of phones, tablets, TVs – and maybe computers

Summary: the impact of reports and campaigns urging digital adoption may be limited because people’s needs and interests are different. A game about online activities could provide insights into how to personalise. Your ideas welcome.

Last year I worked with colleagues on a report for Nominet Trust about how digital technology can help us lead a better life as we get older. It was well received, but not much help if you are sitting down with someone wanting to show them practically that it may be worth them touching a keypad or screen for the first time.

Nor is it much help, in my experience, to tell people tech is a Good Thing, or the Government wants to save money by putting services online and they are Going To Have To Go On or Miss Out.

Digital Inclusion and Engagement is a turn-off to most people who are unconnected … or who may actually be online but don’t use their Smartphone, Smart TV or games console like the computer that it is.

But the Internet is important because it is re-shaping our world, and may help at the personal level in combating loneliness, managing finances, getting goods delivered, dealing with health issues and so. That’s as well as the fun stuff.

You don’t need a report to prove it. Just look at the newspaper inserts detailing 500 must-have apps for phones and tablets, under those headings. The Telegraph has just published two such guides.

The problem is that everyone is different. The must-have activity and app for one person may be irrelevant to another. People who learned touch typing may like a keyboard, others a touch screen. If you have figured how to Skype your family on your Smart TV, hitting the Facebook app there is going to be more appealing than learning a new device.

While there may be some basic skills that are going to be important for everyone in future, learning how to switch on a computer and use a web browser isn’t necessarily the place to start for many people.

If you are personally fairly familiar with the possibilities, you can probably find out someone’s interests and capabilities and take them through what’s possible on, say, an iPad or the much cheaper Tesco Hudl.

But if you are designing a campaign to make a difference to a lot of people, how can you think both about scale and about personalisation?

Positive Ageing in London (PAIL) and Age UK London have given Drew Mackie and I a chance to try a different approach on January 27 when they launch a report on digital inclusion.

Before the policy makers engage with the comprehensive overview report prepared by Ben Donovan we are going to run a workshop game with PAIL and a few dozen people – a few of them experienced online and others not.

We are following a similar approach to other games we have run, first developed some 15 years ago to help groups decide how they might wish to use computers in community learning centres. These days learning can be more personal, mobile and appified.

We’ll start by asking people, working in groups, to invent some fictitious characters: their situations, skills, confidence with technology and life challenges. They’ll then pass the profile to another group – and receive one themselves.

The groups will have a deck of cards with ideas for online activities, and choose some appropriate ones for their character. After that they will consider what device might be most appropriate: a computer, tablet, smartphone, smart TV or maybe a games console.

The final stage will involve thinking about what sort of support might be needed: formal training, informal social sessions, help from a tutor, or friends and family, for example.

The results of the discussion will be shared with policy makers and funders attending the second half of the event. That should lead to follow-on discussion about who can do what to help.

Here’s where you can join in before the event. I’ve drawn up a long list of ideas for online activities, as below, and also put them on an open-to-edit Google doc here http://bit.ly/JWiEFn

  • Emailing individuals
  • Email discussion group
  • Web browsing
  • Playing games
  • Shopping online
  • Watching live TV
  • Catching up TV
  • Renting movies
  • Video calling (like Skype)
  • Viewing and sharing photos
  • Online banking
  • Facebook and networks
  • Reading books, mags and newspapers
  • Taking online courses
  • Exploring to learn
  • Using maps
  • Texting
  • Blogging
  • Private network (e.g. Finerday)
  • Taking photos and video
  • Recipes, food, drink
  • Planning travel
  • Ancestry research
  • Health and fitness advice
  • Topic research and sharing

During our exploration for Nominet Trust, Geraldine Bedell ran a discussion on Gransnet which gave some terrific insights into what may be useful or not, and I’m expecting a lively discussion this time around too.

If you any further ideas – or want to suggest changes – please do so on the doc, or in comments here. I would also be really interested in thoughts on which device may be most appropriate for which activity. I’ll follow on with a further blog post about that.

I think that you can do many of the above activities without a computer, and that for a lot of people a tablet is preferable unless you need to do office work. If that’s the case, the challenge for organisations who wish to support people in adopting digital technology is that they may need to do some learning themselves.





  • Nicola Wilson
    January 14, 2014 - 10:59 pm | Permalink


    This sounds like a really interesting project – will be interested to hear what comes out of it. It’s definitely true that one size doesn’t fit all and from my own perspective, I know that, even though I’m no stranger to using a computer, there are huge areas of digital technology that are completely unknown to me. There’s just so much that one could possibly learn that it sounds a really useful exercise to try to break down and segment things a little to give some focus to learning.

    Your list looks pretty comprehensive. One thing that perhaps fits under other headings would be checking opening hours, or while you have included online banking, I think there are a number of other personal finance tasks that it’s hugely useful for – buying/ comparing insurance and other financial products. Also, how about selling online?

    • david wilcox
      January 15, 2014 - 10:31 am | Permalink

      Thanks for such a useful comment, Nicola. Great ideas, which I’ll add to the list

  • Ben Carpenter
    January 17, 2014 - 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Hi David,
    I loved this article and think your blog is great. I’m very interested in this subject too so I will be keen to hear the findings of the session.

    My only point is about platforms. I have recently bought a Google Chromebook and I’m really impressed. The Chrome OS is very simple and intuitive much like using a tablet – but the whole experience feels like a laptop which has the physical advantage of having an actual keyboard and something to easily handle on your lap or sat at a table! I think it’s a great hybrid for someone of any age really – but perhaps they could be popular with the older generation.

    Just a thought!

  • david wilcox
    January 17, 2014 - 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Ben for the encouragement. I’ll be posting more. I haven’t tried a Chromebook, so I’m interested in what you say. It would be good to do some comparisons with tablets for different users. Some may value the keyboard, others prefer touch … and I wonder whether the app experience makes a difference too. The sequence of actions in a tablet are fewer to forget, and apps more focussed.
    Are you working with older people?

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