Harnessing Data to Improve Digital Skills and Inclusion

September 9, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the digitisation of societies, forcing millions of people to shift virtually overnight to working and studying from home. For many this has been a smooth and sometimes even welcome process, providing an opportunity to work without the hassle of commuting. But for those without internet access or the skills to engage digitally, the crisis risks a deeper exclusion from the economy and society.

That is a big problem for London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has declared digital access for all to be a COVID-19 recovery priority. The first step to solving this problem is to locate it.  That’s why the London Data Commission, co-founded by the Oliver Wyman Forum, enlisted private-sector organisations to develop a Digital Inclusion Heat Map to identify the neighborhoods of the capital with the biggest problems in areas such as broadband availability.

The pilot project tapped an array of public and private data sources. These included information from regulator Ofcom on both the availability and speed of broadband connections in each of the city’s postal codes. That was then supplemented with broadband uptake data from one of the nation’s biggest providers and insights from the annual Consumer Digital Index, which uses consumers’ online behavior to assess their digital capabilities.

With that data, the project developed a series of maps highlighting London’s digital exclusion challenges and overlaid them to understand linkages between factors such as broadband availability, levels of online engagement, and poverty. Crucially, it found a strong positive correlation between the percentage of residents in particular areas who use a broadband connection and the overall levels of digital capability of residents in those boroughs.

That finding may come as little surprise. But the exercise succeeded in demonstrating that public and private data can be harnessed to identify the areas of greatest need, so city authorities can target their intervention. The project will now seek to identify additional data sources and determine the best ways to both help adults improve their digital skills, and charities to deliver their services digitally.

In the latest report from the London Data Commission, the Oliver Wyman Forum and its fellow commissioners outline recommendations on how the capital can optimize its data use for a bright future - and highlights this and three other pilot programs that were developed.