Findings from the research found flaws in many common assumptions about young people’s ability to use digital tools, in the context of multiple disadvantage.One often-cited assumption is that young people—raised in ‘the digital age’—have high levels of digital literacy. But speaking with young people themselves shows this isn't necessarily the case, as digital skills require having access to computers and the internet- something which is not true for many disadvantaged young people experiencing poverty. The study found low levels of digital literacy with apps and tools outside of social media, including with many now considered a basic standard for work such as word processors. Ownership of a device was also found to be a barrier to young people facing multiple disadvantage due to its cost. Data plans are also expensive and must be rationed, marking out a need for offline as well as online engagement. An abundance of ‘self-help’ apps currently on the market confuse and disengage young people, added the report.
Tris Lumley, Director of Innovation and Development at NPC said:
“If we are to truly help disadvantaged young people, it’s time to understand them, and the complexity and messiness of their lives. Too many well-meaning interventions fail, especially those rooted in tech, because assumptions about the end user turn out to be false. The work we have done suggests a strategy for ensuring that doesn’t happen.”
Through working with service users and practitioners the report makes practical recommendations to bridge the gaps. This includes using existing tech, which will avoid the cost and complexity of developing a new platform and increase the change of young people using the intervention as it comes in a form they are familiar with.
It also suggest that face-to-face work with youth workers should be supplemented with tech, not replaced.
"User mapping, investigating and visually mapping people’s lived experiences, is a powerful tool which can help even a small organisation gain a holistic view of their services users and thus design their interventions better," said the report.From their research, NPC came up with a number of ideas for digital tools that could support young people. These include better access to sharing and collaboration around data, and access to innovative information-sharing tools such as chatbots. 'Services maps' could bring together information from existing services such as Google maps and local services, with social elements such as ratings and reviews, to help users find the right services for them and feel confident accessing them. Other ideas include as a 'virtual case-worker' app that could suggest customised services and organisations to help young people achieve their own individual outcomes, recording their thoughts, activities and achievements and tracking their progress. Digital community platforms could also help youth workers build support structures and share valuable experiences. For more information and to download the full report 'My best life: priorities for digtal technology in the youth sector' click here. NPC's blog post '4 insights from working with 'experts by experience' offers some insight into lessons they learnt from running workshops with beneficiaries.