Today marks the 55th anniversary of International Literacy Day (ILD), an event that has changed greatly since its first iteration in 1967. UNESCO’s theme this year is “Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces”, with a two-day event planned in Cote d’Ivoire reflecting on the impact of COVID-19, and the emerging need to “…address the inclusivity and equality issues, that were further heightened due to digital transformation of literacy learning spaces” .
As more information is disseminated and consumed through digital media, the need for digital literacy has also increased, and any lack of access to technology has grown into a significant barrier to engage with the modern world. While digital technology has been identified by the National Literacy Trust as having the potential to address “gender and disadvantage gaps” in literacy development , there remains a concern that reliance on such channels of communication will also lead to digital exclusion elsewhere within society.
The Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) has conducted extensive data collection and analysis on Internet Usage across the UK and states that “demographic factors play the most important influence upon online engagement, such as population age or ethnicity” . This resonates with the findings of the Centre for Ageing Better in mid-2021, which identified a ‘digital divide’ among 50- to 70-year-olds, that has grown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic .
The NHS Long-Term Plan, published in 2019, set out the aim to provide digital access to primary care for all by the end of 2023/24. The pandemic led to the rapid expansion of the ‘digital first’ and ‘total triage’ models, encouraging patients to contact their GP online, rather than by phoning into practices. This has led to some perception that people are being forced into digital pathways before they are ready, potentially highlighting the need to build digital literacy skills within the population that can engage with these service models.
To further complicate this matter the NHS also needs to continue to address health literacy within society. In 2015 Public Health England found that up to 61% of working-age adults find it difficult to understand health and wellbeing information , potentially affecting their ability to engage with preventative programmes, or manage long-term conditions.
“Those most in need of health information have the least access to it.”A mismatch between population health literacy and the complexity of health information: an observational study.
This all paints a complex picture of how considerations regarding literacy range beyond the achievement of functional reading levels. The challenges within Health and Social Care sectors must take the risk of digital exclusion seriously, both within the population and the workforce. At Unity Insights we work with several AHSNs, ICSs, and Trusts to map and analyse demographic data to assist organisations in understanding local demographics. In particular, we have produced explorable dashboards to detail the digital maturity and potential health inequalities from an ICB level, down to individual GP practices and PCNs.
As evaluators, when undertaking an evaluation into the impact of digital technology in a real-world setting, Unity Insights consider the demographics of the affected population, whether it is reflective of wider demographics, and how services might need to support users to ensure they can be delivered in a sustainable manner.