Polish partner visit
On Monday July 18th I visited the head office of Cities On the Internet in Tarnow, Poland, which uses a model similar to Making IT Personal: Joining the DOTs (www.makingitpersonal.eu) to tackle digital exclusion. I spoke with 4 of its managers: Director Krzysztof Glomb, Vice President Arkadiusz Zlotnicki, Artur Krawczyk (operational manager) and Lukasz Nikitin, who is responsible for EU bids and transnational activities.
Krzysztof Glomb, who previously worked in the Tarnow local government, began by describing the history of Cities On the Internet (http://www.mwi.pl/). It began in 1997 with a focus on developing broadband and encouraging 7 local authorities to make use of the internet to provide online services.
The main activity of COI shifted 3 years ago to focus more on improving the digital competence of all citizens. This is partly as a result of Poland having now achieved widespread access to the internet and there is optimism that the country will soon be better connected in a physical sense too, with motorways nearly ready to connect the major cities. These were supposed to be ready for the European Football Championships earlier this summer, but their opening has been delayed. The importance of this was only too apparent during a long and tedious drive from Krakow to Tarnow, looking longingly at the empty motorway next to our traffic jam. Train travel is also slow and patchy in Poland, with nearby Krakow having the only airport in the country with a railway connection.
(Market Square, Krakow)
The flagship event for Cities On the Internet is its annual Cities on the Internet conference. Originally located in Tarnow, it now moves from city to city and is highly regarded in Poland and internationally.
The target group needing most help with digital competence is now 45-50 yr olds who are in danger of not being useful in work, where it’s estimated that 90% of jobs will need digital competence by 2020. This lack of digital literacy is hampering Polish economic growth, and restricting the growth of online shopping.
Like our Making IT Personal project, Cities On the Internet is moving away from formalised courses like ECDL in favour of the informal mentoring model, giving help as and when needed in response to individual need. Its target is to reach 60,000 people across Poland, using community centres, libraries, local fire stations and, of course, private homes. Like MITP, the project which started 3 months ago uses digital champions called ‘Lighthouse Keepers’ who are trusted by the local community, especially family and friends. They also organise small social / educational events of 2-5 people, up to a maximum of 9. The main object is to encourage people to make the first step in using technology, on the assumption that once hooked with the most relevant application, they will move on to other applications in their own time.
The project is funded till July 2014 and currently has over2600 lighthouse keepers, each of whom has received certified training. Groups of 15-18 of these volunteers are trained by professionals from business – psychologists, sociologists and coaches. Like our ementors, the trainers do not give training in IT, but in how to mentor and find out the needs of digitally excluded people, most of whom are over 45 years old. But unlike our ementors, the 15 Trainers are professionals who run 4 formal training sessions for Lighthouse Keepers. Like ementors, the trainers do not just give initial training, but remain in contact with volunteers and support projects.
Like our DOTs (Digital Outreach Trainers) Lighthouse Keepers were already helping others, but through the project they now get support from their trainer, exchange experiences with other Lighthouse Keepers through Facebook (www.facebook.pl/polskacyfrowa) and get a sense of identity through t-shirts, identity cards, etc. Unlike DOTs, local government have details of Lighthouse Keepers, so they can introduce them to people needing help and target the most needy.
On 24-25 Sept they are organising a national meeting of Lighthouse Keepers in Tarnow, while many smaller local meetings are also planned. In keeping with the informal, non-prescriptive methodology, the project is open to suggestions for projects from Lighthouse Keepers, responding to local need.
Cities On the Internet is also setting up a National competence centre to support volunteers. This is not a physical building but a website, support materials, handbooks etc to support the project, which is also supported by the ministry of digital technology, and many prominent dignitaries, including Lech Walesa, who is a digital enthusiast as well as a national hero.