While working with organisations to better understand how to thrive in the digital era we now live in, very quickly the issue of digital literacy enters the conversation. Usually, the focus is on digital skills – how to use a computer, how to access the online world, etc. While this is true, it is important to broaden this discussion.
Skillsets and/or competencies are foundational to digital literacy. How to use a computer/tablet/phone are critical skills for life in the 21st century. Almost all organisations today continually run training programmes for their staff to increase their digital skillsets, so it’s important to remember this is not a one-off type of training or development initiative.
With the recent launch of Europe’s GDPR laws, data protection, privacy, security and the issue of consent has become more of a mainstream conversation and many organisations now, thankfully, consider it to be a part of the digital literacy conversation. As I have written about before in numerous ways, this part of the discussion is, unfortunately, often only focused on reducing organisational risk and liability not on helping those we work with understand their rights and responsibilities.
These first two areas are often viewed as risk and optimisation challenges for the organisation. “If we train our staff in digital skills, our business will be more efficient and effective” etc. The result is training programmes designed like manufacturing factories (and the rest of our education system); put people in one end, add some inputs, and out the other end will pop new, improved, and educated staff. It works to some extent, but it is in desperate need of reinvention (see this podcast for more on this) as it may give staff skills, but rarely teaches them to think.
The last, and I’d argue most important, digital literacy aspect is understanding how digital impacts organisational business and operating models. In most industry sectors, the digital era is disrupting old models and ushering in new models previously not thought or not possible. This goes beyond optimising the current model to creating new ways of operating, creating value, and impacting the world. In the banking world we see this with fintech, Uber, Lfyt, AirBnB, 3D printing and others are good examples of this shift. In the humanitarian space, we are starting to see this with cash programming being treating for a long time only as an optimisation change, but now starting to disrupt operating models as digital trends converge with it.
It’s a delicate balance, but to become digital literate you must be considering all three; pick ‘n’ mix is not an option.
Thanks Amos for this – great article. The last aspect of digital literacy is, as you have rightly pointed out, possibly the most important: how do we humanitarians prosper, how do communities we serve prosper, in a fast-paced, disruptive digital era? How can we be more responsible, digitally? The research by NetHope on Digital NonProfit Ability came up with the Digital NonProfit Skills, and I think organizations should start looking at digital literacy anew.