Q&A: Kathy Valdes, managing director, Digital Unite

July 27, 2018

Q: Can you tell us about yourself and your role?

A: I’ve worked with Digital Unite for nearly ten years. My current role is managing director. Previously, I worked with housing providers and charities to help provide solutions for people with various challenges who lacked the work and social opportunities that many take for granted. It became increasingly clear that digital skills would form an essential part of any solution for this audience. Working with the team at Digital Unite has helped me focus on this area.

Q: Describe the broader benefits of raising online engagement rates.

A: The confidence that comes with improved digital skills can empower people to make choices to improve their lives for the better. That doesn’t mean you have to join Facebook – I’m referring to the wider social, financial and health benefits of getting online. Improved digital skills also provide massive benefits to the housing provider, which can deliver more tailored services for its tenants for less money. It truly creates win/win scenarios.

Q: Tell us about some of your recent projects.

A: Our core business is helping organisations to cascade digital skills across their community using our Digital Champions Network, which we launched in 2013, as their foundation. The Network, which originated in housing, offers an online suite of training resources and tools to help deliver effective digital skills support. Since its foundation, we’ve trained thousands of Digital Champions to help people to harness their own digital skills, as well as their enthusiasm and empathy, so they can help bring offliners online. This training has taken place in a variety of settings, including from local councils and housing associations to care providers, charities and community organisations.

We have recently expanded our range of support to include courses developed in partnership with experts such as Age UK and AbilityNet, and our foundation courses support professional development through CPD (continuing professional development) accreditation. We’ve also created an app to support Digital Champions as they deliver sessions, through which users can access resources and also easily keep a record of those they have helped to improve their skills.

Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve experienced in digital training over the last five years?

A: We’ve seen a definite shift from formal and classroom-based learning to more flexible and tailored approaches, helped by the growth in mobile technology use. Those with low or no skills want to learn locally from people they trust and have gradual access to support. We developed the Digital Champions Network after becoming aware of this and to date we have trained over 2,500 Digital Champions. The biggest change organisations working in this area have experienced is that it’s much more widely accepted now that digital skills are imperative and worth investing in, both in terms of the technology for the organisation, as well as the skills for their residents.

Q: What have you found is the most effective way to engage people to improve their digital skills?

A: Don’t mention the word digital! People don’t want to acquire digital skills. But they do want to save money, see their grandchildren’s photos online, book a holiday, switch energy providers and, of course, to see cats playing the piano. You also need to pass on digital skills to people as part of their every day activities, as digital is such a big part of daily life.

Click here to find out more https://www.digitalunite.com/new-opportunities-join-our-network

Gary Bullock