Across Africa, seven in ten people who don’t use the Internet say they just don’t know how to use it. This is not only a developing country problem: 44% of the European Union population has low or no (19%) digital skills!
It is no surprise, therefore, that the theme for this year’s UNESCO Mobile Learning Week is “Skills for a connected world”. (It runs from 26-30 March in Paris — don’t miss it!)
Global Target for Digital Skills
At Davos last month, the UN Broadband Commission set global broadband targets to bring online the 3.8 billion people not yet connected to the Internet. Goal 4 is that by 2025: 60% of youth and adults should have achieved at least a minimum level of proficiency in sustainable digital skills.
(I’m not quite sure what the difference is between digital skills and sustainable digital skills.) Having a target such as this is good for focusing global efforts towards skilling up.
The Spectrum of Digital Skills
Digital skills is a broad term. While definitions vary, the Broadband Commission report proposes seeing digital skills and competences on a spectrum, including:
- Basic functional digital skills, which allow users to access and conduct basic operations on digital technologies;
- Generic digital skills, which include using digital technologies in meaningful and beneficial ways, such as content creation and online collaboration; and
- Higher-level skills, which mean using digital technology in empowering and transformative ways, for example for software development. These skills include 21st century skills and critical digital literacies.
Beyond skills, digital competences include awareness and attitudes concerning technology use. Most of the people served in ICT4D projects fall into the first and second categories. Understanding where your users are and need to be is important, and a spectrum lens helps in that exercise.
Why Skills Really Matter
Beyond the global stats, goals and definitions, why should you really care about the digital skills of your users, other than that they know enough to navigate your IVR menu or your app?
Over 300 sales agents from Tigo, the mobile network operator, were trained on MISTT, and they in turn trained over 83,000 customers. The evaluation found that MISTT training:
- Gives users confidence and helps them overcome the belief that “the Internet is not for me”;
- Has the potential to help customers move beyond application “islands” — and get them using more applications/services;
- Has a ripple effect, as customers are training other people on what they have learned (a study in Cape Town also found this); and
- Increased data usage among trained customers, which led to increased data revenues for Tigo.
In short, more digital skills (beyond just what you need from your users) presents the opportunity for increased engagement, higher numbers of users and, if services are paid-for or data drives revenue, greater earnings. Now those are compelling ICT4D motivators.
Skills as Strategy
Therefore, we need to see skills development as one of the core components of our:
- Product development strategy (leveraging users who can interact more deeply with features);
- Growth strategy (leveraging users who train and recruit other users);
- Revenue strategy (leveraging users who click, share, and maybe even buy).
But what about the cost, you might wonder? As Alex Smith of the GSMA points out, with the data revenues, for Tigo the MISTT pilot returned the investment within a month and saw an ROI of 240% within a quarter. That’s for a mobile operator — it would be fascinating to measure ROI for non-profits.
Image: CC by Lau Rey