1. Context of the Digital Poland of Equal Opportunities Project
In the 2007 – 2013 period ICT and information society projects were assigned ERDF support of € 32,8 billion. 91% of Polish businesses are online (2009 EU average: 94%), sales online – less than 10 % of total sales, 63,4 % households have Internet (2010 r.) – EU average = 70%. In 2009, 61% of businesses and 21% households used Internet to interact with public administration.
It is becoming evident however, that infrastructure alone will not suffice if there is no demand for online services. Research conducted in recent years has shown that contrary to popular opinion in Poland, the primary challenge for adults Poles are the mental barriers which inhibit them from making the first step into the Internet. They include:
- Lack of personal motivation
- No sense of real advantages stemming from lack of knowledge
- Fear (apprehension, misconceptions) of new, unfamiliar technical solutions
- Deficit of online competences – deficit of knowledge and practical skills.
All of the above results in a worrying statistics showing that out of 38 million Poles, 10 million adults aged 50 + have never used the Internet. This means that the one third of Polish society does not use either the Internet nor countless services offered by the telecommunications and information sector. If they were to come online, additional savings and benefits due to more efficient delivery of public services alone would amount to 1,5 % of Poland's GDP. Closing of this digital literacy gap is critical as research shows that by 2015 90 % of jobs will require basic digital skills.
In order to change the status quo, it was necessary to employ a new, specific approach towards adult Poles in guiding them towards the digital world.
2. The PCRS: „Digital Poland of Equal Opportunities"
PCRS programme realized in partnership between the Ministry of Administration and Digitization and the “Cities on Internet” Association is an initiative which is to encourage the people from the 50 + generation to make this first step into the digital world. The novel approach represented by PCRS rests on locality, as adults are willing to participate in events in familiar surroundings: community centers, local fire station social spaces and even private homes. For that reason, PCRS requires involvement of local digital champions - trusted by the community, creative, skilled in mobilizing support for local actions.
There are many certified computer courses on offer, by they all suffer from the original sin of being formalized, and being conducted by specialists – IT experts who focus on ability to use the hardware and software. PCRS departs from that model, demystifying preconceptions about drawbacks and challenges of using the Internet. Key element of pointing to personal benefits from the use of Internet is the identification of individual motivations and needs, only then followed by an effective training of technical abilities. The ultimate goal of the project is to introduce 60 000 people from the 50 + generation into the digital world.
The PCRS project is being realized with the involvement of 2600 Lighthouse Keepers – Polish local digital champions: trusted, creative local community leaders/animators tasked with introducing 50 + adults from their own communities into the digital world. In the course of the project, each digital champion, upon receiving certified training goes on to create a concept of his/her own initiative, realized in cooperation with NGOs and local authorities, to encourage adults to enter the digital world in their own community.
All digital champions participate in PCRS on voluntary basis, however important contribution to the programme is made by partners supporting their actions, i.e. local governments and NGOs.
October 2012 marked conclusion of the first stage of PCRS. As a result, 2 600 digital champions were recruited and trained throughout Poland (in total, more than 3 600 have volunteered, making it the largest ever education volunteering endeavor in Poland). Now, Lighthouse Keepers face their biggest challenge yet: convincing the 50 + generation to see for themselves how the Internet and digital world can improve their lives. Research contracted by the „Cities on Internet” Association (Generation 50+: first steps into the digital world) shows that the main cause for digital exclusion is not the lack of access, but reluctance to go online and low awareness of benefits associated with the Internet.
To help in their efforts, currently 200 Lighthouse Keepers are being awarded 200 grants to launch their ideas which they described in Local Digital Education Plans.
In addition, the best 200 educational projects realized by lighthouse keepers in local communities are eligible for 18 – month grants.
Activities of all Lighthouse Keepers complement into a nation – wide digital competence raising programme targeting digitally excluded, which at the same time will stimulate the demand for broadband access to the Internet.
Work by Lighthouse Keepers is supported by the National Competence Centre / Social portal devoted to digital training of adults, equipped with corresponding technical infrastructure and a research team and experts providing lighthouse keepers with support in their daily work with the digitally excluded.
“Cities on Internet” Association, while coordinating actions of Lighthouse Keepers and maintaining the National Competence Centre, is also running an awareness raising campaign, addressed to 50+ generation, demonstrating advantages Internet brings at work and in private life.
PCRS won the support of many senior figures representing the world of science, politics and culture, including former president Lech Walesa, former prime minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Commissioner Danuta Hübner, EU Commission vice-President Neelie Kroes. The current Minister of Administration and Digitization, Michał Boni volunteered to participate in the project as a lighthouse keeper. As a recognition of the value of the project, during the 2012 World Summit of Information Society, the PCRS project was awarded the WSIS Prize (http://groups.itu.int/stocktaking/WSISProjectPrizes2012.aspx).
4. Additional information
For additional information about the project please contact the Project Manager, Mr. Artur Krawczyk at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone: +48 502 357 587 or President of “Cities on the Internet” Association Mr. Krzysztof Głomb at. email@example.com, +48 605 290 500. You may also follow the project on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/polskacyfrowa.