TechFest4SocialGood – accelerating tech for good in Wales

Last week Wales Co-operative Centre hosted a week-long virtual festival to celebrate and showcase the benefits of digital technology for social good, writes Sarah Evans. The Tech Fest was part of Digital Leaders Week 2020, which held virtual events across the UK.

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Tech Fest brought together experts from across the Public, Private, Third and Social Business Sectors to share experience and knowledge, and inspire others to explore the potential of digital technology to improve people’s lives and the communities that they live in. The events championed the idea of tech for social good. It highlighted the impact that COVID-19 has had on accelerating the use of digital in Wales and how the pandemic will shape our future digital approaches.

Demonstrating good practice and innovation

Wales Co-operative Centre hosted six events, including the launch event, which brought together digital leaders and Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, and Chair of the Welsh Government’s external digital panel, to discuss the challenges faced by tech for good in Wales.

All the events that the Wales Co-operative Centre hosted demonstrated the good practice and innovation that is being undertaken in Wales. One event that really shone out illustrated how Virtual Reality (VR) is transforming health and social care. Staff from Digital Communities Wales showed how VR headsets were being used in work with dementia patients to stimulate memories of cultural and local events from the past. The videos that they played showed care home residents animated, chatting and singing as they reminisced, watching videos from National Eisteddfods, livestock markets and local landmarks. It was truly moving.

A number of our social enterprises also showcased the innovative digital work that they had been doing during the pandemic, such as moving dance classes online, virtual tours, virtual festivals and fundraising. Although it was acknowledged that lots of social enterprises, particularly those operating in arts and culture, did not have a choice about becoming digital, the experience had mostly been positive and had resulted in a number of benefits such as meeting new audiences and connecting with their local communities. It was also highlighted that organisations needed to take time to assess the problems they are trying to address and if possible involving service users and communities to co-design digital solutions. Social enterprises also engaged with one of our more fun sessions where Nathan Roberts, Senior Lecturer at Wrexham Glyndwr University and students from their MSc in Gaming programme explored the potential of ‘Gaming for Good’. This session really showed how social enterprises can develop their services, particularly in terms of engaging with younger audiences through gaming technology.

Key themes and questions

There were a number of key themes and questions that emerged from the events that the Wales Co-operative Centre hosted and these should be considered as the Third Sector’s use of digital evolves:

  • The importance of internet access to all; especially to young people in education. The pandemic has highlighted the digital inequalities that exist within Wales.
  • As business models change to a blended approach of face to face and digital delivery, we need to ensure that our workforce here in Wales have the digital skills that they need to be able to fully participate.
  • How can the Third Sector fund digital innovation? Are mainstream funders ready to embrace this change of focus?
  • How do we build on the progress that has already taken place and address the themes of digital inequality and the digital skills gaps?

What next?

Welsh Government’s new Digital Strategy, ‘Delivering a Digital Wales’ will be published later this year. The aim of the plan is to make Wales a digital nation, focussing on inclusivity, skills, economy, public services and infrastructure. This strategy should provide a solid foundation to build on.

My final thought is potentially the key to taking digital innovation forward in Wales and linking the themes already outlined – digital leadership. We need to think as individual organisations and as the Third Sector how to we nurture and develop the digital progress that has been made. We need to open the debate about how we do this.