by Ilona Griniute
80% of Belgian citizens have an Internet connection at home. And yet digital divide persists leaving around 15% of the population who has never used the Internet. Digipolis has been a partner for local authorities of the city of Ghent for ten years collaborating on various ICT projects. Digipolis is a governmental, but strictly non-commercial inter-municipal ICT organisation founded in 2003 to drive ICT solutions for the city of Ghent, Public Centre of Social Welfare of Ghent, its local police and municipal schools, all in all serving around 8,000 employees.
- Gent.be and E-loket (e-counter for documents administration)
- Open data portal
- Gentsefeesten.be with various apps
- Many more…
Digital talent points – what are they?
There are 78 spaces in Ghent located in various neighbourhoods where any citizen of Ghent can use a computer and access the Internet for free. Some 19 of these access points offering training sessions are made for seniors of 55+. All these digital talent points (the brand name in Ghent for telecentres) are very diverse using different approaches to bring ICT closer to people. City services, social welfare offices, libraries, youth clubs, and even second hand shops combining their services with ICT points are all needed to reach out to various groups of people in the city. This wide diversity and a large scale collaboration with many interested stakeholders have proven to be successful in running e-inclusion projects.
During our visit to Digipolis Ghent on January 23, we were invited to see 3 digital talent points: a second hand shop, a public library and a city info point.
De Kringwinkel Ateljee combines a space for second hand shopping, a small restaurant to eat at reduced prices for people living in hard social conditions, and a digital talent point to explore the Internet as well as get help and ask questions. It’s a simple concept yet a fascinating idea how to approach those on the edge of exclusion and support them with the most necessary things.
Ghent info point is a place where locals visit the municipal administration and city guests can get information about the city. A modern reception hosts computers for those who want to search for information online. A digital ticketing guides citizens through the maze of municipal services and administration.
Right next to the city info point, Openbare Bibliotheek Gent main public library invites to use PC and Internet desks on each floor. All you need is to get a library card. There are 16 municipal libraries in Ghent all operating as digital talent points.
We passed by another interesting point while wandering around Ghent – a local services center – initially established for seniors but now attracting everyone who is keen on learning digital skills and needs other assistance, like help with getting hair or nails done. Looks like this centre has gained a lot of popularity!
Integrated approach on e-Inclusion projects
Digital inclusion projects target both civilians and employees of municipal institutions. 1,800 people among municipal employees alone have limited access to ICT and the Internet due to the nature of their job or insufficient level of skills. Close to 8,500 people in Ghent live on social welfare while ethnic minorities are at poverty risk by more than 50%.
E-inclusion program Digitaal.Talent@Gent is based on the collaboration between city services, social welfare services and local organisations, coordinated by Digipolis since 2006. As the program’s coordinator Sara Van Damme explains, the success heavily relies on the integrated approach by connecting different partners and collectively developing projects and activities on digital access, e-skills and motivation. All partners, sponsors and volunteers are invited to meet 3-4 times a year.
Digital week taking place every spring is a major event dedicated to digital skills across Flanders as well as in Ghent. It is a national version of the European Get Online Week initiated by the Flemish government and coordinated by Digipolis in Ghent. In 2014 a record number of 150 activities were organised in Ghent alone. Digital week will be celebrating its 10th anniversary on April 20-30 this year.
Among other projects, Digipolis has a lending service free of charge for those in need of hardware like laptops, projectors or tablets. This service is available for free for all Ghent citizens wanting to organise e-Inclusion projects. Digipolis also offers the digital talent points technical support, software, Internet access, which is extremely important for youth and poverty organisations, and train-the-trainer sessions to learn how to explain computers to others. All digital talent points receive from Digipolis communications support such as a branded sticker which indicates that a pc and the Internet can be used for free.
Telecentre Europe wants to thank again for an interesting visit and a great day organised by its member Digipolis Ghent.