Dorset Council: Digital Skills and Adoption

Since June 2021, Dorset Council has trained 903 staff and volunteers in total to be embedded digital champions.  In the survey at the end of the training programme, 75% of those who answered the question said they feel more confident in supporting their clients.   

In particular, Dorset Council’s children’s team made a condensed 2 x 2.5 hour version of the training mandatory for its team of around 800.  The team received a training session focussed on Essential Digital Skills and another with a guest speaker from Dorset Police Safer Schools team with content particularly aimed at staff working with children. 

During a recent survey that took a snapshot over a two-week period, when asked ‘how many people have you helped in the last 2 weeks?’, the embedded digital champions responses indicated: 

“We’ve seen many people who fear new technology and change, because oftenthey’re worried it will take away their jobs. An important part of the workplace digital champion’s role is to help people see that new technology will help and support them. An example is frontline staff. Bymaking the admin aspect of their role easier they can spend more time doing the work they love.”

Delia Carr

User Adoption Lead, Dorset Council

Dorset’s approach to digital skills improvement and digital adoption<

Dorset has evolved three different types of digital champions: Volunteer Digital Champions; Workplace Digital Champions and Embedded Digital Champions (EDC).  Alongside these it runs a Digital Doorway programme gifting devices to residents.

  • Volunteer Digital Champions – set up in 2013, 45 volunteers from across Dorset provide weekly sessions with residents, which are individual, face to face and free, to help them with digital skills.  A hotline established during the pandemic made sure support was still available while restrictions were in place.  A learner-led approach helps ensure the recipient gets the support needed for their specific skills gap.  Around 75% of volunteers are retired, with some being ex-IT professionals who have experienced the benefit of digital and want to help others. A hotline established during the pandemic made sure support was still available while restrictions were in place.
  • Workplace Digital Champions – set up in 2017, Dorset now has 230 employees taking part in its three tiers of Workplace Digital Champions.   A partnership with 365TRIBE offers a reward-based approach.  Learning ranges from Microsoft applications through to digital accessibility.  Guest speakers from the council help cover other important digital tools and topics, for example LinkedIn, to support external networking.
  • Embedded Digital Champions – Set up in 2021, frontline staff (both Dorset Council employees and other partners) are trained to help recognise and support people struggling with digital tasks and getting online.  Dorset set itself a target to recruit and train 1000 volunteers in the duration of the project; to date it’s recruited and trained over 900.  Drawing learning from Cornwall and the EDS framework, it created a condensed training programme which is adapted as required to meet the needs of individual teams.
  • Digital Doorway – Dorset Council became involved in giving out devices to people in digital need during the first Covid lockdown. Working with Good Things Foundation, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, DevicesDotNow and Nominet, the council gifted 80 smart phones and tablets to residents during that period.  Seeing the huge difference the gift of devices was making to people’s lives, the council launched its own device gifting scheme called Digital Doorway. Initially funded with a £20,000 Covid Recovery grant, the council was able to give laptops and tablets to 96 people who needed them. You can read about the impact for profoundly deaf resident John Phillips from Bridport.

Across all programmes, the team noted the emphasis is on people skills.  Nobody is expected to be a digital expert.  The main requirement was being able to talk to people and help understand and work through their individual digital challenge.


In 2022, 1,938 sessions were booked with the Volunteer Digital Champions, with a Did Not Attend (DNA) rate of 10%.  There were a further 117 drop-in attendances.  In total the programme saw 1,748 individual learners in 2022 and since it started the hotline in March 2020, it has received over 2,850 calls. 

On average Workplace Digital Champions increase their Microsoft365 skills by 18% per year and to date they have gained 2,268 badges and helped over 2,457 colleagues.  The programme is cited as contributing to savings through the introduction of new ways of working as teams gained increased knowledge of Microsoft tools.  It is also seen to increase progression opportunities for digital champions as they gain new skills and work differently. 

In a recent survey, 75% of Embedded Digital Champions who responded reported they felt more confident in helping others in terms of digital skills and getting online. And 58% said they helped at least 1 resident with digital support in the previous two-week window, with 6% supporting 10 or more.  The topics they reported helping people with most included problem solving, online forms, communicating and library services.   

Following the success of Digital Doorway, the scheme has extended for another three years thanks to the council ringfencing £100,000 raised from recycling its own devices and is expected to help around 500 more people. The team has also evolved the Digital Doorway project to be referral based.  Project lead, Katharine Welch said “by working on a referral basis we can prioritise getting devices to those who need them.  Plus, the referral form gives us the opportunity to ask some questions about essential digital skills and link beneficiaries to the support on offer to help close the skills gap.”  

Future Priorities 

The team continues to develop its digital programmes with a focus on areas such as: 

  • Increasing its focus on health.  Closer working with NHS colleagues aims to ensure that digital health inequalities don’t increase as more health services can be accessed online. 
  • Learning from Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s research around social tariffs to help the team understand how to support residents who may be facing economic barriers in getting online and staying connected. 
  • As part of its Digital Skills Partnership, Dorset is also now exploring how to address the gap in EDS across the region’s workforce, bringing learning from its existing digital programme to close the gap in EDS. 
  • The team is continuing to explore ways of creating a sustainable future for projects.  For example, working with colleagues in Waste Services to recycle devices from residents and businesses to generate additional funding for digital initiatives. 
  • The council is about to launch a programme focussed on the 800 people at Dorset council without a Microsoft license, with a view to equipping them with one.  The programme will aim to provide quicker and easier access to the council’s communications digitally versus paper-copies.  Plus, it will increase access to learning opportunities to gain EDS. 


In 2017, Dorset’s Digital Skills and Adoption team was created after a gap was identified during the rollout of super-fast broadband in the area. Penny Syddall, Programme Manager (Skills and Adoption) for Assets & Property, recognised that if people didn’t have the skills to go online and use online services, rolling out super-fast broadband was only part of the solution in getting Dorset’s residents and businesses online.  Since it was set up the team has run a programme of initiatives focussed on equipping residents and the workforce to have the essential digital skills needed for life and work.   

To contact Dorset’s Digital Skills and Adoption Team please email