BE DIGITAL: DevelopING digital skillfulness


Our aim is to to foster a vibrant 21st century city through digitally savvy citizens who are able to harness, exploit and determine the opportunities that digital brings to their talent, creativity and innovation.

The goal is to develop children and young people’s ‘digital skillfulness’ – their ability to apply digital skills through competencies, behaviours and practices that can enhance their lives positively, confidently and safely. To enable this through a personal development programme that encourages and facilitates their imaginative and enterprising ability alongside their wellbeing, and interconnects with their wider creative skills acquisition.


It is widely acknowledged that ‘the world is being transformed by a series of profound technological changes dominated by digital’ (1), and it is obvious that the digital is impacting on all our lives, changing how we work, live, behave and learn.  Brighton & Hove is recognised as a hub for creative and digital industries: creative, design and IT firms are growing faster than the local and national economy (2). This creates significant opportunities for our children and young people. This is why digital skills run through all our goals.

However, it is also clear that the digital is impacting suddenly and possibly in profound ways on childhood, friendship and the experience of living our lives. Much of this is exciting and clearly creating opportunities, some is worrying and yet to be fully understood: at times it is calling into question young people’s levels of resilience and impacting on their emotional health and wellbeing (see Goal 2, Be Well). This is all playing out in children’s daily lives over an immediate and incredibly short time span.

Children and young people's lives across Brighton and Hove are a blur of real-life, offline, online, virtual, and digital interactions, with ever-decreasing dividing lines to distinguish them. It's possible that digital technology 'is changing the way we think and feel', and that we now experience our lives and relationships with each other in very new ways. Is it possible that 'we are standing on the brink of a mind makeover more cataclysmic that anything in our history' (3)? Anecdotal stories suggest that children and young people in our City are now interacting with friends, families and adults in different ways that are directly related to the digital technologies that are on hand to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are yet to understand the impact of this in Brighton and Hove, and how it will change and develop over time. 

A robust approach to this revolution must be to foster a new ‘skillfulness’ – not simply the technical skills of say coding, but the personal, social and creative behaviours of making this revolution work for yourself and others.  We are calling this ‘digital skillfulness’.


During Phase 1 of OFC, we heard from teachers in the City that schools are unable to consistently equip children and young people with the diversity of skills needed to be active participants in a competitive, enterprising and creative city. Many teachers lack the experience and confidence to deliver the new computing curriculum, which in itself falls short of developing the full breadth and depth of digital skills that our future city will need. Furthermore the current educational approach to digital is at risk of being fragmented by historic ICT skills, with newer skills such as coding, programming, gaming, social media and online safety being addressed in isolation. Moreover, some schools are still struggling with access to appropriate hardware and the formal education system across the country has barely begun to utilize the opportunities of mobile phones to aid learning and innovative application of creative ideas.

There remains an underlying question about the resilience of young people and how well they are equipped to deal with the challenges or reap the benefits of digitally connected lives

The world is changing fast and many agencies are struggling to be relevant let alone predict future needs. In one sense, many children and young people are out there on a new frontier pioneering – and some are alone or inadequately equipped and empowered to shape to their needs what they are experiencing.

Schools tell us how social media has dramatically impacted upon children and young people, changing how many behave in school. While issues such as cyber-bullying are included in the Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum, there remains an underlying question about the resilience of young people and how well-equipped they are to deal with the challenges, or to reap the benefits, of our more digitally connected lives.

If we are to help children and young people to develop the digital behaviours, skills and competencies that we know they need on the new frontier now and into the future, we must adopt a more joined-up approach. Parents/carers and professionals alongside children and young people must learn to live and operate within the contemporary digital landscape. 

Digital skillfulness goes beyond simple issues of access and safety to those of personal and social capital

This core skillfulness can be applied effectively to learning, creativity and routes into employment. But perhaps more importantly it can be seen as an extension of our wider belief in the interconnectedness of empowerment and wellbeing.  The digital is only one aspect of this but it is one that can disproportionately impact on children and young people’s empowerment or disempowerment. This goes beyond simple issues of access and safety, to wider more complex issues of how you use personal and social capital to the benefit of yourself and your community. 

In order to achieve long-term sustainable development of digital skillfulness, we need to nurture and invest in a progressive vision of skillfulness – starting with our early years and Key Stage 1 children,

parents/carers and teachers. Existing creative digital projects often rush to work with children in upper primary school or use digital technologies to facilitate the ‘wow’ factor with teenagers. This is compounded by available funding often being focused on work with this older age group. We must challenge ourselves to think and plan strategically, to consider but not be bound by current employment needs, support equal access to digital skills, and to create vital opportunities to play and explore, design and produce, create and innovate in ways that enhance their lives.


We want Brighton & Hove to be a pathfinder and leader for the country in the development of this skillfulness for all young people, not just a savvy few. All the children in the City should be able to access high quality opportunities to develop digital skillfulness and to be creative and innovative, whether as ‘digital citizens, digital workers or digital makers’ (4).

Moreover, we want older adults – from parents and teachers to employers and creative practitioners ­–­ to explore what this means for their own engagement with these issues and their responsibilities to the young and the City.

Arts, heritage, culture and creative organisations across the City must play their part alongside schools to secure the future of the next generation of creative digital citizens who have a combination of skills and behaviours that make the revolution work for them.  

(1) Select Committee on Digital Skills (2015)
(2) (2014)
(3) Greenfield (2004)
(4) UK Digital Skills Taskforce cited in Select Committee on Digital Skills (2015)