University research project on digital service delivery

The 100% Digital team are working closely with researchers from Leeds Beckett University’s (LBU) Centre for Health Promotion Research (CHPR) on a pioneering research project: A hybrid future? A mixed-methods study to explore how voluntary and community sector organisations could combine in-person and digital service delivery for adults with learning disabilities and/or autistic people.

The LBU team is researching how voluntary and community sector enterprise (VCSE) organisations use technology effectively to help deliver services for adults who are autistic or have learning disabilities.

The LBU researchers are working with 100% Digital Leeds, Pyramid and VCSE organisations, and with service user, in Leeds to examine hybrid service delivery. This is when digital technology is used as well as, or instead of, in-person activity to provide services. The project will look at what works well and what doesn’t.

The importance of digital inclusion

The pandemic saw an acceleration in the need for people to upskill people around digital technologies. As many essential services were forced to move to virtual delivery people moved online with support from family and friends and other support workers. Despite this rapid progress, there are still many people with learning disabilities, or who are autistic, who experience barriers to getting online. As it becomes ever more difficult to access essential services such as banking, healthcare and government services without the use of the internet, it is essential that these barriers are addressed. Access to the internet can help tackle social isolation and empower people with learning disabilities and autistic people to have independence and autonomy.

Matt Bellbrough, a community partner for the charity Royal Mencap in Leeds, believes passionately in the importance of hybrid delivery:

“Digital technologies can help us to deliver our services and when used correctly, they help our members in their day to day lives. In my role we are all about getting service users as comfortable as possible with modern life through building confidence, learning skills and socialising. As being online has become such a big part of modern life, it’s so important we give our members the tools they need to navigate this world safely.”

Matt Bellbrough, Royal Mencap
Five people in a park, in front of a tree, holding smartphones.
Royal Mencap’s Positive Changes Volunteers experimenting with different apps on a daytrip out.

Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Network (ALaDDIN)

LBU researchers are working closely with the Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Coordinator.

In September, the Coordinator organised three workshops which were attended by thirteen Autism and Learning Disability Digital Inclusion Network (ALaDDIN) member organisations. The workshops were designed to enable LBU researchers to gather information about how hybrid services are being delivered. Members of the organisations reflected on their practice and shares their invaluable experiences of using digital technologies with people with learning disabilities. The information shared will form a vital part of the research project.

Alice Claydon, Creative Programme Coordinator at Pyramid Arts was one of the people who attended a workshop.

“I really enjoyed the workshop: there were a great variety of organisations attending and everyone had a lot to say! It’s so rare that we get an opportunity to reflect on the work that we do with technologies and consider how we can improve our practice. Digital skills are essential when it comes to improving the independence and the wellbeing of our members, and it was great to share ideas of good practice with similar organisations. I’m excited to see the outcomes of the project!”

Alice Claydon, Pyramid of Arts

Two people sat at a desk with arts materials and an artistic interpretation of a laptop.
Pyramid members exploring how they enjoy using digital technologies.

Members of the research team are currently analysing the information gathered at the workshops and will be reviewing and literature available on the topic of hybrid delivery.  Further workshops to follow up the initial sessions will be taking place in November and organisations are compensated for staff time spent in sessions. 

If you are part of an organisation which works with people with learning disabilities and/or autistic people, and you are interested in taking part in this research, please contact

The team delivering this research are: Professor Anne-Marie Bagnall, Dr Kris Southby, Dr Jo Trigwell, Sally SJ Brown and Danielle Varley from the LBU Centre for Health Promotion Research; Nicky Lines, ALaDDIN coordinator; and Amy Hearn from 100% Digital Leeds. 

This project is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) under its Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme (Grant Reference Number NIHR204244). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.