Brett Sadler

Bridging the Digital Divide

ImageI consider myself quite a tech savvy person and I can certainly see the benefits to #ukhousing staff and customers of being digital included, but with digital inclusion being one of my areas of responsibility, tackling this area has been no walk in the park.

I’ve been drafting a digital inclusion strategy for several months now. It’s not that I can’t write the strategy, it’s that technology is changing so fast.

So let’s go back to the start of my journey. When researching the digital inclusion strategy, two quotes jumped out at me:

  • Research has shown that getting someone online can save them an average of £560 a year and has benefits for education, employment and retirement.
  • The introduction of Universal Credit will also mean that going online is the only way to apply for and manage Universal Credit applications for the majority of those in receipt of benefits.

These certainly set the scene well and are very hard to argue against.

Then there’s the added complication of the methods that customers are accessing the internet. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was talking to our IT department about a PC Loan scheme. Now this seems like a crazy, outdated idea. Once upon a time tablets were really expensive and out of reach for most people, now there is a £30 tablet you can buy (watch this blog for a review on this tablet soon). The same used to apply to smartphones, but these are now commonplace and ‘standard issue’. The pace of change within technology is amazing.

Once upon a time, broadband was seen as the panacea for social housing tenants, opening up a world of opportunities, cheaper deals and jobs. To some extent this is still the case, but the rise of cheap smartphones has opened up a whole other avenue for tenants to be digitally active. Just read this article on the Guardian website – Housing Providers Need to Think Mobile.

There are also lots of articles being regularly published challenging some of our most closely held ideas about digital inclusion and internet use. For example, this article highlights that ‘there is no difference between consumers aged 30 to more than 70 when it comes to general attitudes to online shopping’.

Couple these with the governments push towards Universal Credit being accessed online and it paints a clear picture that organisations need a major shift in focus to offer services digitally and not just to those customers in receipt of benefit.

Recently I was lucky enough to give a talk with Nick Atkin on ‘Housing Goes Digital’ at the Welsh Housing Conference in March of this year. I was able to follow this up with a workshop on the same subject at our staff conference. The results really astounded me.

After the conference talk I was amazed at just how much positive feedback I received from Housing organisations about what we were talking about. Essentially it was about the need for organisations to consider and adapt to the changing digital landscape. This was followed up by my staff conference workshop.

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t sure how our staff would take what I would be talking about during the workshop; essentially that we need to change our future offer to tenants to offer more services ‘digitally’, giving examples of some organisations like Halton Housing Trust and Bromford Group who are already making great strides forwards in this area. Although I know I put a good business case together (and a good Prezi! – for anyone interested, here’s a link to it), I was still amazed at how positive and engaged most staff were. There was a real buzz about the workshop that I naively hadn’t expected. I even got some volunteers to be on our digital first project during the workshops and I hadn’t asked for any!

Following the success of the workshops, I tweeted out pictures of the flipcharts that we’d produced:

ImageImageImageImageWithin minutes I’d received a tweet back from one of our current tenants providing real time feedback on some of the ideas we’d come up with and after a quick twitter conversation, the tenant offered to be involved in the project to give the tenants perspective. What a result!

What this has shown me is that there are ways to bridge the digital divide. One such way is to get as many staff and customers involved as possible. It’s certainly something I’m hoping to build on further and although I know we are still only at the start of this, our digital journey continues………….

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3 thoughts on “Bridging the Digital Divide

  1. It’s great to hear that so many people are on board with what you’re doing, and also fascinating to see the good practice you’ve harnessed from outside of Wales via Bromford and Halton Housing Trust. I look forward to learning more about how this progresses. Keep up the good work!

    – Dyfrig

  2. Reblogged this on Connecting Social Care and Social Media and commented:
    I have been giving a lot of thought recently to digital inclusion and this timely post from Brett Sadler sums up the challenges confronting not only housing but also the health and care sectors in a digitally connected society. The pace of technology change is phenomenal and there is an urgent need for a UK wide cross sector digital vision and strategy.

    With so many different digital projects, pilots and initiatives underway there is a real risk and cost of duplicating services which may already be provided by another organisation in the local area. The paradox is that we are not using technology effectively to connect the formal and informal resources already available in communities.

    About four in 10 people aged 65 and over do not have access to the internet at home while more than five million over-65s have never used the internet. According to academics it would cost £875m to teach the 6.2 million people who lack basic online skills.

    The reality is that just getting people online is not the answer. We need to be investing in building connected communities which acknowledge and celebrate the richness of skills and knowledge available in every street in the country which can be harnessed for the good of a community.

    Whilst I have some concerns with the recent Policy Exchange report suggesting that access to the internet is a panacea for the wider problems of social isolation and loneliness I do believe that we can use digital technology creatively to build networks of connected support around an individual.

    Connected care needs different partnerships and collaborations to transform the delivery of care & support and to bridge the digital divide. The Housing Goes Digital events have really encouraged new thinking in the sector. I would now like to see a series of Care in the Digital Age events which inspire staff and people who use services from across housing, care, health, charities and social enterprises to collaborate in exploring how to embed digital innovations as an integral part of the support available within communities.

    I believe that exciting people about the potential for digital technology to improve and enhance the quality of their lives is the way forward for digital inclusion.

  3. Pingback: 8 months in – is our Digital First Project a success (so far)? | Brett Sadler

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