Bridging the Digital Divide
I 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 Now this seems like a crazy, outdated idea.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:
Within 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………….