Using digital inclusion to overcome social inclusion among older tenants was a key component of Magenta Living’s Digital Deal activity, which recognised that digital exclusion is overwhelmingly a matter of choice: motivation and perceived value are much greater barriers than lack of access and skills.
Magenta’s solution was to put socially inclusive, ‘deep’ engagement at the centre of their strategy, beginning with a marketing campaign in partnership with local social enterprise Fourteen19, who developed a promotional puzzle book designed to appeal to older tenants that presented information about computers and the internet alongside ICT-themed word and picture puzzles. Magenta followed up their marketing campaign with nineteen digital awareness-raising and learning events between January and May 2014, taking place across their sheltered schemes and high-rise blocks as well as venues in the wider community. Tenants reported that they had been put off by formal, classroom-style ICT training sessions that had previously been delivered in some sheltered schemes, which led project staff to place an emphasis on informality and the social aspect of getting online. Asking tenants to ‘bring your own device’ to events, and providing a troubleshooting service, engaged those narrow and lapsed users who already owned a device but didn’t know how to use it to its full capabilities.
Tenant volunteers were recruited and trained in the specialist role of Digital Friend, centred around encouraging and raising awareness among the uncertain, while Digital Inclusion Promotional Assistants (Magenta staff) concentrated on delivering skills training. One Assistant took the initiative to create a number of printable worksheets to support learning on popular topics including email, Facebook, internet banking and online shopping, recognising that users of computers and the internet often find the familiar format of paper handouts reassuring.
Magenta’s deep-dive approach, with its emphasis on social contact and inclusion, has resulted in a very high ratio of beneficiaries to engagements, with 31% of those engaged going on to undertake training, all of whom went on to transact online for the first time. Internal referrals have further strengthened the offer for tenants and helped to put digital at the centre of support services, with learners in difficulties referred to financial inclusion or safeguarding teams as appropriate.
To improve home access and increase ownership of devices, Magenta worked in partnership with Eco-Systems (formerly Partners IT), who provided affordable recycled desktops and laptops; and Partners Credit Union, who offered low-cost credit to help tenants spread the cost of purchase. Magenta’s wider partnerships includes membership of the Merseyside digital inclusion network, the Residents Inclusion Northwest Group, and a consortium of Housing Associations working with HACT to apply the Wellbeing Valuation framework to evaluate the social impact of community investment activities. Wellbeing Valuation provides a more flexible, applicable approach to social inclusion evaluation than financial proxy models like SROI, and applying this model to digital inclusion programmes recognises that such activity - and how it is measured - should not be separated from wider social inclusion activity.
Finally, Magenta Living is committed to improving their online services portal to make it as functional and usable as possible, especially for new users, and to continue to develop an app for the increasing number of tenants able to access services via tablet or smartphone.
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