Thoughts from Housemark East PIC event
Discussion seemed to show up a fair level of interest but also concerns about resourcing digital inclusion (as well as some questions about whether HAs should be prioritising it over other areas). For me housing associations are uniquely placed to help with many things other housing, although I recognise others see it differently, but I think digital inclusion for tenants is something that housing associations will have to grapple with, whether for social reasons or as Helen Milner says, for business reasons.
Here are a few thoughts developing some of the things raised which I hope will add to the discussion, as well as being of wider benefit:
- Dedicated resources aren’t necessarily essential. Lots of people doing a little can achieve more than 1 doing a lot. Think about opportunities to build digital inclusion into other activities, that don’t always have to be arduous. For example, use existing communication channels to make people aware of low cost hardware and connectivity options, not to mention the real savings that can be made – how many of your tenants might save c.£1000/yr on food too?
- Digital inclusion includes keeping people online too – you can help with this by curating useful links (plenty of pre-curated lists out there to save time with this that you can ‘borrow’ from), promoting online safety. Learnmyway is free online course to help people develop their skills that can help them get more out of being online as well as being something that you can signpost newcomers to with very little support needed. For example if you have a terminal in your reception foyer, someone could get them set up in around 10 minutes (or get them to your nearest UK Online centre)
- Think about areas you are already working in that would benefit by incorporating digital inclusion themes – supporting customers into work (really essential now for all intents and purposes), financial inclusion, customer involvement, even resident activities for older people’s services (group nostalgia sessions on YouTube can be a great hit - although you may be surprised, it could easily be Led Zeppelin rather than Gracie Fields people ask for these days!)
- Partnerships are key – work with other organisations, such as UK Online centres.
- It may not be obvious, but digital inclusion can look very different for different groups. I mentioned segmentation in my presentation – some groups will be easier to address than others depending on your current activities and situation, so it’s worth looking for “low hanging fruit”. You may well not be able to do everything, but you can probably do something!
- Make sure all your staff are digitally included (I hope the business case for this is sufficiently clear already) and make sure they understand the benefits of being online, then they can all communicate them. During adult learning week for example, you could look at doing some micro-teach sessions on some of the key benefits for staff – saving money, enhancing hobbies, etc. Consider whether you can include basic IT skills in person specifications. Providing scope for peer training sessions could help upskill staff for very little cost.
- Digital inclusion can seem costly until you put it into perspective. How many hours of a housing officer’s time is £30-40 (the price of an entry level tablet, admittedly absolute rock-bottom), or how many analogue transactions that could have been replaced by digital ones at around 9p each?
- Some of the objections start to wane in the face of the business case for housing associations becoming (as Helen Milner says, having to become) digital organisations. The resources on the ‘hub are a good place to start to consider that case and think about how your organisation needs to react.
- As I mentioned, be prepared to think laterally about going digital can work for you – it’s not just about doing the same old things but digitally – it offers opportunities to do things in new ways, especially when it comes to interacting with people.
10. Lastly, I had a really interesting conversation with Sarah from Hundred Houses about their house exchanges – apparently around 15% had happened through Facebook rather than Homeswapper! Some customers may be already be online (albeit in limited ways, we fairly often come across people where Facebook is their only current online activity), so it can also be about responding to customer preferences, and working out ways to develop services in line with customer behaviour, rather than top-down digital services.
Anyway hope this brain-dump provides some food for thought – thanks for inviting me along!