The wider role played by housing organisations will likely include skills development as part of its more general efforts to improve the lives of its customers.
Its digital inclusion strategy, however, will have to consider its efforts to incorporate digital technologies into the way it conducts business as a whole, and the inclusion side will look at the work required to support its customers to engage with the digital aspects of general interaction with it.
digital strategy components
A digital inclusion strategy should consider:
- the national strategic context for an increasing recognition of the importance of digital inclusion;
- the reasons for promoting digital inclusion and the outcomes sought (see below);
- the starting point and motivation for customers (who is not included in digital life, access, skills development support needed, literacy issues etc.);
- the starting point for staff in developing their ability to confidently use digital technologies as they develop to support customers;
- the starting point and development opportunities to support ‘channel shifting’ and the use of digital technologies to make processes more efficient, to focus more staff time on this who need face to face support;
- what are achievable goals;
- available resources including potential partner resources and support available from signatories to the Digital Participation Charter;
- alternative activities, the outputs expected from them and their costs (including the potential to share or remove costs through working in partnership);
- issues relating to motivation to be online;
- how to measure outcomes over time in order to see progress against the original aspirations; and
- how to leverage existing, non-digital relationships (information and communications technologies.
housing organisations' wider role and improving the lives of customers
The April 2013 Carnegie Report ‘Across the Divide’ listed the following advantages offered by online access:
- Improved educational attainment
- Better job prospects and flexibility
- Better access to public services
- Cheaper goods and products
- More choice and convenience
- Access to advice, information and knowledge
- Improved communication and engagement with family and friends
- Enhanced democratic and civic participation.
It found that those least likely to have Internet access are the most vulnerable, often living in the socially rented sector. They are likely to be:
- Concentrated in areas experiencing other deprivation;
- Unemployed or on low income;
The report finds that cost will be a significant factor for some customers, some will have a strong preference for face to face contact and some will have fears about online safety.
Some customers will be faced with confidence barriers which will need support to be overcome. Some customers will face literacy barriers to engaging with digital life, which will slow development, but which will improve literacy skills as progress is made.
Even if all transactions with housing associations were digital in nature, a few customers would still require face to face support by housing staff to complete them.
However, if, as Ofcom reports the vast majority of Internet users use it for email and three quarters for shopping transactions, the majority of Internet users, were they customers of housing organisations, would be routinely using the skills required for email communication, but more importantly, already have the transactional skills required to adapt easily to ‘channel shift’.
The digital inclusion agenda focuses on those who do not.
The digital inclusion agenda should include consideration of the question: 'inclusion in what'? If customers are supported to develop the skills required to interact with digital life, and to become better included as a consequence, then while this is a worthwhile aim and will support employability, social interaction, and the ability to be more effective customers, the housing organisation will itself gain little unless in parallel it's developing its own digital interface to its services, supporting a reduction in administrative processing and enabling better focus on customers who need it.
business development drivers
Whether using DL or other back-end systems, it’s a certainty that all housing organisations are dependent on information and communications technologies to manage housing services.
Digital inclusion for customers is more than supporting them to become consumers of other services (e.g. Amazon), it’s about supporting them to interact with services provided by housing organisations, whether by use of a website account or a mobile app..
This could include:
- making payments online;
- reporting faults;
- reporting anti-social behaviour;
- requesting visits;
- applications for accommodation (including transfers for existing customers); and
- updating personal details.
An app could also include sending pictures to illustrate issues.
When considering future decisions about software support, it should be possible to expand the system to include customer interaction. The alternative is to duplicate effort, as customers communicate by traditional methods and staff enter data in housing management software.
There are two routes to enabling direct customer interaction with back-end software:
- purchase of additional modules for use in websites; and
- design of customised systems.
Design of customised systems requires:
- read-access to the database which underpins the housing management software; and
- web (or app) and database design skills;
skills development programmes
Skills development programmes are discussed in the Digital Skills Development section.
Firstly, social media supports both digital and social inclusion by its nature. However, not everyone wants to use it, and there are many platforms, used by different demographics.
Some of us have been around digital technologies to remember the most pervasive, addictive tool used by young people – MySpace, which connected people through musical interest as much as anything else – until Bebo, which almost overnight killed its use, allowing its users to ‘share the love’ with each other – until Facebook, which has become ubiquitous, although with a growing trend for young people to use alternatives which are less likely to have their parents and aunties looking over their online shoulders…
Since Facebook, of course, there’s Twitter and YouTube, which offer very different experiences.
Social media, then is an approach rather than a particular tool, and it's about communication more than information or transaction, which is what websites are for.
It's important to recognise the main limitation of social media, which is that now all of the hoped for audience uses it, and this includes people who are included in the digital world and work largely online (like this toolkit's author, whose accounts exist from professional curiosity rather than a desire to have attention interrupted other than by email and text..).
housing organisations and social media
Facebook and Twitter offer the opportunity to let customers and communities know about events and services.
They also offer the opportunity for customers and communities to let housing organisations know about their views on events and services...
Of the two, Facebook is more likely to be followed by individual customers (as Brian Gannon, Head of Housing and Community regeneration at Thenue Housing Association comments, most of Thenue’s followers on Twitter are other agencies, which is useful in its own right, but not for reaching customers).
Many housing organisations have Facebook presences and they can be used to let people know about events etc., but they can also be used for people to publically express negative views: for example a page review on a housing association Facebook page about waiting for a boiler repair.
What's exciting about social media is that there's no control of views expressed unless the pages are moderated, but as long as negative reviews are replied to and resolved, this can be useful (the highest regarded services are often those seen to resolve problems).
Whether it's a college, a public library service, community learning service or a housing organisation, effective use of social media is dependent on there being content of sufficient interest to people to want to 'like' or 'follow'.
Generally, when social media is contemplated at organisational level, managers are wary. The safe approach is to control the message, which means that the marketing staff look after it, but the marketing staff aren't in possession of the information which people will be interested in. Social media has for many years moved away from its PC origins and into the realm of mobile devices, and it's an instant, almost real-time communication form. Larger housing organisations will be able to feed their social media presence with fairly frequent updates, but smaller ones probably don't have daily or even weekly updates. The solution (not easily arrived at) is to encourage the use of social media updates from a variety of staff - and to provide content which derives from daily interaction with the community, not just housing offices.
The control measures for the risk of empowering employees to use social media are general employment policies and disciplinary procedures.
there's an alternative to having an organisational Facebook page
- and the alternative is for housing association staff to find the local community page instead, and post updates relevant to it - this is more likely to reach people already engaged in the local online social community (but has the drawback that Facebook doesn't want people to have more than one account).
The other big social media platform is LinkedIn, which provides an opportunity for staff to link to others with similar professional interests for professional development purposes, and the opportunity for organisations to advertise vacancies for specialist positions.
guidelines for using social media
there are many sets of guidelines for using social media available and there would be no useful purpose in replicating them here rather than linking to them, so below there's a set of useful links to work done by others: