There’s no ‘right’ way to do digital participation, but there are core elements that have proven to be more effective at engaging tenants. Every organisation will take their own approach based on how they are structured and based on the needs of their community.
Regardless of nature or scale, you need to ensure that there are people championing the project. Identifying the right Digital Champions (DCs) is key: DCs don’t have to be digital gurus, but they do need to be good with people, patient and confident in using digital to solve problems.
SCVO promotes the ‘embedded model’ whereby existing staff or volunteers are upskilled to help get others motivated to get online. The embedded model helps make digital a part of day-to-day activities and doesn’t require creating a specific post to deliver, making it a sustainable approach.
***quote from John, Fife Housing Group DC
Case Study: Blue Triangle Housing Association
Hi, I’m Leeanne Murray, I’m a Project Worker at Blue Triangle Housing Association. I work at our Viewpark Project, which is a homeless project for young adults aged 16-25 who require a high level of support. I’m the Digital Champion for the project. My motivation is to help our service users use the internet in a number of different ways to improve their lives and become more connected. Some examples include using Google Translate to communicate to a young Vietnamese person who had been trafficked to Scotland. As his Key Worker I was able to communicate to him using a tablet which his Social Worker gave him. Other staff members used Google Translate on their phones to include him in conversations with other young people. We increased our Wi-Fi connectivity at the project to allow him to watch Vietnamese programmes on YouTube & Netflix. This massively reduced his sense of isolation and now he feels very happy and settled at the project. Without digital we could not have communicated with this young person and he would have been very isolated and vulnerable. Digital provides me and our young people with so many opportunities to learn new skills, complete benefit claims online, pay bills, watch Netflix and sport and communicate to each other. Digital is transforming my interaction with service users
Hi, I’m David, I’m currently staying at a project run by Blue Triangle Housing Association. I’m originally from Vietnam but was trafficked across Europe eventually ending up in London then moved to Glasgow. I don’t speak English and am separated from all my family and friends. My Key Worker at Blue Triangle is Leeanne and she has been helping me since the Local Authority moved me into the project. I have a tablet given to me by my Social Worker and using Google Translate, Leeanne and I can talk to each other which is great. The other staff members use their phones and Google Translate which means I’m not left alone unable to speak to anyone which happened when I first arrived in Glasgow. At the project I am able to use my tablet to get online and keep up to date with what is happening in my country. I can watch Vietnamese programmes on TV and YouTube. I have connected with other Vietnamese people online. I’m now helping other Vietnamese people who have been trafficked. Without digital, I would be very isolated and alone unable to communicate without a translator
Blue Triangle Housing Association – combined DC and tenant case study
Finding the hook
The embedded approach also leverages established relationships with customers, making it easier for staff to find a ‘hook’ to engage in a conversation about digital such as video calls with family or using the internet to explore different hobbies. The hook should initially tap into an interest, and not be housing-related or task-based, like signing up for Universal Credit. This encourages customers to realise that digital is something positive, which then opens the door to conversations about how it can provide benefits elsewhere, including finding employment or accessing government services.
During first appointment [tenant] claimed that she had no digital skills at all and had received a tablet for Christmas 2 years ago which she had never used herself, instead only being used by her grandchildren. She explained that she wanted to try and “keep up with the world” as everything is going more and more digital, something she noticed when trying to get a discount once at Greggs but she was unable to because she needed the app for it, which made her very embarrassed.
DMs name, Glen Oaks Housing Association
***Quote from Janette’s video, West of Scotland tenant - hook
***Quote from Margaret’s video, Hanover tenant – hook
The hook can be built into the design of a digital participation project. Some housing associations have used general areas of interest and incorporated a digital element to help build their tenant’s essential digital skills:
What has worked well for us is the relationships we have built through our community inclusion programme. When our groups express an interest in something digital we are able to support that, we have offered photography classes during walking groups, online shopping through our cooking groups and iPad workshops during pensioners groups.
Rory Brown, Govan Housing Association
Case Study: Orkney Housing Association
Orkney Housing Association has been an active member of the Digital Champions in Housing project; working to embed digital skills support into our day to day interactions between front-line staff and tenants, helping them to benefit from being online.
One example of this embedded digital support approach working well for us was seen recently with our Energy Officer, Robert Leslie, who used his Digital Champion skills to encourage a tenant to get online to help empower themselves to make a positive change to their financial situation.
What was the situation?
The parent of a tenant with special needs who was living independently got in touch about what appeared to be high electricity usage. They supplied me with paper bills, which was how they were paying for the electricity.
I reviewed the bills and explained that the usage level appeared to be within what we would expect for the house and is lower than in previous years. The suggestion from the energy suppliers’ graph printed on the account that usage had gone up, but this was based on inaccurate estimates (by almost 4 units a day) when no meter readings had been submitted.
However, I highlighted that the main issue around cost was the unit prices being paid on an open-ended tariff and by paying in arrears on paper bills, which is the most expensive way to pay for electricity. I suggested that there were significant potential savings to be made from switching to a standard meter and then shopping around for a standard tariff and paying by direct debit.
What embedded digital support did you give?
I suggested they look at a price comparison website before deciding.
As an example, I showed the potential to save over £460 over a two-year period (or over £230 a year) based on the current price from another key supplier, with usage staying at the same level as at present. I stressed that this was indicative, but hopefully an incentive to go down the route I had suggested.
As a result, the tenant decided to go on a price comparison website and was shocked at the potential amount they could save on their electricity costs simply by switching supplier, tariff and going paperless.
What was the outcome for the tenant?
The switch was done by the tenant successfully and although this was completed within the last 2 months, they can start to see savings in the costs. They are now submitting meter readings online every month to ensure their account is kept fully up to date.
They are still getting used to doing everything online, but by providing the extra Digital Champion support, we will ensure their confidence is built and they feel comfortable to manage their electricity account and payments online.
Emma McConnachie, Orkney Housing Association
Through our work delivering the Digital Participation Charter Fund we know that projects that deliver informal, one-to-one person-centred digital skills support work better than trying to deliver digital skills in a classroom setting. This was also the case for our housing DMs:
We have trialled a variety of methods including drop ins, structured sessions and 1:1 session by working in partnership with specialist providers. Anything that is viewed as “teaching” or classroom based hasn’t worked for us, or anything that hasn’t been asked for by the community. However, the brief intervention model where we support with a specific issue – from accessing UC journal to how to play Candy Crush has worked. We dont assume we know what people want. In terms of resident engagement – we establish what they want and try to provide it, rather than assuming we know what they need.
Debs Allan, Linstone Housing
We hope to help break down the barriers that some of our most vulnerable tenants have when it comes to being online, that we provide this support in a fun, informative and supportive climate rather than the traditional classroom environment.
Chris Morrison, Hebridean Housing Partnership
What has not worked is when we have been more prescriptive and tried to anticipate a need. When I first came into post, one of the first things I did was organise computing classes. We promoted it and no one came. We did not ask people what they wanted; I had not spent time building dialogue with our tenants and the local community. That did not work well.
Rory Brown, Govan Housing Association
Our local IT groups have worked really well, we’ve been encouraging people to help each other rather than relying on external help. Every development seems to have a few really savvy people and getting on them board really helps.
Time is my biggest challenge, the people I’ve been working with often need quite a bit of 1-1 support to get them started. I’ve changed the way I run my sessions to include 1-1 appointments both before and after but to make this sustainable on a wider basis I’m going to need more people involved, we’re looking at using volunteers but also at what funding may be available for part-time trainers. We’re making progress but still losing some people which is frustrating.
In terms of what doesn’t work, anything that feels like a classroom is a big no.
Ben Hallett, Hanover Housing Association
Case Study: West of Scotland Housing Association
Lily, 83, has been receiving home visits from our Digital Participation Officer to learn more about her iPad. Here she tells us what it’s been like as she has taken her first few steps into a brand new digital world…
What experience of digital technology did you have before the training?
Very little, I could email a bit but I didn’t do much else. My family thought it was good for me to get online, as everything’s going to be digital soon so I thought I’d find out what it’s all about. I didn’t want to get left behind!
What have you learned in the past month?
Quite a lot of things! I can use Facetime to make video calls and it was such a nice surprise to find out that you can phone people all over the world for free. I have also been learning how to order my messages online which is brilliant. My family do my shopping at the moment but if I go onto the supermarket website and can do it myself, it will save everyone time. My family feel happier when they go away on holiday too because if I run out of food, I can just go online and get the shop to deliver some more.
What do you enjoy most?
I like getting in touch with family, on email and Facetime. It saves me money rather than using the landline, and I have reconnected with friends and some of the nurses I used to work with. It also means I can receive photos – I got a lovely picture from my daughter when she was in Italy recently, and email makes it so easy to share these moments with her.
What’s next then?
I would like learn more about taking photos, so I can send some to other people too. I also want to learn how to complete forms online as they have started sending emails like that from the doctors which I will need to complete. It would be good to be able do my own banking and feel safe with it as well. I wanted to find out more about vitamins I take the other day, and I noticed a 30% off deal online which was great, so I had to place an order! I could only do that because I was shown how to scroll and flick through the screen and use websites like Google to search for information. Practice is important – I’m quite bad at it, but even just keeping my iPad handy next to my chair means I can do a wee bit each day.
Would you recommend the digital training to others?
Definitely, it’s very exciting! I didn’t think I would ever manage it, but my teacher is very patient and I’m doing quite well now. I would tell people to give it a go, there’s so much you can do!
West of Scotland Housing Association
A holistic approach
Many of the housing associations we worked with recognised that Essential Digital Skills were just one of the barriers to getting people online and opted for a more holistic approach, addressing issues of connectivity and devices too:
We are involved in DigiRen which is the local digital partner interface. We are developing a digital participation strategy, by borrowing what works from other housing associations, and piloting services to establish what works and what doesn’t. We have trained 20+ Digital Champions to provide “brief interventions” to ensure that digital is embedded across all areas of the business. We also have publicly available computers and good quality wifi in our 3 community hubs – accessible freely by the communities in which we sit.
Debs Allan, Linstone Housing
We’re still taking our first steps when it comes to digital participation. We’ve committed to rolling out Wi-Fi in the communal lounges at our developments, this is ongoing at the moment. Building a digital programme across 22 local authority areas is tough so we decided to focus on Glasgow and Renfrewshire to get started. We’ve run some IT classes and started up a tablet lending library with help from the Digital charter fund. It’s been tough to find the resources to run classes but we’ve had help from Glasgow Clyde College and we’ve had some success getting volunteers involved in our classes. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time trying to get involved in local digital networks to find what’s already happening locally that we can signpost our residents to.
Ben Hallett, Hanover Housing Association
Now that our employability project has come to an end I am pleased to say I am still hanging on, supporting tenants digitally. As well as running groups for basic PC skills and use of own devices, I also provide one to one coaching and support. Fuel poverty and the roll out of full UC in Renfrewshire has had a massive impact on our area and I spend a lot of my time assisting with UC claims and journal access, comparison sites and other money saving exercises. Our Community Flat has free WIFI which anyone can access and we provide support with all things digital from accessing the internet to creating spreadsheets.
I am very excited to say we are in the process of setting up our new WHA Digital Hub where the community will have access to PC’s, laptops and tablets but can also bring their own devices. As the diary fills up, our Digital Champions will also have more opportunity to become involved in some structured training and one to one support.
Karen Johnstone, Williamsburgh Housing Association
We have tried to create a flexible, multi-facetted approach to digital participation to make positive change at different levels. We have a very specific digital offer for tenants that includes a digital one to one support and a digital lending library.
We also support our wider community through our Digital Hub where we offer access to computers, Wi-Fi, free printing etc. and also run workshops and classes with partners.
Finally, we try to support our partners and local third sector organisations; we convene a local Digital Forum, organise workshops and training and offer a bespoke digital lending library for community groups.
Rory Brown, Govan Housing Association
Case study: Govan Housing Association’s Lending Library
We have been running a digital lending library at Govan Housing Association for almost three years and have found that it is a brilliant way to reduce barriers to digital participation. To date our library consists of 22 iPad, 15 laptops, 3 Digital SLR Cameras, Audio Recording Equipment and a Community Cinema Kit. It has been a very popular service and we would like to share some of our learning from it with these 6 top tips!
- Start small! You do not need to buy lots of devices (at least not right away!), start by offering a few devices out and build your confidence with them. It also provides a great proof of concept should you want to start investing in tech.
- Do not get the top of the range tech! Consider getting devices at a reasonable price point that are attainable to your lending library customers. Many of our users just want to try a device before they consider buying one. You wouldn’t want people to fall in love with a device that they can never afford to buy for themselves!
- Offer one-to-one training and regular contact. This works differently for every user, but we have found that offering an introductory session showing people round the device and then offering follow up sessions every 2 weeks has really helped. People can follow up with questions and issues they have had over the time using the device and you get to check on its condition etc.
- Mobile Device Management (MDM) Tools can save time! Managing lots of devices can be time consuming if you are trying to coordinate, update or set up more than one at a time. There are loads of great programmes for this; we really like Apple Configurator and JAMF.
- Support other organisations! Once you are established and confident, consider opening your library to community groups. Other organisations in your area might like to offer digital workshops or provision but potentially cannot afford the tech. A lending library is a great way to support partner organisations and widen digital access.
- Digital Lending Library and classes work brilliant together! If you are offering regular digital skills classes, giving learners the option to take a device home can be a brilliant way to encourage meaningful learning. They can practice what they’ve learnt at home, they can explore on their own and they can come in on following sessions with questions from their weeks use.
Rory Brown, Govan Housing Association
Case Study: Castlehill Housing Association
Our tenant participation group at Castlehill Housing Association (CaRTO) has devised a pilot initiative to help residents at one of our sheltered housing schemes to get online.
Residents at Queen Elizabeth Court in Fettercairn will learn how to use digital devices to search the internet, keep in touch with their families and use video calling, as part of efforts to help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
CaRTO has ensured that the scheme has secure broadband and connectivity in the common room and has provided means of accessing the internet, which tenants can use at any time. A group of Digital Champions from CaRTO came along to help fellow tenants use the available tools and develop necessary skills to access the wide variety of services available.
We provided 4 tablets, which we have made as user-friendly as possible, and these will remain on site for anyone to pick up and use whenever they like. We started from scratch, beginning with how to turn the device on and access the internet. This was led by Digital Champions from our tenants group CaRTO, who managed to get everyone in the room engaged and involved. I think it was more effective having tenants leading it, rather than me, as they made it more relatable.
They did searches for music and films and there was a lot of animated chat about this. Something that really stood out was a tenant who asked for help to do an online food shop (for delivery the next day!) as he had no means of easily getting to a supermarket himself.
Tells us more about the tenant who was looking for support with online shopping!
Derek lives in a sheltered scheme in a rural location. Public transport links have been cut to the nearest town, and the route to the next town is limited and impractical, especially for people with mobility issues. He had to give up his car recently and has since been reliant upon purchasing his groceries from the local store. The local store has a small and limited range of stock and is very expensive compared to supermarkets.
Derek asked for help to order his food shopping online and have it delivered to his home. He had never used a digital device before and had no experience of being online. We set him up with an email address, registered an account with Tesco and walked him through the whole process of selecting items, adding to his basket, making any changes, selecting a delivery slot and paying for his groceries.
Derek was so pleased that we’d taken the time to explain things to him. He said he could never have managed it himself. Having the ability to order his food online will save him money, give him the freedom to buy what he wants (instead of buying what the local store has available) and will hopefully give him the confidence to explore more online. We will visit him again next week and continue to support him in his online journey.
What’s next for your digital inclusion work?
Digital Campions and I will be visiting the scheme weekly for a very informal digital surgery to keep the momentum going.
The tablets are set up with Webex so that if a tenant is stuck doing something, we can see what’s on their screen remotely and help them out. The scheme is 30 miles away so we can’t just pop in – we wouldn’t want someone to have to wait for our weekly visit if there was something they really wanted to do, so we thought this could be a good solution.
If the pilot proves successes, we hope the initiative will be rolled-out to other sites in the future.
Catherine Coutts, Castlehill Housing Association
‘Being safe, legal and confident online’ is one if the 5 Essential Digital Skills, and the skill that is embedded in the other 4 skills. SCVO recommends that online safety is included in any training session delivered to staff who are acting as Digital Champions as it’s a hugely important competency, and a major barrier for some people getting online.
Over the next couple of sessions we continued to work on [tenant’s] tablet, focussing on a different topic each time to allow her to practice and learn how things work. Frist we set-up an email address for the tenant and I explained all the different inboxes and how to send an email. She was able to send an email to my work address and was very pleased with herself. I made sure to show the tenant some examples of phishing emails and what to look out for, making sure that the tenant understood that this could cause serious problems for her if she was caught up by one of these scams. Understandably this made her worried about using the internet and emails, but I was able to reassure her and explain that the more she used the technology she better she would be at using it and being able to identify scams or phishing attempts. We then worked on using the internet, the benefits, the risks and how to navigate it safely.
DM’s name, Glen Oaks Housing Association
Another issue has been discussing security with people, there’s a lot of fear about going digital amongst our residents.
Ben Hallett, Hanover Housing Association
***quote from Janette and Margaret video case studies about online safety
Building the foundation
Within the SCVO’s Essential Digital Skills Toolkit is the ‘Foundation Skills’ checklist. This is a checklist that covers the basics, such as ‘I can turn on a device’ and ‘I can interact with the home screen on my device’. Some people are starting from scratch, so a good Digital Champion needs to be patient and prepared to help them master the basics first:
For many of the people I work with they are starting from Zero. I think we often assume a basic level of knowledge but some of my residents have never used a smartphone, tablet or computer. I’ve lost count of the number of devices I’ve seen that have been sat in a drawer gathering dust. I used to talk about three barriers, Devices, Connection & Skills but I’d also add interest to that list.
Ben Hallett, Hanover Housing Association
Case Study Glen Oaks Housing Association
[Tenant] was comfortable using her phone for simple things like calls, texts and was able to adjust the volume and turn it off but did not do much else. When asked if she had tried to do anything else she told me that she had, asking her daughter to help, but this would generally end in her daughter taking over the process and completing the task herself, not allowing her to learn how to do it herself.
After the referral I spoke to [tenant] and we decided that a one-to-one appointment would be the best to improve her digital skills. During our first session MB brought her own tablet along as this is what she wanted to learn how to use, to be able to make the most of it at home. It was clear that this had been used mostly by children as much of the memory had been taken up by games and apps which [tenant] had no idea what they were.
Firstly, I explained some of the jargon terms relating to using tablets and what the physical buttons on the device did; home, checking open apps, volume and power. To improve her understanding of the basic way to use the device I showed the tenant how to move apps around the screen to position them how she wanted, allowing her to better understand how the device behaves with inputs.
Once we had moved all the apps that [tenant] thought may be of interest to her to the home screen, we started deleting all the apps that she had no interest in as she wanted to make the tablet hers rather than her grandkids. We then working on searching for apps through her apps page so she can find any app if she can’t find it on the home screen or other pages. I provided some information on basic android inputs to allow [tenant] to look and use this at home in case there was anything she forgot, this proved to be useful as [tenant] told me she used it when using her tablet at home to keep her from forgetting things.
During our next session once, MB had become comfortable using the tablet and navigating the internet she wanted to learn how to buy things online, after having been looking at things herself at home. I supported MB through the process including adding things to basket, going to the checkout, how to add discount codes, set delivery addresses and finalise payment with her card, whilst explaining what safety features were there to protect her, including the emailed purchase order with all the details. Tenant was able to make a saving of £56 through one online order and has continued to purchase clothes and other items at home.
She has made comment that she enjoyed the one-to-one sessions as she felt much more comfortable being able to ask questions that she may have felt embarrassed to ask in a group setting. The confidence she has gained in using her tablet means she is able to use it at home to browse and shop online, keep in contact via e-mail with little fear of doing anything wrong. When asked for feedback on the service [tenant] said:
“He has taught me loads of stuff on my tablet. I didn’t even know how to switch it on….he has taken so much time explaining every detail to me….I can email, do my online banking and shop online too. Without the service I doubt I would have ever used my tablet at all”
Digital Champion, Glen Oaks Housing Association