Glasgow Housing Association
The Kirkton Avenue Digital Demonstrator project was established to test and prove the technological and social benefits of connecting households at an affordable price point in a single high-rise tower block to the internet. This was achieved through WiFi and the gift of a tablet device to households who participated in the study. Over the course of one year and using BMG, a third party research company, GHA learned much about digital inclusion which in turn influenced its developing Digital strategy. GHA was also able to share the findings more widely with Scottish Government and others for the development of digital inclusion strategies across the social housing sector, especially in Scotland.
summary of project
Using the data and the cost information, GHA was able to project the business case costs for providing internet access to all of its social housing tenants, many of whom are on low income and either can’t afford it, or even if they could afford it, many don’t yet see the value of using the internet.
The project is part of a wider digital inclusion drive supported by the Wheatley Group, known collectively as 'Click and Connect', which invests in:
- the John Wheatley Learning Network, which introduces digital inclusion services to 30 community centres in partnership with Glasgow Kelvin College (both larger 'Click and Connect' centres which facilitate tutor support from the College, and smaller centres described as 'Click and Connect Lite';
- access and training for staff and work experience trainees through the provision of branded learning centres, support from partners such as Jobs and Business Glasgow and SQA volunteers and a digital skills analysis
- WiFi provision in local offices and sheltered housing common areas starting in early 2016; and
- new centres and further extending the Learning Network beyond Glasgow to support tenants and communities of GHA’s sister housing associations in the Wheatley Group.
The project was intended to demonstrate possibilities for affordable connectivity and digital inclusion, and to further learn lessons about the use of digital technologies in households.
Lessons learnt from the project were supported by research conducted by BMG Research.
The study was extended through 2015 and then further extended until August 2016. This extension has provided an opportunity to carry out additional research and to learn further lessons about the use of digital technologies in social tenancy households, for example tenants were engaged in testing the roll-out of GHA’s online services in late 2015
who is it aimed at?
All tenants in a multi-story block of flats. Of the 138 flats, six were let to Glasgow City Council for temporary furnished accommodation. Of the remainder, 78 households agreed to take part in the study (60%).
how is it funded?
The project received £70k of funding support from the Scottish Government, , which covered the capital costs. Revenue including customer support, surveys, tablet devices and annual maintenance are all funded by GHA.
housing organisation resources provided
GHA provided officer support including local housing officer engagement and in the first year a proportion of time by a project manager and a project officer.
what partners are involved?
GHA, Scottish Government and BT
Technical challenges were overcome by using supplier expertise (BT)
Some tenants were resistant to having connectivity supplied, despite the service being provided at no cost to them (consistent with the findings of the Carnegie reports 'Across the Divide' and 'Digital Participation in Dumfries and Kirkcaldy', which found that "the most significant barriers to people going online ... are a high level of comfort with being offline and specific concerns about unknown aspects of the digital world. In particular, those who are not online simply prefer doing things in person or by phone or have family members or friends who can go online for them"). Nonetheless, removing financial barriers meant that significantly more people were prepared to try 'being digital'.
BMG conducted three face to face interviews with tenants in the block, the first before the study started to provide a baseline position of internet usage, the second after six months and the last one after one year of using the internet. Numbers of those responding to the surveys changed due in part to tenants moving away from the building and in part due to no access at the times of survey visits.
Collective provision of Internet connectivity reduces costs (with a mean saving of £47 annually) and increases the number of people prepared to try Internet connectivity.
The following is extracted from the final BMG report into the project (final results from 38 households).
While at the outset 71% of people expected their partner to use the Internet, and 29% their children, 83% of households participating saw their children use the service, and 33% of partners.
Despite free access, trust in providing personal details online is a common reason for tenants not using the Internet to pay for 'financial and household bills'. This has implications for promoting the security of housing organisations' online services and supporting general safe practice.
At the interim stage, 86% had used social media, and this increased to 95% at the final stage (100% of those aged 16-44). 14% had used the GHA Click and Connect Facebook page.
During the study, for the first time, 62% of tenants used search engines, 41% used email, 38% browsed the Internet and 32% completed application forms.
74% of tenants became more familiar with basic online skills during the course of the study (53% said 'yes, definitely', 21% 'yes, a little').
71% had improved their level of confidence in using the Internet (82% were more confident in requesting online services and 68% in paying or completing applications bills online)
The most commonly visited websites were YouTube, Google, Facebook and Amazon.
53% of tenants had used GHA online services at the end of the study, compared with 33% at the outset. 26% had reported a repair need online at the end of the study, although none had at the start.
79% reported benefits from having the Internet connection, including helping with studies, household duties, applications to college, and looking for homes (32% had searched for a home using HomeFinder (GHA's choice based letting product) by the end of the study, compared with 22% at the outset).
62% had searched for employment online by the end of the study (57% of these for the first time) and 32% had created a CV as part of this process at the end of the study, 73% for the first time, and 9% credited gaining employment with being online.
65% said that having an Internet connection at home helped them or their children with their education (96% of those in education).
76% of tenants said that they had saved money as a result of having the Internet at home: 27% through greater choice online,. 27% saving on phone bills, 23% by online discounts. two thirds of tenants at the interim stage said that they had saved in excess of £100, with a mean saving of £187. This mean saving reduced based on those completed the final end of study survey to £47.
Despite the significant advantages of home connectivity outlined above, 35% of tenants at the end of the study said that they would not be prepared to pay £1 a week for 5gb of data (explained as enabling about 25 hours surfing the Internet and sending in the region of 200 emails per week), although 60% of those who had not previously had a connection would pay for one at the end of the study, and 67% of those who said they would be prepared to pay as outlined above would be willing and able to pay more for more data. This implies that there will continue to be a need to support customers through face to face and slowmail mechanisms, and highlights the need, if the efficiencies possible from digital service are to be realised, for housing association staff to be equipped with the skills to use digital technologies to record transactions and services online themselves as part of customer interaction, for example through using portable devices which synchronise with back end systems when in the office environment.
Graeme Hamilton, Innovation and Online Services Manager, Wheatley Group Graeme.Hamilton@wheatley-group.com
James Duff, Project Officer, Wheatley Group firstname.lastname@example.org