Key to the success of digital participation work is good planning. There are well evidenced barriers to getting people online:

  • Connectivity
  • Access to devices
  • Essential Digital Skills

The focus of our project was on the latter, Essential Digital Skills, which encompasses motivation and confidence. Planning a digital participation programme of work requires organisations to think about how they’ll address each of these factors, and where opportunities exit in the local community to work in partnership.

Case Study: Chris Milborrow, Southside Housing Association

In my opinion, there is no ‘bad’ digital inclusion initiative – the brilliant work I’ve seen both within and outside of the digital motivators network is always inspiring and is genuinely life changing for those benefiting from them. This account does however, based on some observations, aim to challenge housing (and other sector) organisations to think about how we could potentially increase the impact of our digital inclusion activities on tenants and customers by taking an approach that combines three key components: infrastructure, technology and essential digital skills.

How can each component be used to improve digital inclusion?

  • Infrastructure: provides access to a high quality and affordable internet connection;
  • Technology: provides access to devices and, in turn, to online information and resources; and
  • Skills & knowledge: offers resources and coaching to support users to identify and take advantage of the opportunities presented by digital.

Impact vs. Scale vs. Permanence

When pursued individually, I’d suggest that each of the three options present a tricky trade-off between potential impact (the extent the immediate benefits), potential scale (the reach of the immediate benefits) and potential permanence (the lasting impact of the benefits). The below chart aims to present the various options and these trade-offs:

To give an example: if we are planning to provide a device lending library (giving customers temporary access to tablets, mobile devices or laptops) the potential impact to the customer is high, although the scale is limited to budget/amount of devices in the library. When used in isolation, the lasting impact is relatively low, as the benefits of the initiative stop almost immediately after the customer gives the device back to the organisation.

By applying a more holistic approach, we might aim to combine the lending library with skills sessions, giving customers the option to learn skills while they have the device and to access resources to use after they have returned it. Finally, by introducing the infrastructure component (e.g. we might provide free public Wi-Fi in a block) the customer is then able to use the device at home and browse the internet without having to find a public Wi-Fi hotspot. This will help maximise the impact of resources and the skills sessions, and increase the likelihood of them lending the device in the first place.

In this example, combining the three components varies the potential benefits to the customer and, as a result, increases the chance of creating and sustaining the impact of the initiative.

How can we apply this thinking in practice?

I am aware that, as is often the case, this approach is easy in theory and applying it is far more challenging.

The time and effort invested in preparing a project and completing the planning process properly should result in the following questions being answered:

  • Why are we undertaking this project?
  • What are the expected benefits (for the customer, the business etc.) and how will we know whether or not we’ve achieved them?
  • Could we enhance the expected project benefits by taking a more holistic approach (i.e. by combining infrastructure, technology and skills)? If so, how? What would the implications be?
  • How could we enhance our project by using other available resources?
  • Do the costs and resourcing requirements justify the benefits?
  • Have we agreed an achievable timeline for delivering the project based on the resources available?
  • Who are our stakeholders and how do we plan on involving them?

Challenging the business case using these questions ensures that it is pressure tested. It may then require re-thinking and editing to ensure that the final case has a greater chance of success.

Chris Milborrow, Southside Housing Association

Involving tenants as key stakeholders was a recurring theme for our DMs, and they all had their own methods for taking a user-led approach:

We are looking at holding ‘surgeries’ across the islands and incorporating digital services into this. The timing of our Customer Satisfaction Survey also fits in well to carry out a tenant profiling exercise to gather information about digital services and customer’s preferred method of contact.

Emma McConnachie, Orkney Housing Association

Consult, consult, and then consult some more! Don’t assume because your Board Members want to see a flashy app, your customers do.  Start with your requirements, question what you are trying to achieve and WHY and the journey will take care of itself. 

Charly Lynn, Partick Housing Association

It’s relatively simple to make a start, don’t over-think it, just make small steps to supporting customers and let their needs be your guide. 

John Murray, Port of Leith Housing Association

In 2016 Hanover started talking about a new project to pilot different models of service delivery in local communities. We had lots of ideas about what services we’d like to deliver and ways in which to deliver them but what was missing was a deeper understanding of what our customers wanted and needed. We decided to run a research project with residents to find out what we were missing.

Ben Hallett, Hanover Housing

Over the past year we have progressed the use of digital consultations, and so we are in the fortunate position to be able to identify which tenants don’t engage with us digitally,  either by choice or because they don’t have the skills to do so. 

DMs name, Albyn Housing Association

Modified 5/6/2021 by Gary Harkins