Social Housing – Sleepwalking into the digital nightmare?

Another post inspired by a conversation on Twitter, which followed on from my previous post about disruption from the bottom up. The conversation turned to the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions having a target of 80% of Universal Credit applications being made online. This was deemed to be a much too ambitious target by a couple of people working in social housing. My response was that social landlords cannot afford to see it as too ambitious. It has to be met or they risk losing £millions in rent payments.

The other day I was talking to someone in a local authority about getting Our Digital Planet back on the road. He said to me “we’ve tried everything else, so we need to give this a go”.  And I think that’s a key point. If we accept that we need as many people as possible online (and there’s a debate to be had about that, but, in social housing terms, I think it’s an unavoidable necessity), then I believe some pretty drastic action is needed. The people who remain resistent to joining the online world are those who would be characterised as “hardest to reach”. In this, as in other arenas, I maintain there are no “hard to reach” people, if you are finding anyone hard to reach you are using the wrong tactics.

If social landlords don’t get this right, I seriously contend that they are putting millions of pounds in rents not collected in jeopardy, and that is not to speak of the hardship that many tenants will suffer. And I think it needs a lot of painstaking, patient, non-directive, work of the kind we have been undertaking in Our Digital Planet and that done by the Digital Lounge at LS14 Trust. It entails working individually with each person to find the touchpoint in their lives where they can see that digital technologies can make a difference; and it involves working with them over a sustained period to support them in their use of new technologies, not believing that a one-0ff intervention will solve everything.

I go back as well, to my oft-cited contention that people need to enjoy what they are doing if it is to become integrated with their everyday lives. And it is important to think outside the box when seeking to convince people technology has a role to play. That is why I ran the Twicket initiative. A lot more people were interested in watching a village cricket match online than might have been interested in a blogpost on why technology is good for them.

These are the things I think social housing providers need to do, urgently, in order to make sure those of their tenants still not online can make the leap:

  • provide somewhere they can go to for patient, sustained support to get online and carry on using new technologies. LS14 Trust (see video below) is a fantastic model for this kind of operation;
  • Encourage tenants to become digital champions (example project here);
  • Offer free wifi for tenants – here’s an example of a social landlord doing just that;
  • Work with other public organisations and local charities to source and refurbish computers and make them available at low cost to tenants – here’s an example of service like this;
  • Use social media to communicate with tenants;
  • Assist tenants and community organisations to use new technologies and social media to gain wider audiences for their work (like this);
  • Do interesting, innovative things with new technologies that attract attention (like Twicket);
  • Invite Our Digital Planet to your neighbourhood to launch your strategy.

I recently met Nic and Jo from LS14 Trust who are doing just the kind of patient digital inclusion work necessary. And yet they are struggling for funding. Someone needs to step in and address this.

10 thoughts on “Social Housing – Sleepwalking into the digital nightmare?

  1. agree John.
    I have also met the ladies from LS 14 and I think its absolutely awful that projects from grassroots never seem to get funding yet half baked schemes from ‘organisations’ do.

  2. I think a lot of people haven’t yet grasped the reach of the digital expectations of the government – let alone the government themselves. The powers that be have also, sadly, underestimated the capacity of individuals, especially those who claim benefits, to deal with the interweb.

    I was at a meeting last week where a DWP man was standing up and talking about the changes and one of the audience commented about the lack of IT equipment in the local job centre – the job centre was sending claimants across the road to this man’s service based in a Trade Union building..

    I want to know how much has been wasted by the DWP in getting to basically copy and badge it for the DWP.

    Digital strategies are no longer a choice and hmmm those local authorities that don’t have a digital inclusion officer (s) in situ are going to struggle. Volunteers can only do so much from the bottom up!

  3. So true (and thanks for the link to NL Homes and our 4G broadband trial). To get people online they need the means (pc + broadband), the motivation (it has to make sense for them) and the skills/ training to get a good outcome from their online experience. We are now offering to fit our Diamond-net broadband service in all our void properties plus access to cheap pc’s if needed and online skills classes. Not being online cuts down a household’s life chances massively so social landlords need to be at the forefront of tackling digital exclusion if we re serious about improving life haunches for our communities.

  4. Golly! Where to start.

    Yes of course digital technology has massive potential advantages (see 30 Mar 13 New Scientist on not missing the diagnosis of depression)
    and we all live and gain major advantages from living in a “digital” age

    but both the dangers of living in a digit world
    and the feasibility of full internet access for all
    in real life are being massively ignored

    See the same New Scientist on
    a) How otherwise highly intelligent people (like yourself) can get things seriously wrong and in the words of one of their main articles “the more intelligent one is, the more disastrous the results of their (mistakes) – excellent article in Sunday Times News Review on the reality that we have no hope of beating climate change without massive R & D to making Green competitively greener
    b) the very worrying New Scientist article on “lost in clouds”

    It may be worth you yourself or some of your followers providing some feedback to my recently published article “Paper fights back: over 50 advantages of paper” in the British Journal of Healthcare Computing and responding also to the result of my long ICT experience as set out in a “Personal View” article due to be published in the next few days in the British Medical Journal entitled “Paperless records are not in the best interest of every patient. Rupert Fawdry says that a unified paper record of health and social care would improve communication among professionals and institutions”

    As a doctor I have certainly instructed my own GP that under no circumstances do I want my medical record to be accessible to anyone in the NHS who has the right password. If I travel internationally I keep a summary of my medical record on a simple piece of readable paper in my pocket, not on some inaccessible incompatible database in the cloud or on a USB stick which no NHS computer will allow to be accessed for fear of viruses.

    Reliable access at all times to the internet for all will take for far longer than many enthusiasts hope, especially as we get more and more power cuts!

    There is a world of difference between those who at one workplace and at their own home, always have good access, and those like me who find themselves in so many places even in the centre of Milton Keynes without reliable access at all

    And, as you so rightly admit access is not the same as persuading people (even my close highly intelligent relatives such as my sister to whim I have given a iPad) to be happy to use the internet.

    • Rupert

      Like you, I am nervous about the consequences of forcing everyone online. But, in the case of social housing tenants and benefit recipients, they are going to suffer badly if they don’t take the plunge

  5. Great video – LS14’s work is very inspirational. Completely agree that people should work at their own pace and not be shoehorned into courses.

  6. Thanks for all the reaction to this post. As a result of the debate is has occasioned, I am looking at running a workshop about these issues. I will run it at as low a cost to participants as I can manage. If there is anyone who can help keep costs down by providing a venue (preferably somewhere in the Manchester/Leeds general area), lunch, and/or subsidising places for voluntary organisations / un-funded individuals, please let me know. Contact details here

  7. Pingback: No aspirations? No social housing. by workshyscrounger |

  8. Pingback: Digital Inclusion – are the corporates joining the party? | John Popham's Random Musings

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