Digital Inclusion – it’s about confidence and capacity; not training

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I’m just back from two great days in East Suffolk delivering digital inclusion sessions in Lowestoft and Felixstowe. These sessions were a pilot for East Suffolk Councils to find out what works before they roll out a wider digital inclusion programme for residents in the districts. I met some lovely people, and, as always I was learning perhaps as much as they were.

As you probably know now, I have a particular approach to digital inclusion which is based on the following principles:

  • Go to where people are, don’t wait for them to come to you;
  • Reasons for using the internet are different. Some can be harder to find than others;
  • No one voluntarily begins using the internet because they want to access Government services;
  • Most people use the internet for fun. The newcomer’s introduction should also be fun;
  • Show people what others do with the internet. They might want to join in;
  • Demonstrate that internet use is a part of “normal”, everyday life.

One thing of particular note which came out of this for me was that a number of people present at the sessions reported that they had had their introduction to new technologies soured by classroom training approaches that tried to teach them content irrelevant to their lives at a pace that left them behind. They found this experience intimidating, confusing, and boring. And it had taken them some time to re-find their interest. The feedback I had from my sessions suggested that they had now turned that corner and were on the road to making digital part of their lives. I think all of us who believe that digital inclusion is vital to people’s health and wellbeing need to raise our voices against all the wasted resources that go into classroom approaches. I am seeing increasing evidence not only that they don’t work, but that they are actually counter-productive.

My time in Suffolk further confirmed to me that the individual nature of each person’s reasons for digital exclusion means that individualised approaches are necessary, and that these approaches need to be patient and long-term. There is no quick fix. We have to remember that digital inclusion work of one kind or another has been going on for 15 years or more. Those who are still not on board are the most resistant, and probably have the most complex issues around why they are not online. These factors have to be unpacked and addressed, sometimes one-at-a-time. And one of the key components of this approach is that people have to be encouraged to love digital enough to want to keep at it, using digital devices and getting fluent with them. I have seen that it is very easy for people to slip back into exclusion if they don’t keep practicing. And they won’t keep practicing if they don’t like what they are doing.

Some of the other interesting issues which emerged from these sessions included:

  • the lady who refused to believe that the product we found on eBay was genuine because it was less than half the price she was used to paying for it in the shops. I think she was eventually convinced by my efforts to show her how to use buyers’ feedback to check whether the seller had a history of offering genuine products (they had almost 99% positive feedback). It is apparent that people who don’t use the internet don’t have a clue about how much money they could be saving if they researched products online;
  • numerous participants who had been subject to scam telephone calls claiming to be from Microsoft or “Windows” and offering to solve computing problems. One participant had actually gone through with the process, but fortunately his daughter had intervened and cancelled his debit card and wiped his laptop before he could lose any money. But even those who had not succumbed said things like “they were so convincing”, “what he said rang true because I had just been given a new computer”, and “but how did he get my number?”. There is a shocking lack of knowledge among digitally excluded people about how randomised computerised systems work. They don’t realise that it is perfectly possible for them to be chosen at complete random by a system that dials millions of numbers a day. They think there has to be a reason why they were chosen for the call. And they don’t understand that a stranger on the end of a phone line cannot possibly have any idea of the state of their computer;
  • quite a few of the participants didn’t have any close relatives alive. This meant that they hadn’t felt the need to learn to use the internet to communicate, they didn’t have family to show them the ropes, and they didn’t have anyone putting pressure on them to join in online conversations;
  • One of the characteristics that many digitally excluded seem to share is a lack of curiosity about life. This is a real barrier to overcome. It means both that they don’t welcome opportunities to learn new things, like how to use the internet, and it is hard to get them excited about the potential for access to the online world to open up new vistas and opportunities for them;
  • The pressures to use online services are getting to the point where some can no longer resist. This was certainly a factor for a number of participants. The trick, from my point of view, is to prevent these pressures from making internet use seem a chore, rather than a pleasure.

All these issues means that we have to stop trying to push people through systems designed around numbers of outputs, listen to their needs, wants and fears, and address them patiently and sympathetically.

Please get in touch if I can help you work with your clients to address similar issues

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Dementia-Friendly Group Video-Conferencing?

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Last week I was working at the 2nd North Wales Dementia Meetup (#DementiaNWales). I will blog more about that when I get a chance, and there will be a lot of video content to catch up with soon. But, in the mean time…

I ran a couple of sessions about using technology to make life easier for people with Dementia. In one of the sessions there was an appeal to find a Dementia-friendly group video conferencing app so people can keep in touch with each other.

Personally, I think it must be the case that something suitable already exists. A few months ago I would have confidently said that I think Blab is the one. But then Blab was closed down.

So, is there one that exists, or do we need to invent it? Google Hangouts has been significantly simplified in recent months, but still, when I tried to use it with a group with low levels of digital skills, the majority struggled to access it. Another candidate is HouseParty, an app recently launched by the founders of the demised live streaming app, Meerkat.  Would either of these do the job? Or, of course, there is always Skype, tried and trusted to many now, and offering group video chat as a relatively recent development.

I’d be very interested in people’s views (please leave a comment below) on what the issues are for people with Dementia in accessing group video chat, and whether any of the apps I have suggested might do the job, or does the perfect tool need to be created?

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The Christmas Advert for Social Good?

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It’s that time of year again when the retailers are releasing their Christmas adverts, their intention being to tug at your heartstrings to persuade you to spend your hard-earned money with them rather than their rivals. And, for the last few years at least, they’ve been crafting them in ways designed to ensure that lots of people want to share them via social media.

All this effort, all this time, all this money put into making us want to buy things. Wouldn’t it be great if similar resources could be put into persuading people to be kind to each other, to help those in need, and to build a better society. Could you do it. Could you tell your story, the story of the good work you do, and of how you are making lives better, in the style of a Christmas advert? Go on, have a go!

I am passionate about the power of Digital Storytelling and I want to help all organisations and individuals to gain the skills and capabilities to tell their own stories to the world. If you share this objective, and just need a little help getting there, please get in touch.

PS.

Sorry about the creepy video

 

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Love, Care and Happiness: Telling The Story of Great Social Care

2016-09-20-13-45-21As you may know I’ve been doing some work with Calderdale Council‘s Adult Social Care service to tell the story of how Social Care is being delivered in the district in very trying times.

There can be no denying that Social Care is suffering due to the twin pressures of budget tightening and increasing demand. In many areas this is resulting in collapse of services which are buckling under the pressure. And yet, wherever I go in Calderdale, people keep telling me that things are different, that difficulties are being overcome, and that good quality social care is being made to work. As far as I can tell, this is being achieved by a combination of imaginative and flexible commissioning by the Council and managers and staff of providers who are prepared to go the extra mile. And, in the main, they do this because they care. A good friend of mine, Mike Chitty, once said to me “people can’t be paid to care”. I think he is absolutely right, but it is also true, in some cases, at least, that caring professions attract caring people, i.e. people with heightened degrees of empathy and a mission to help their fellow humans. Could it be that there are more of these kinds of people in Calderdale than elsewhere? I suggest this is unlikely, but from my experience, they do seem to be harnessing more of such people’s talents and enthusiasms in pursuit of common goals.

And I think it is vital that we tell the story of how this is all happening so others can learn from it. As I often say – if people doing good work shy away from telling their story (often shrugging and saying “I’m just doing my job”), they leave the way open for others to distort what they do (look at TV programmes like “Benefits Street”, “On Benefits and Proud”, etc.).

So, here is the video diary I shot after visiting Valley View Care Home in Halifax. This is where I started expounding my view that the ultimate aim of social care providers is to ensure the happiness of the people they care for, and that, thus, Social Care is the Happiness Business.

And then I met Mark Coup, Owner of Welcome Independent Living, based in Hebden Bridge, who told me some great stories about how his staff go beyond the call of duty to show they care.

At the end of a day when I had flitted around the District visiting providers and advocates in Halifax and Todmorden, I paused before getting back on the train to record this video diary in which I, a bit off the cuff, tried to sum up what I had seen and what I thought summed up a great Social Care provider. I think the basic agreements are Love, Care and Happiness.

And so, here is the video I was making, which kind of sums all this up in the words of those running great social care organisations, and some of the self-advocates who work with Lead the Way, and the Council.

If you’ve got a great social good story to tell, and would like me to help you tell it, please get in touch.

 

Internet Radio for the Technophopic?

Over the last few months, I’ve met a few people whose older Irish relatives living in the UK are distressed because RTE Radio has ceased broadcasting on Long Wave and can therefore no longer be received in mainland Britain. This has prompted me to restart an investigation I mused about a few years ago.

It is, of course, possible to listen to RTE Radio anywhere in the world via the internet. But with the Irish diaspora, as with many other groups, there is the issue of older people who rely on it but are not capable of making the switch to online listening because they are not comfortable with new technologies. So, is there an option for listening to internet radio that is very easy for someone who is technophobic?  There are a number of standalone internet radio sets, but I have never come across one which is particularly user-friendly (please let me know if I’ve missed one).

So, I have been thinking about a couple of potential options. One is Amazon Echo, which has recently arrived in the UK. This would definitely do the job, as Adrian Scaife of Tunstall Healthcare demonstrated for me when I visited Tunstall’s Mary’s VIP Home back in July. The video of that demonstration is below.

The Echo is a great device, but £150 is a bit pricey for many people. Especially if its main use will be as a radio.

So, another option might be to get a cheap Android phone, some are going for as little as £30 these days, and set it up so that you can use Google Now to voice-activate radio stations through the Tunein Radio app. The issue with this is that you’d probably need to connect it to a decent speaker for it to work effectively, which will add to the cost and make it a bit more complicated. Of course, if the person already has speakers or a hifi system they could plug it into, that might solve the problem. And perhaps if the person has a relative who has upgraded their mobile phone, they could donate their old phone for this purpose.

I’d be interested if anyone has other solutions. This could really help some older people who rely on familiar voices from back home. It would not just be good for people of Irish origins, but for all kinds of other groups as well, and even for people, like myself, who live far away from where they grew up, but might like to listen to local radio from back home.

Any other ideas?

 

Don’t Let Them Tell You The Web is Isolating

Carnegie UK Trust has produced a great piece of work on Digital Participation and Social Justice in Scotland, you can find it here. It a fantastic report, not least because it is short and to the point. It is focused on Scotland, but those of us who work in digital inclusion can see that it applies equally to the other countries of the UK; or anywhere else really.

It is important because it is evidence. And, for me, one of the most striking factors about it is that it demonstrates how people who use the internet are better connected, healthier and more prosperous. The “better connected” thing is worth thinking about. I am really fed up of people who keep telling me that the web and social media are isolating us, making us lose our communication skills, making us stop talking to our friends. When the reality is that its effect is the exact opposite of all those accusations. It brings people together, helps us find new friends, and helps us communicate in new ways. Here is the evidence.

So the next time someone tells you the web is isolating, and they’re the kind of person who wants to see a report before changing their opinion, show them this one.

Addressing the Web Skeptics

Last week I presented at the ARCH (Association of Retained Council Housing) Tenants’ Conference in Leamington Spa. My theme was about Digital Engagement of Tenants. At the beginning of the afternoon workshop, I asked who, in an audience of about 40 people, had never used the internet. 2 men at the back of the room put their hands up, so I told them I hoped I would have convinced them they were missing out by the end of the session.

So, at the close of the workshop, I asked the 2 skeptics if I had changed their minds. One wouldn’t say anything. The other proudly told me he had not changed his view and went on to expound his theory that the internet has stopped people from learning things. That, because people now have information at their finger tips, and access to tools such as spell checks, there is no incentive actually to learn things any more. I explained my view, that having the internet at our disposal encourages us to be more creative, and to use the parts of our brains formerly dedicated to storing information for activities which allow us to deploy our skills and abilities to more effective ends. He wasn’t having it, I’m afraid.

Fortunately, I got a lot of positive feedback from the remainder of those present, and a number of people came forward to tell me I had inspired them to want to use the internet in ways which had not previously occurred to them. But I couldn’t help thinking about those two skeptics and all the things they are missing out on. The truth is the opposite of what that man claimed it to be. Closing one’s mind to the possibilities offered by the web is the ultimate act of refusing to learn. I personally will not rest until I have got everybody to understand that.

The view from my Belfast AirBnB appartment

Why I Never Believe in Stereotypes

The view from my Belfast AirBnB appartment

The view from my Belfast AirBnB appartment

Last week, I spent a couple of days in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. My first ever visit to either, despite my maternal grandparents being Irish. I really wish I had gone before, I had a great time in both Belfast and Dublin, both when exploring the cities and when working. The work bit was delivering a couple of workshops on “Engaging Tenants Through Social Media” for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH). I met some really lovely people at the workshops, and I hope to be back to see some of them again soon.

This post is about stories, you probably thought it might be. I stayed in places I found through AirBnB in both cities. My host in Belfast was a really lovely man. He told me he was born in India and had lived in Belfast for the past 8 years. When I asked him how he found it, he said “this is the calmest and most peaceful place I have ever lived in”.

That phrase really struck me, because, I would like to bet that most people who have never been to Northern Ireland, but who, like me, grew up while the “Troubles” were at their height, would probably think that “calm” and “peaceful” would be the last adjectives anyone would think of to describe Belfast. But, the reality is that the city has been pretty much peaceful since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

What this said to me is that you should never judge a place until you have experienced it. I believe that about people and organisations too. That’s why I am committed to helping people tell their own stories, and advise that they don’t let others do it for them.

I found Belfast to be a lovely city in my brief stay there, and I can’t wait to go back. Don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you it’s a grim, troubled place.

The story of my trip to Belfast and Dublin can be found here.

The Big Fidh

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Time for a Social Housing Sharing Strategy?

You’ve probably heard a lot about the Sharing Economy, but you might not know what it actually is. There is some debate about this. At its heart it is about people using their assets and skills for economic benefit. Some argue that that the more apt name is the Rental Economy. Examples of this kind of activity are things like AirBnB, Lyft, and Uber. What people are doing in these examples is not really sharing, they are renting their assets out. There are examples of sharing where people barter goods and services, but what the new wave of so-called sharing platforms do, is basically to use the internet to allow people with resources to offer them for hire to those who need them. Is it really sharing? Well, no, but, for the seller it can open up otherwise unused assets to generate economic benefit, and for the purchaser it can enable them to afford to do things they otherwise would not. I was prompted to write this post by news of the launch of Waze Commute, which allows commuters to find drivers commuting their way and pay them a modest amount for joining them for the ride.

It seems to me that social housing residents could benefit greatly from greater application of these kinds of approaches, but that they are probably benefiting least from them. I have been encouraged in recent years by the growth of the Asset Based Community Development movement, which emphasises the strengths available in communities rather than the deficits, but I’m not sure how far that is being translated into the economic sphere.

And a major consideration in all this is the relatively high level of digital exclusion among social housing tenants. While the so-called sharing platforms thrive because of ubiquitous internet access, and, particularly use of mobile internet, many social housing communities remain excluded from this party. I know as well, from personal experience, that some social housing tenants can be resistant to embracing the internet because they are reluctant to share their personal details and data online. So, I would suggest that any strategy to realise economic value from assets, skills and services in low income communities must have a digital inclusion strand at its heart.

I believe we need to start a debate about how social housing tenants can be included in the “sharing economy”. Who is up for that? Mabe a Twitter chat, a roundtable, or an actual event?