Digital is vital, it is central, it is at the heart of so much the majority of us do.
But, as we know, that is not true for a significant, if dwindling, numbers of people. I believe it’s important that we help as many of these people as possible to realise the benefits from digital as the rest of us do. But I continue to be frustrated at the way many go about this.
Digital is vital, central and fun. Why then separate it off from the rest of life?
To an extent I am reiterating here, but maybe the message is not getting through. This is what I believe we need to do to make Digital Inclusion mainstream:
- stop separating it off from other activities. If you’re an agency that believes digitally including the people you work with is important, then demonstrate that. Don’t make it the responsibility of one person or one division. Your organisation needs to be imbued with digital, your staff need to be digitally skilled and enthusiastic about it, and they need to want to pass both the enthusiasm and the skills on. Have a look at Halton Housing’s Digital First programme.
- most of us use digital for fun activities. People’s introduction should be fun, or of personal value, or, preferably both. Stop sitting people in front of computers (give them tablets instead) and making them fill forms in, or complete courses. Show them where the fun is, and where they can find information on their personal interests.
- go to where people are, don’t expect them to come to you. Stop putting all your digital inclusion resources in rooms that people have no reason to visit; go to where they are and want to be. Have a look at Leeds Federated Housing Association’s HUGO project.
- Digital Inclusion and community development should be aligned. Digital is so important to well-being and quality of life that I fail to understand how any community development strategy can be pursued which doesn’t put it at the centre. And the techniques of community development are vital to coaxing people to take their first steps in the digital world. Look at the work of Communities 2.0 in Wales.
- Digital Inclusion is not a one-off hit. People need continuing support. And this support is best received if it comes from people like them. We need many more volunteer digital mentors on the model of the Making IT Personal project.
Digital inclusion needs to be fun, integrated, and sustained. And it need not cost a fortune.
Practising what I preach, I produced a video in which I advocate that the future of local government reports is video. This came out of a discussion at the Local Democracy for Everyone: We’re Not in Westminster Anymore event in Huddersfield on 7th February.
I had a conversation on Saturday at the #notwestminster event about Drone bins. Actually, the discussion started when someone asked the question – who will need councils when most services can be automated? This led to talk about which services might be automated, and then whether drones might eventually collect bins. I then chipped in to the discussion suggesting that, instead of drones collecting the bins, eventually technology could be incorporated into each bin to make it a drone. Thus, when the contents of a bin reach a certain weight it could fly itself off to the tip, empty itself and return to its home location.
There was much hilarity, and not a little disbelief when I shared this idea on social media. There was one comment about flocks of drone bins wheeling through the sky against the backdrop of a sunset. Sorry, I can’t remember who made this comment, but it was inspired.
This idea may seem far-fetched. But, think back thirty years and consider how many of the developments which we now, more or less, take for granted would have seemed fanciful back then. In 1985 no one, outside a few government scientists, was using the internet. How could we have predicted how much of our lives would be transformed by online services, and how connected we would all be? The thing about future technological developments is that, if they don’t seem magical or ridiculous, then they probably won’t be worth having. A time traveller from 1985 might have only one explanation for some of the technology we use now; and that is that we have finally discovered real magic.
So the idea of drone bins is a good laugh isn’t it? But, then, so was self-driving cars a few years ago, and those are now on the roads in California, and will shortly be coming to the UK.
Yesterday I walked from my house for 10 minutes and joined a national event. And an excellent event it was too. It was Local Democracy for Everyone – We’re Not in Westminster Anymore. I was pretty staggered when I walked into the Huddersfield Media Centre to find the place packed and buzzing with around 70 people, all desperate to discuss how we can adapt our democratic processes for the needs of the 21st Century. I’m not sure why I was surprised. I live in Huddersfield, I am biased about it, I think it’s a great place. I also think it has fabulous transport links. Using the Transpennine rail line, I can be in either Leeds or Manchester in around half an hour, and there are direct trains to Liverpool and Newcastle. But, the fact that the town does not have direct rail links with the likes of London, and Birmingham had made me believe that people wouldn’t travel here for national events.
#notwestminster proved me wrong. It helped that it was a really good event, with an exciting agenda put together by the people who comprise the Local Democracy Bytes section of LocalGovDigital. There was some great discussions and some very useful meetings of minds. You can catch up with most of what happened via the Storify of tweets here.
And it was really good to catch up with the likes of Ken Eastwood, Tim Davies, Councillors Tim Cheetham, Simon Cooke, and David Harrington, all of whom I hadn’t seen for far too long, and Dave McKenna (and others). And it was doubly nice that they all came to the town where I live, rather than me having to travel long distances to meet up with them. The previous time I saw Tim was at a seminar in London at which he was talking about the reasons why he had abandoned Twitter. The #notwestminster event must have been pretty powerful, however, as it got him tweeting again. Tim has always been one of the wittiest and sharpest contributors to my Twitter stream, so I really hope that this is a permanent return.
I’ll let others blog about the detail of what went on at the event. I’m just writing here to capture some of my impressions of a really good day. I am encouraged that so many people want to contribute to making democratic processes fit for the modern day.That really makes me feel good.
This week was the second Workshop in the Bradford element of the Cricket and Social Media project I am undertaking with the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
Towards the end of the workshop, I asked attendees to suggest their favourite cricketing stories. One person said, “well we did have a naked cricket match at our club once”. That was unexpected, and caused a fair degree of hilarity in the group.
I’d like to thank Colin Beveridge for tracking down the Daily Telegraph report of the match for me. Just goes to show, you can never predict what kinds of stories you are going to uncover.
Last night was the first Huddersfield session in the Cricket and Social Media project I am running with the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board). When I devised the format for these workshops I borrowed the idea of kicking off with a discussion over a curry from the Social Care Curry movement.
So the Huddersfield workshops began at Saims Restaurant. And, judging from what people said at the end, and on twitter later on, it proved to be a great success.
This proves my theory that food is a great facilitator for conversations. Now all I need to do is to persuade all my clients to build a curry into every project I do.
Last night was the first session of the Cricket & Social Media work I am doing with the ECB (England & Wales Cricket Board). I’m running 3 social media workshops for people involved in local cricket clubs and leagues in each of Bradford and Huddersfield. The intention of this work is to ensure that those who play cricket regularly can make the most of social media to engage those who might be casual players, in danger of dropping out, or not know where to go to join a club.
The first session in each location takes place over a curry as a convivial start to the process which breaks the ice and gets the conversation flowing. And last night’s event, held at Omar Khan’s restaurant in Bradford proved to be a great kick off to the process. We had 25 people in attendance, from a wide variety of clubs, and the conversation was wide-ranging. It was evident that some people are already making use of social media, and there is much to build on in terms of experience, content, enthusiasm and ideas. There are so many benefits to be had from regular involvement in the game, and, over the next few weeks, we are working out the best ways to promote and sell these benefits to those who might be undecided about them.
A key issue which came out of last night’s session was how to discourage people from inappropriate “banter” on public fora associated with the clubs. This kind of thing is a minority activity, but nonetheless important for clubs who are trying to build and maintain their reputation, and, in particular, who are trying to attract young people to get involved. And this presents particular issues for clubs whose members are volunteers and not in a position to monitor what takes place in their social media spaces 24 hours a day. Cricket clubs are essentially communities, and one our key aims in this initiative to extend this community spirit into online spaces.
I think we’ve made a great start on this process, and I look forward to telling you more about our progress over the coming few weeks.
I came across this video via Twitter a couple of days ago. It’s a marketing campaign run by Norwegian Airways promoting its new service from Oslo to New York. They have fixed a remote camera to the roof of a special taxi cab in New York City, and installed a touchscreen in a shopping centre in Oslo from which people can manipulate the camera as well as speaking to the occupants of the cab.
OK, it’s a marketing campaign. But I think its a very clever one, and, for me, its important in highlighting some of the possibilities of technology. In the context of the work I have been doing with older people (see here), it shows what can be done in terms of giving people real-time, remote, access to things that are going on elsewhere. There’s some quite sophisticated, and no doubt expensive, tech involved in this campaign, but similar things can be done with much less expensive kit. You could have done something fairly similar to this, if a bit less flashy, with a couple of smartphones.
The event I attended at the House of Lords last week further convinced me that one of the keys to engaging older people with technology is the use of smart TVs, or the adaptation of existing TVs. Something like the Chromecast, can convert a TV into a smart device for only £30, and it will allow people to watch much more engaging, tailored, and interactive content than that currently pumped out by the mainstream TV channels. Controlling a New York taxicam from Oslo may generate headlines, but I believe far more social good can be generated by engaging people in what happens in their neighbourhoods or interest groups using similar methods.
These are some more thoughts on using technology to benefit older people based on my Connected Christmas experience.
I’ve been struck by meeting a number of older people who are actually quite fit and healthy, but who seem to have slipped into a way of behaviour that is almost “expected” of them by society. Like the gentleman I met in Urmston who told me that his confidence has gone, and that means he rarely goes out or socialises in the lounge of the sheltered accommodation complex where he lives. I firmly believe that we can use new technologies to re-engage people like this with their communities, and to allow those who are not so mobile to have some degree of contact with what goes on around them. Instead of people sitting at home, or in a care home, a day centre, or sheltered accommodation lounge, depressing themselves by absorbing the latest bit of back-biting or family-feuding from the TV soap operas, why not engage with something local which has the potential to contribute positively to their lives?
I think these are compelling reasons for increased efforts to to get local community organisations to use social media, live video streaming, podcasting and other methods to cover local events. At Urmston, the video pub crawl proved particularly engaging, suggesting that even simple video tours of the neighbourhood could help to re-acquaint people with their surroundings and increase their sense of engagement with their communities and their former lives. And what could be achieve using gadgets such as Oculus Rift to immerse people in the lives of communities they formerly had strong ties with?
As I often argue, I think we can use technology to “re-humanise” society, rather than going along with the dystopian predictions of everyone forgetting the personal connections while they stare at screens. This is something I think we need to work on, urgently.