What a long trip to Cornwall taught me about the need for online access to events

Last week I was in Cornwall. A long way from home for me. I was there because I was delivering some Digital Inclusion training to the staff of Coastline Housing on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Housing. Cornwall is somewhere I have visited a handful of times for professional reasons over my working career, and I have also been there for holidays 3 or 4 times. Distance is a relative thing. Cornwall is a long way to travel for me, living in West Yorkshire, but it may not be so far for you wherever you are reading this. The geography of Britain means that the North of England can feel a long way from the seat of power in London, but, in the North of England, at least we have the advantage of some relatively fast connections to get to London and elsewhere (don’t get me started on HS2, though). Cornwall, on the other hand, is a peninsula. I was reminded during one of the sessions I ran, that Redruth, where we were, is 3 hours away from Bristol. So, you might travel to Bristol and think you are in the South West of England, but you can keep going for another 3 to 4 hours and still not fall into the sea. To get there, I took a train to Leeds, then spent 6 and-a-half hours on another train to Plymouth, and then another 90 minutes on a train from Plymouth to Redruth. If you live in Redruth and want to visit London, it will take you 5 hours on the train. It’s a long way from London, the Midlands, or the North of England to Plymouth, but the train gets there relatively quickly. Once the train leaves Plymouth and heads over the River Tamar into Cornwall it moves a lot more slowly and stops at every little rural station.

I could have flown to Cornwall, it takes not much more than an hour to fly from Manchester to Newquay. But Newquay is still quite a long way from Redruth and the logistics of getting from one place to the other proved difficult. So, after considering all the options, I decided to treat the challenge of spending nearly 9 hours (each way) on trains as an opportunity to get some work done. And I resolved not to complain about it, reasoning that this was an everyday occurrence for the people I was travelling to work with. But, during one of the sessions that I ran in Redruth, participants talked about how their geographic location hinders them; how they find it hard to get to conferences and events; and one particular story about a good practice visit to the North of England involving two hire cars and a plane journey. So, it seems, that even living day-to-day in a “remote” location doesn’t mean you can take the travel difficulties in your stride. In fact it probably means that you just don’t have access to a lot of opportunities that others take for granted.

None of this will come as any surprise to anyone who lives and works in a rural area, or somewhere else at distance from the main sources of population. It is a real issue. And yet it is an issue to which we have the solution. But it is a solution which is still not being used anywhere near as widely and effectively as it could be. Scroll back to earlier in the same week, I was in London (yes that place, the centre of power in Britain) live-streaming the Patients’ Association AGM (video below). That organisation commissioned me because they wanted to take their first steps towards ensuring that their business is accessible by their members wherever they are in the country. In an era when we have the ability to reach beyond the rooms we are in and invite others to join our discussions, why are so many organisations still resistant? This is a genuine question. I’ve been live-streaming events for close on ten years now but there are still too many organisations who don’t want to open up their events in this way. Not only that, but it’s very evident that if you live-stream an event in the evening or at a weekend you get a lot more engagement. And I think that is because people don’t feel able to watch live-streams while sat at their desk in the office. It’s not true that engaging with an event through a screen is the same as being in the room, but it is a good option if you can’t be there. I think people erect unnecessary barriers to engagement with events online, and I think we need to break down those barriers. I’ve long believed that the ability to reach out to anywhere in the world using the internet should change the way we work. In the context of organisations such as the Patients’ Association, their mission is to involve people in influencing how health services are delivered, and that is more effectively done if they are reaching out to members wherever they are.

So I believe that we need to drive a big culture change. The first is in organisations who need to see that involving people who are not in the room is a major aid to their work. Beyond that, climate change means that we need to reduce the need to travel to events, and we can lower travel and accommodation budgets. Now I know that a lot of organisations make some or all of their income from running events, but I also believe that there will always be people who want to be in the room, and if live-streaming an event proves to depress numbers attending, then incentives should be offered to attendees.

The second element of culture change is that organisations should be encouraging their staff to seek out and watch live streams of events as alternatives to attending them. And sitting at your desk watching a live-streamed event should be seen as a perfectly legitimate thing to be doing.

And finally, we need to break down the reluctance that many people seem to have in engaging with live-streamed events. People are quite happy to watch “X-Factor”, “Strictly Come Dancing” and “The Great British Bakeoff” on TV and get immersed in the action, but they treat not being in the room at a conference as meaning it is not worth bothering with. Now, there may be a challenge here to event organisers to make their events more engaging, but that would benefit those in the room as much as it would those watching online.

Put yourself in the shoes of people living or working in areas where travel to most events is difficult or impossible. They are missing out on so many opportunities that the rest of us take for granted. And I speak as someone who regularly complains that events being held in London makes them inaccessible to those of us in the North of England. We owe it to those people to open up those events to remote participation. I want to go further than live streaming. I want to have rooms full of people in different parts of the country interacting with each other and providing active input into events. There are so many possibilities but we are being held back from realising their potential. So I am looking for partners to help me develop a comprehensive service to make crucial events in the public and non-profit sectors truly open and interactive. Contact me if you want to be part of this.

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Why I do Digital Storytelling

This is a brief post about why Digital Storytelling is so important to me.

I believe the world needs to change so that there are more opportunities for people to improve their lives, so that organisations are more responsive to people’s needs, and so that power structures are more representative of the diversity of society.

Every day I come across examples of great initiatives which are contributing to these objectives, but all too often they exist in isolation from each other and from policy and power mechanisms which could translate them into coherent social movements.

As an example, I have only today seen someone from a major organisation revealing in a tweet that they have only just become aware that Britain has a Housing Crisis.

The digital storytelling I do aims to shine a light on people and organisations doing great work to make the world a better place. The most powerful stories of all are those which enable the people who benefit from such work to describe and demonstrate the difference it has made to them.

Here are some examples:

Most people think that social care is in terminal crisis. While no one could deny there are huge problems, every day millions of people work to deliver the best care they can in challenging circumstances.

Policy makers have for years believed that Britain’s South Asian communities did not want professional social care organisations interfering in their family relationships. Probing beneath the surface can reveal the truth.

All too many people believe that a diagnosis of dementia is a death sentence. Events like the North Wales Dementia Meetups prove that people can continue to live fulfilling lives with the condition.

It is not true that older people don’t use technology. Some get great benefits from it, but most don’t. Here are some of those who do use it to enhance their lives.

And sometimes it’s all about having fun.

 

I’d love to help as many people as possible to use this kind of storytelling in their work. If I can help you, please get in touch

The Antidote to Poverty Porn TV

Last night I was at a great event at Salford University launching the “Fair Press for Tenants” guide for journalists, produced by Benefit to Society a collective of organisations which has come together to promote positive images of tenants to counter the negativity which often features in mainstream media. Their message is music to my ears as it is a theme I have been focusing on for the best part of the past 5 years.

It was a great event, and there were some wonderful people there. I think the guide is great, but, as I pointed out in the discussion, journalists are not the only people who need to be focused on with this message. Certain politicians have been cheerleaders in stigmatising social housing tenants, and the people who make programmes like “Benefits Street”, “How to Get a Council House”, “On Benefits and Proud”, and “Skint” are generally not journalists, nor are the programme commissioners at organisations like Channel 4 and Channel 5 who decide they should be made.

It was particularly interesting to hear from Eric Smith about the experiences of living in Wythenshawe, South Manchester when “Shameless” was being made, and the impact that had on outsider’s perceptions of the area. After the event some of us had a discussion about whether we could make our own programmes which are the antidote to poverty porn TV. I am definitely up for that if we can raise the resources. Who’s in?

Housing Vote 2017

This is the start of the Campaign to get Social Housing tenants in the UK to register to vote and to be enabled to make informed choices at the General Election on June 8th 2017.

Social Housing providers are prone to complain that Government doesn’t understand them, despite the resources they invest in lobbying. And yet, large proportions of their 4 million tenants don’t vote. Let’s change this. Tenants voting and making informed decisions has to be the way forward.

Please see my video below launching the Campaign, there will be more to follow on this. In the meantime, please contribute your ideas for the Campaign in the comments below to add to these ideas already raised:

  • Social Housing providers to close their offices on Election Day and to deploy staff in helping tenants to get to the Polling Stations;
  • Organising Housing Hustings in venues accessible to tenants (and live-streaming them for those who cannot attend);
  • Displaying information on how to register to vote in Housing Offices and on Housing Websites;
  • Displaying information on where Polling Stations are in Housing Offices and on Housing Websites:

Please share this post and the YouTube video below to get the Campaign going, and use the hashtag #housingvote17 on social media. I have also started a Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/johnpopham to raise money for the Campaign and other things I do in the future.

Friendships not Transactions

I need to get this off my chest.

I couldn’t possibly count the number of times people have given me the excuse for not pursuing digital transformation that recipients of services would miss the personal touch. Indeed I am repeatedly told that, for many the regular interaction with their care worker / housing officer / other professional is their only human contact.

I have 2 responses to this argument.

The first is, why are we not making more use of technology to reduce isolation and increase human contact? First priority in this for me is to assist people to use social networking to make new friends who they can subsequently meet in person. Second priority is to connect people together online, whether it be via social media sites, or via video conferencing.

My second response is this. What has our society come to if the only personal contact people have is with those who are paid to deliver a service to them? This is not right and it should not be used as an excuse for holding back progress. I refer you back to my first response for how we should be dealing with this. Let’s help people make and maintain real friendships, not rely on perfunctory transactions for a semblance of human warmth.

Here’s Paro the robot seal which has proven really good at connecting with older people.

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.

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?

 

 

 

Millom Really Gets Digital

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Yesterday I spent an extremely enjoyable day with the residents of Millom Court in Timperley as we launched Millom Gets Digital which is the first step in Trafford Housing Trust‘s strategy to bring wifi to its Sheltered Accommodation schemes and promote the wider digital inclusion of its tenants. I was really grateful to be invited into the home of the residents and it was fantastic talking to them about their lives and how technology might enhance them.

It was a great help that the first person I met when I arrived was Dorothy who was bent over her tablet using Facebook. She quickly volunteered that the introduction of wifi to the scheme has been immensely beneficial to her as it means that she can see and talk to her son and grandchildren in the USA on an almost daily basis. There turned out to be around 5 out of the 25 or so residents present who already were using some kind of digital device on a regular basis. This was very pleasing as one of the aims is to get residents to pass on their skills and interests to their neighbours.

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So, Jim Tunstall from THT, Lee Omar from Red Ninja Studios, Louise Rogerson from Intelsant and myself spent some time talking to the residents, telling them stories about the benefits of new technologies, and encouraging them to try out some new tools. Then we discussed people’s hopes and fears about new tech. The first comment from a resident was that she felt strongly that people should stop staring at their devices and talk to each other. We countered that argument by pointing out that the majority of new technology use is indeed about communication, and that it gives people the opportunity to talk to anybody, anywhere in the world. This point was backed up by Dorothy’s experience of talking to her family across the Atlantic.

We carried on talking, experimenting, and playing, over lunch. Gradually some of the more reluctant members of the group started to soften their attitudes and little victories were being won all over the room.

As we reconvened after lunch and further discussed some of the issues raised it became apparent that there were a small number of committed technology users who were very pleased that the wifi had been installed and extremely keen that it should stay. It is currently free to use on a trial basis and THT are looking for some evidence of the direct benefits it brings to people’s lives before deciding (a) whether to retain it at Millom Court, and (b) whether to roll it out to other schemes.  This should provide a further incentive for the committed residents to act as digital champions for their neighbours, as wider use is necessary in order to collect the proof.

Today was further proof for my beliefs about the effective routes to digital inclusion, namely;

  • begin with the power of communication and fun uses of the internet. Getting to grips with these will develop digital fluency and allow beneficiaries to tackle utilitarian uses at a later date;
  • nobody who doesn’t work in a office has any use for a desktop PC, and not many need a laptop. Touchscreen devices are the most effective gateway to the internet for novice users;
  • you will never convert every member of a group on day one, and it is futile to try. Start with those who already have some interest and get them to cascade that interest to their neighbours. Eventually, even the most reluctant will realise they are missing out on what everybody around them is benefitting from;
  • internet use is one of the most effective means of keeping older people’s minds active. It should be available on prescription.

Millom Gets Digital

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Next Wednesday (17th August) I’ll be with Trafford Housing Trust launching a new Digital Inclusion Project at their Millom Court Sheltered Complex. Also involved with the project are Lee Omar of Red Ninja Studios, and Louise Rogerson of Intelesant.

Wifi has been installed at Millom Court, and on Wednesday we’ll be starting the process of firing up the residents to want to use it to bring them closer to their friends and relatives, re-kindle their memories, make their lives easier, and improve their health and wellbeing.

I am really excited to be involved in this project, and I hope it is the first of many on this kind of model. If you are going to be anywhere near Timperley on Wednesday, I’ll see you there.

The EU Referendum – proof of the power of storytelling

I’m banging on about storytelling again. Because I believe a momentous decision has just been made because slightly over half of the UK adult population believed a story. That story might be true. It might not. I very much doubt that all of it is true. Much of it might have its roots in truth. But….

You see, the Leave Campaign bus had a slogan on the side which said “We send £350m a week to the EU: Let’s spend that money on the NHS”. Nigel Farage made a speech in front of a poster saying “Let’s spend money on the NHS; not Brussels”. This morning he has said that nobody promised the EU money would be spent on the NHS. You see, not all stories are true. But some of them are powerful enough to make people believe in them.

I watched a TV programme recently about the guy who debunked Yuri Geller and several evangelical Faith Healers. Even though their methods were publicly shown to be fake, after a brief glitch in their popularity, most went on to resume their careers. People wanted to believe that what they were doing was real more than they wanted to believe the facts. The story won out over the reality.

So, in the face of myths, we have to tell the real story and we have to get people to want to believe the reality more than they want to believe the myth. People believe that all social housing tenants are cheating scroungers because of “Benefits Street” and the like. They believe that having any kind of ambition in life is setting yourself up for a fall because that is a recurring motif in TV Soap Operas.

So, some of the stories we have to tell, in ways that that engage people, are:

  • Social housing is necessary for social cohesion and a balanced society;
  • Some people need benefits because they can’t work either permanently or temporarily;
  • Collective community actions can improve people’s lives;
  • Some people can and should be able to improve their own health and wellbeing if given support and access to resources;
  • WIthout immigration our economy would collapse;
  • Ethnic and social diversity is a social good and enhances all of our lives
  • Older age is not “God’s Waiting Room”.

And those of us who believe in these ideas, or work in organisations whose existence depends on them, need to tell these stories ourselves. All the evidence suggests that no one else is going to do it for us.

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.