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?

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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.

me_at_millom_gets_digital

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.

Why You Should Use Digital to Tell Stories

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It’s about 3 years now since I first started calling myself a Digital Storyteller. I was far from the first to do so, but I’ve come across very few people who work largely in the non-profit sectors who do so. Most of the others who have adopted the title have been journalists or marketeers. My own evolution came about through a gradual realisation that the people I was training in using social media in the public and voluntary sectors were often failing to put their new skills into practice mainly because they thought they didn’t have a story to tell. So, I shifted my emphasis away from the physical mastery of the tools and towards helping people to find the stories they were going to use those tools to tell.

The non-profit sectors are still not taking full advantage, however, of the opportunities digital tools now give us to tell our stories. If you look at how the big brands do it, it is clear that they have always told stories, whether it be via TV advertising or otherwise, about why they should be part of your lives. It’s how good marketing works. And consider politicians. Their key aim is to tell a story about how they see everyone’s future, and to get voters to buy into that story enough to want to vote for them.

The past six years have been a struggle for many non-profit organisations, with Government-led austerity meaning that funding has been declining while, often, workloads have been expanding. But the cuts have not fallen evenly across the board, with some sectors being protected, and others even being successful in getting planned cuts reversed. This is because these sectors and organisations have greater public support. Like the brands, the public buys into their stories. On the other hand, the mainstream media has often been cheerleading moves to downgrade and cut funding to some sectors, by producing reality TV programmes which degrade and stereotype the people they support. Thus programmes such as “Benefits Street”, “Skint”, and “On Benefits and Proud” all contribute to the story in the public’s mind that certain groups are undeserving of public support and thus taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be spent on services that cater for them. Another case in point is how the EU Referendum debate has been dominated by issue of immigration. This has become the story to the exclusion of most of the remainder of the multitude of issues which the EU deals with.

But the fact is that, when the people actually understand what non-profit services do, their support for it increases. I often point to the case of Dave Throup, the Environment Agency Officer, who gathered a cult following on social media, at the same time that the Agency he worked for was getting a kicking in the media for failing to save the country from floods. This occurred because Dave was telling the story of the great work he was doing on the front line by tweeting about it. It is much easier to love passionate individuals, working hard to help people, than it is to embrace faceless, corporate entities like the Environment Agency. This is why it is so important for non-profit organisations (by which I mean public, voluntary and social enterprise organisations) to tell their stories. And there are three stories we should all be telling:

  • Our personal stories: who we are, what we do, and (crucially) why we do what we do;
  • Our organisational stories: the history of the organisation, its role in society, how it does what it does; and
  • Our client stories: how what we do makes people’s lives better.

All of these insights into what organisations do can be vital in contributing to public perceptions of what we do. But perhaps the most important is the latter element. It is obviously in an individual’s interest to promote what they do, and in that of an organisation to present the best possible image. But, as the best brands have discovered, customer testimonials are the most powerful stories as they don’t have vested interests in being positive about the goods and services they receive. Client stories, therefore, need to be front and central of any digital storytelling strategy.

Social media has become central to millions of people’s lives. This trend shows no signs of abating, in fact, as demographics previously resistant to it recognise its value, it is reaching into new areas of society all the time. And people using social media are increasingly getting the majority of their news and information online. The big brands are all there competing for attention, and telling their stories to the world. But still, far too many non-profit organisations are leaving the field clear for mainstream media organisations and politicians to tell negative stories about what they do. Can you afford to let this situation continue? I think not.

If you would like me to help you with your organisation’s Digital Storytelling strategy, please get in touch.

#HousingDay 2016

Can you believe that this year sees the fourth #HousingDay, the event which has now become a fixture in the annual calendar? #HousingDay is 24 hours when staff and tenants in social housing take to social media to celebrate their work, lives and communities. This year, the event is on the 19th September.

I’ve sort of made a tradition now of organising high profile stunts on the day designed to try to bring the world’s attention to the work that social housing is doing. In 2014 I did the #Housing Day Roadtrip, when I drove 800 miles visiting social landlords up and down England and Wales to highlight their great work, and in 2015, I did the #HousingDay NewsRoom when I was joined by some doyens of the social housing sector to live stream hourly news bulletins about what people were doing for the day.

This year I want to do something that is a little more ambitious. In fact, it might be a bit too ambitious, but I am putting the idea out there to see if there are any takers to help me make this happen.

One of problems that I think besets the social housing sector is that it is guilty of talking to itself rather than to the outside world. #HousingDay is, of course, an attempt to break out of that self-perpetuating bubble, and I think it does that to an extent, but not to anything like the extent that is necessary to make a real difference. And, by make a difference, I mean get widespread support for the sector such that it becomes impossible to impose damaging laws on it, starve it of resources, and make stereotyped TV programmes which demonise tenants. I think we are still a long way from a position where we might achieve these objectives.

2016 is the 50th Anniversary of the broadcasting of the TV programme “Cathy Come Home” the play that did so much to raise the profile of the housing crisis of the time, and which led to the founding of Shelter and many of the housing associations which exist today. That was a real breakthrough moment, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the current housing crisis has caused director Ken Loach to come out of his self-imposed retirement to produce a new film.

So, this is what I want to do on #HousingDay 2016. I want encourage people involved in social housing to organise Housing Film Shows, and I want these to happen in as many towns and cities as possible. I want “Cathy Come Home” to be on the bill of these shows, along with any other housing-related films people can think of. In fact, I want to challenge the social housing sector to make its own films about its work to show alongside “Cathy”. It would be great if each town and city could have its own unique film to show on the day.

But more than the film shows, I want this to be a major opportunity for the sector to talk to others outside its boundaries. I want everyone who organises a show to pack the audience with people who live and work in social housing, but I also want them to invite as VIP guests:

  • local MPs
  • local councillors
  • the Chief Executive of the local authority
  • local business representatives
  • the editor(s) of the local newspaper(s)
  • the editor(s) of the local radio station(s)
  • local and regional TV news
  • local celebrities

And I want organisers not to take “no” for an answer. I want us to move heaven and earth to get as many influential non-housing people there as possible, and I want each show to be a high-profile, media-friendly event.

Can we do this? Is it too ambitious? I hope not. Your comments welcome below. And get in touch if you want to help organise shows.