Ageing Digital – Regular Broadcasts

I am planning to start a series of regular online broadcasts discussing how new technologies can be used to make older people’s lives better and break down social isolation.

The broadcasts will be via Google Hangout, all you will need is a laptop, tablet or smartphone and an internet connection and you will be able to take part.

If you would like to be involved, please let me know.

And please don’t forget my DigiCamper crowd funding campaign to launch the Digital Inclusion Campervan.

 

“From sitting there doing absolutely nothing; my life is filling up”

Margaret and Harry from OAP Internet Virgins Episode 5

The title of this post is a quote from 83 year-old Margaret, the subject of Episode 5 of Sky 1’s “OAP Internet Virgins“.  This excellent series continued last Thursday with another brilliant case study of how to ignite older people’s interest in the internet.

This time, Youtuber Harry Hitchens was leading Margaret through her first steps online. Avid knitter Margaret was soon marvelling at the time that would be saved searching for wool shops as she saw them all laid out on Google Maps. She gave the lie to the idea that older people are not generally online, as one of her drivers was that all her friends are “… on everything except me, So now I can join them”.

The quote in the headline came after Margaret had attended a craft class which she had found and booked online. And this is an important point. To those who think that being digital means being sat at home staring at a screen, this programme, as with others in the series, demonstrated that being digital can open up whole new possibilities for going out and participating in activities which they would not otherwise have been aware of.

And the programme finished with Margaret and Harry touring the district recreating in digital form the photographs that Margaret had taken with her husband who had died 15 years earlier.

If you’d like to work with me on these kinds of approaches to digital inclusion please get in touch.

And please don’t forget my crowd funder for DigiCamper, the ultimate digital inclusion vehicle.

Digital Tea Party – Working with the Asda Foundation

digitparty_leeds1

This Friday I’ll be running another Digital Tea Party, and this is one with a difference. This Tea Party is being supported by Asda Foundation as part of Asda’s 50th Birthday celebrations. I am really pleased to be working with Asda on this, and I am extremely grateful to the inestimable and indefatigable Emma Bearman for helping to make it all possible.

The event will take place at Westerton Close, Tingley, Leeds and we are working with ASDA Morley who will be providing food and drink, including, of course, a cake, as well as supplying a couple of Android tablets to help get residents online.

As you probably know, I’ve been working hard to promote the idea that the best way to get older people online is to present new technologies in familiar, fun, environments, and to seek to find digital champions from within groups rather than forcing everyone to try to use equipment they are not comfortable with from day one. And it is further pleasing that Asda have come on board with this particular event as I have been advocating for some time that companies who want people to use their digital services need to get involved with assisting those who struggle to use them.

There will be plenty of social media content associated with the event, which takes place between 1pm and 3pm this Friday (7th August). And look out out as well for some of the other exciting things Asda is doing to mark its 50th anniversary, including the recent “Cake My Day” Campervan tour.

OAP Internet Virgins – The Youtube Florist

Irene and Mawaan

Another excellent episode of “OAP Internet Virgins”. In Episode 3, former florist and flower arranging teacher, 77 year-old Irene, was tempted online by YouTuber and Standup Comedian Mawaan Rizwan.

And not only did Irene find being online a life-enhancing experience, but by the end of the programme she was running her own YouTube channel giving instructions on flower-arranging.

Once again this programme has given much need public exposure to the techniques necessary to get older people interested in the online world and to sustain their use to make their lives better in the long run. If you’d like to work with me on making this approach a reality for the people you work with, please get in touch.

#ageingdigital – Pushing through the frustrations

JP_at_ageingdigital

 

On Tuesday, 30 or so of us gathered at Age UK’s headquarters in London to discuss the issue of using technology to improve the quality of older people’s lives. The story of what happened on the day is here.

It was a great event with lots of passionate discussion, and not a little frustration being expressed. The really big frustration is that relatively large sums of money are being dedicated to older people’s quality of life initiatives with no mention of technology in their plans. This has been true recently of the Big Lottery’s Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better programme, worth £78m, as it has of the £50m investment the same body made into the Centre for Ageing Better. The room on Tuesday was full of the frustration of people struggling to help older people benefit from the digital world on small resources. Key messages from the day included:

  • Nobody is too old to benefit from new technologies – we should stop assuming they are;
  • Many of the older people who express no interest in new technologies radically change their view when the possibilities are demonstrated to them.

If you still don’t believe this last point, then, please just watch the TV series “OAP Internet Virgins”.

I made an appeal at the event for suggestions on how to engage with organisations that lead policy on ageing. Freelancers like me don’t have the resources to spend lots of time lobbying people face to face. But, if organisations are immune to any kind of digital engagement, then how else can we do this?

David Wilcox has written a great post on where we go from here. From my point of view I will carry on doing the work I have developed so far (see here for some examples), and will be helping to curate online conversations around the hashtag #ageingdigital. I’m also thinking of starting a regular series of live Hangouts on the subject, please shout out if you would like to participate in these.

“OAP Internet Virgins” – Episode 2 – Wow!

Roman and Rose from Episode 2 of “OAP Internet Virgins”

I’ve only just had the chance to catch up with Episode 2 of “OAP Internet Virgins” and wow! If anything it might have been better than the first one. Once again it really got to the crux of the drivers to getting older people online for the first time and, front and centre again was the fact that the internet is important to people because of the human connections it allows them to make.

This week 22 year-old Roman Kemp took on the challenge of inducting 71 year-old Rose to the online world. Rose was a willing participant as her 7 grandchildren were at the centre of her life and she recognised they were living their lives in different ways to her. “I want to be in their world”, she said “I don’t want to feel left behind”.

An early win for Roman was that he found they supported the same football team, Arsenal, and they were soon getting updates on the game, and sharing the joy at goals scored. They moved on to finding Rose’s favourite music, and then ventured into Facebook. Rose was joyful as her children and grandchildren started sending her friend requests. And then came a shock as she was friended by her sister-in-law in Canada who she hadn’t seen for 25 years. “How can that be? She’s in Canada” was Rose’s reaction. Roman patiently explained that Facebook is a worldwide network, and that people in Canada can use it too. Rose’s reaction was a mixture of shock, surprise and joy at the realisation that she could now be in contact with distant people she thought she had lost contact with.

And it wasn’t long before Rose was using her new found internet knowledge to book a cheap flight to Canada to visit her long-lost in-laws. Just before she left, she searched Facebook to find the cousin, also living in Canada, who had been her best friend in her younger days. This search proved fruitless however, but the cameras followed her as she flew into Toronto and was greeted by her brother-in-law and his wife. It was great to see Rose Skyping her grandchildren from Toronto and holding up her iPad so they could see the unusual buses passing by. As Rose sat in a cafe telling the cameras about how wonderful her trip was, she was surprised by her cousin, not seen for 25 years, appearing at her side. Cue kisses, hugs, and many tears.

As she scrolled through her pictures of Toronto on her iPad to show her grandchildren, Rose summed up her experience of working with Roman, “he’s told me not to think I am old and past it any more”. To me, this is one of the most important points about digital inclusion. Far too many pigeonhole older people as beyond learning about new technologies, and far too many older people do it to themselves. It takes a slightly open mind to start the process, and the internet generally does the job itself of opening people’s minds further once they have let it into their lives.

I am so pleased that this series has continued its high standard of showing the world the methods that work where digital inclusion is concerned. If you’d like to work with me on spreading this kind of practice, please get in touch.

OAP Internet Virgins – Really Useful Reality TV

A scene from the first episode of OAP Internet Virgins

In the era of “Benefits Street”, “How to Get a Council House” and other poverty porn TV it is tempting to think that the media has got it in for everyone with any kind of disadvantage. At times the TV screens and the newspaper pages can appear to resemble the school bully continuing their work by other means.

But tonight I watched something that I would truly describe as the antidote to all that. When I saw the concept of “OAP Internet Virgins” I must admit to being a little fearful that this was going to be another example of TV kicking people while they are down. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The idea of the programme is that young people who have gained some kind of internet-based fame are charged with helping an older person take their first steps online.

In episode one, Vlogging twins, 23 year-old Niki and Sammy Albon were helping 84 year-old George. George has recently had to take on all the domestic duties as his wife of 64 years has cancer and Alzheimer’s. Niki and Sammy were quite worried about the prospect of taking on George as a challenge, but, as far as we could tell from the editing, once George was dissuaded away from struggling with his slow Windows PC and given an iPad he seemed soon to become enthusiastic about exploring the online world.

We watched as George was shown how to search iTunes for his favourite music, and saw his eyes light up as he realised that even Perry Como has a home on the internet. George’s interest progressed as he shared a meat and potato pie with the twins, made by his own hands from an online recipe, and nearly as good as the pies formerly made for him by his wife which he thought he would never taste again.

And George progressed from Perry Como, via Nat King Cole, and Meat and Potato Pies to online shopping, and he greeted the supermarket delivery man with glee as his first online shop arrived. The great thing about his ability to shop was that it meant he didn’t have to take up most of the precious 6 hours a week when a carer came in to look after his wife going to the shops. And this meant that he could go back to his former love of performing in a singing group. I must admit that a tear came to my eye as he dedicated the last number of his performance, “We’ll Meet Again”, to the twins, and then the credits rolled, beginning with a dedication to George’s now late wife.

This was heart-warming TV, well done, telling a story in a great way. And it demonstrated what I have been saying and putting into practice for years, that the way to get people online is to approach it through their interests, their entertainment likes, and their immediate needs. Here’s more on my ideas and approach.

I am glad that this message is getting a wider audience. If I can help any organisation put these ideas into practice, please get in touch.

Digital Inclusion – are the corporates joining the party?

My attention was drawn on Twitter yesterday to this story about Uber. In case you’ve been on another planet for the last year or so, Uber is the company which is using apps and the internet to shake up the taxi industry, and this story is about how an older woman is using Uber to continue to be mobile after having to give up her car. From my point of view, the most important part of the article is the revelation that Uber itself is getting into the digital inclusion business by assisting older people to use its service.

This led me to ask myself if this is part of a trend, and whether something can be done to encourage it further. The trend, I think, is that more companies which deliver services online are getting into the business of helping those who struggle with the online world to be able to access their offers. One well known example of a British company doing something similar is Barclays with their Digital Eagles initiative. I have spoken to a couple of supermarket retailers recently who are thinking of dipping their toes in the waters, and Argos has run their own programme which included enabling people to buy a tablet for £20. Is this a trend?  If it isn’t I think it should be.

The GoOn Campaign has its corporate backers, and, there has been a growing recognition of the issue in the public sector, with the social housing sector in particular, and now the NHS beginning to make digital inclusion more of a priority. To me, it makes perfect sense that if organisations, whichever sector they are in, want people to use their services online, they need to get involved in helping those who have difficulties in that respect.

Do you know of any interesting initiatives by private sector companies? If so, please let me know in the comments. If you are a private sector organisation who’d like to work with me on these issues, please get in touch.

Digital Inclusion – The Eleventh Hour is Here: Take these 7 Steps Now

As part of the brilliant HouseParty event, organised by Matt Leach of HACT and Esther Foreman of the Social Change Agency, I recently live streamed the second Housing Question Time. During the discussion, Nick Atkin, Chief Executive of Halton Housing Trust said something I have heard him say before, namely that social housing providers should be very worried about how they are going to collect the rents which currently go directly from Government to landlord when these payments are rolled into Universal Credit and made to the tenant not to the housing provider. See Nick say this below:

Nick points out that 75% of social housing landlords’ income is thus potentially at risk, and that, unless landlords find ways of ensuring that their tenants can transact with them online, they will have to employ a lot more staff to collect rents.

This is a key reason why Halton has been at the forefront of both shifting its transactions online and encouraging the digital inclusion of its tenants through its Digital First initiative. Here is the archive of the live streamed video from one of the Digital First open sessions http://tmblr.co/Z7HaYy1S5WHo7.

Digital Inclusion Strategy

I am often asked for what I think should be the key elements of a Digital Inclusion strategy. My first answer to this is that, although the end game of digital inclusion is to ensure tenants are able to transact online with their landlord, as well as claiming benefits and seeking work online, that should never be the route into the online world. If it is, they will see the internet as a chore not a benefit to their lives. My approach is very much to demonstrate that the internet brings a lot of joy and increased human interaction into people’s lives, and that those who are not online are missing out.

Social Media

The first element of any digital inclusion strategy should be for the organisation itself to be active and effective on social media. I often ask why organisations expect their customers to do digital when they don’t do it themselves. A good social media presence on the part of the organisation gives their customers reasons to be online, to keep in touch with what is going on around them. And if that social media strategy includes (as it should) online coverage of community and social events, people will want to join in, share your content with their friends, and get active in the social media sphere themselves.

Digital Champions

A lot of organisations make the mistake of making digital inclusion the responsibility of a small group of staff in a dedicated unit. The biggest potential digital inclusion resource any organisation has is its staff, in particular the staff who have day-to-day contact with tenants and residents. One of the big issues I come across is that sometimes frontline staff can act as a barrier to digital inclusion as they are not comfortable with digital tools themselves, so they are fearful of the implications of letting the people they work with loose on them. Thus (as I outlined here) it is essential that frontline staff are both enthusiastic about digital tools themselves and imbued with a passion to pass their skills and interest on to others.

Of course, staff are not the only potential digital champions, and it is vital that tenants / customers are included in these efforts. The great benefit of enrolling tenants as digital champions is that they can act as informal support networks for their neighbours. It also breaks through that “this is not for the likes of me” barrier.

Connectivity

Much digital inclusion activity falls at the hurdle of connectivity. Having a telephone landline can be a minority status in some social housing areas, and, although increasing numbers of tenants access the internet via mobile devices, many don’t have smartphones, and many of those who do run them on Pay-as-you-Go deals which can have minimal or no data allowances. There are some deals which offer cheap, basic broadband connections, but these can still be out of the reach of some tenants, and, of course, they usually rely on the property having a landline connection. Increasing numbers of landlords are implementing free or cheap wifi networks which can blanket areas with coverage and offer access at home as well as on the move. This is being recognised as a vital tool in the drive to increase online transactions.

Devices

Halton Housing is one organisation which has been experimenting with giving devices to tenants, on condition that they use them to conduct transactions with the landlord rather than face-to-face or telephone contacts. They have researched which cheap Android tablets work most effectively and have concluded that it is cost-effective to give away the tablets with the cost being more than met in savings on transaction costs. There is growing evidence that tablets are the device of choice, particularly for people who have never used a computer. There are other sources of low cost IT equipment, particularly recycled computers, which can be an important resource for digital inclusion.

Particularly when working with older people, I have found that the more you can present the internet through familiar equipment, the more likely it is to be accepted. A low-cost tablet connected to a TV via a device such as a Chromecast (which only costs £30) can help them explore the online world in a familiar environment.

Normalising the Internet

Walk into any city or town centre cafe or coffee shop and you will commonly see people tapping away at laptops and tablets. Walk into any community venue on a social housing estate and it is most unlikely you will see anything similar. Many social housing tenants can live their lives isolated from the day-to-day use of the internet that others take for granted. This is why we ran the Our Digital Planet project which toured shopping areas in cities around the country and, by means of a giant photography exhibition, put uses of the internet in front of people’s faces. And it is why the HUGO Bus arrives in Leeds neighbourhoods with a (metaphorical) fanfare and broadcasts free wifi to the locality. We have to find ways of demonstrating the centrality of the internet to modern life to those who have not yet caught on to its importance.

Breaking down fear and suspicion

This is not just about allowing people to have fun online and talk to their distant relatives on Skype. It is not even solely about encouraging them to pay their rent via an app or use Universal Jobmatch to apply for employment. It is a much, much wider agenda than that. Great advances are in prospect to people’s wellbeing through the use of telehealth and telecare equipment which can help people be healthier for longer and to stay in their own homes rather than in hospitals or care homes. And smart meters and energy systems can greatly reduce people’s bills as well as contributing to the fight against climate change. But the use of such technology greatly depends on people’s acceptance of them. Many non-internet users are reluctant in the extreme to share any data, even anonymised data online. They have to be shown how to keep safe online, and that sharing data doesn’t bring the world crashing down around them. These are essential steps towards achieving acceptance that sharing the data which telehealth, telecare, and smart energy systems require is a good thing, not a social evil.

Making it stick

Far too many digital inclusion initiatives rely on short term interventions which are assumed to have done the trick. But this often leaves people high and dry with no support and seemingly little incentive to take their internet use further. People need to be supported long term to ensure they can continue and progress with their online activity. That’s why Digital Champions’ networks are essential. It takes time to develop a fluency with internet use, and that is something which is often missing from short term initiatives.

The good news is that there is growing recognition that these steps are vital to the long term financial health of social landlords, as well as to the wellbeing and prosperity of tenants. The bad news is that there are still far too many who are not taking actions in these directions, and time is running out to get it right.

If you’d like to talk about how I might help your organisation in these areas, please drop me a line at john.popham@johnpopham.com or tweet me @johnpopham

 

Digital Inclusion on Wheels

This is an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while, and I’ve had significant encouragement recently to take it forward, so, I’m about to launch a crowfunding campaign and sponsorship proposal for a Digital Inclusion Campervan.

The Story So Far

Our Digital Planet Internet Station in Bristol

If you’ve been paying attention (and, if not, why not?) you will have seen that I’ve been experimenting over recent years with different methods of taking digital inclusion to where people are, as I am a believer in seeking out people in their natural environments rather than expecting them to come to centres or courses. In 2012 and 2013 I managed Nominet Trust’s Our Digital Planet Project, which took a giant photographic exhibition on how people use the internet to various city centres around the country and backed it up with a shipping container full of volunteers and laptops.  I learned so much from this project, and it was such a pleasure to work with so many people who wouldn’t have dreamed of searching out a digital inclusion “centre”

But, the thing about Our Digital Planet was that it was expensive. It took a lot of resources to move all that stuff around the country, and there came a point at which the numbers of local partners able to find the cash to bring it to their area just ran out. So, I then set about seeing if the same principle could be delivered in a more mobile form.

I was fortunate to bump into Sue Jennings from Leeds Federated Housing Association at a digital inclusion get together, and this led to a collaboration which became the HUGO Project, featuring the HUGO Bus (in reality there are two buses), bringing a more mobile facility to the housing estates of Leeds, and available for hire to go elsewhere.

2014-09-11 17.15.06But even the HUGO Bus has a significant cost to moving around, and there are some places where that size of vehicle cannot go, so I am still frustrated that there is more that can be done.

And so, I now want to downscale things a bit more still. I’ve already gone from Our Digital Planet which took 2 flatbed trucks to move it around, to the HUGO Bus which is pretty mobile, but bulky. Now I want to go to the Digital Inclusion Campervan. It will be a go anywhere, reach anyone, digital inclusion facility with free wifi, tea and coffee, kit and support.

I need to raise the money to make this happen, so I am seeking sponsorship, and maybe will go down the crowdfunding route too. Scouring eBay, I reckon I can acquire a semi-decent campervan for about £7500, and I will probably need another £5k or so to kit it out and put a livery on it. To cope for contingencies, I’ll be looking to raise £15000 in total.

So, any sponsors out there want to pitch in? Sponsors will get the opportunity to have their branding on the bus, promote their products through its work, and, well, you tell me what you’d want in return.

I am excited about this, but I need to test the water first as to whether there are sponsors interested.

Please get in touch if you’d like to support this project.