Catching up with the Sociable Company

Today I had a long Skype chat with Karen Adams of Express Telephony. You may recall that, a couple of years ago I did some work with the company on its social media strategy.  Two years on, they continue to to deliver a great service to their customers despite the limitations of the inadequate telecoms infrastructure which continues to hold them, and the rest of the country back.

Karen told me that her husband and business partner, Martin, is off to Cornwall shortly to set up the home of a company director with the tools she needs to manage her London-based company remotely. I am intending to work with them to develop a case study of this project as it demonstrates the increasing reality that, in the age of the internet,  location is no longer important to how you do business.

It is frustrating, however, that the country still lacks the infrastructure to realise the full potential of such modern possibilities.

Humanising Systems

I woke up this morning to yet another example of what goes wrong when systems fail to perform as collectives of humans. There have been far too many of them to catalogue, and many of these failures are intensely painful to all involved, so I don’t intend to go into them here. The latest story was about attempts to replace the Liverpool Care Pathway end-of-life care system in the NHS with something a bit more personal and tailored to the needs of the individual. The previous regime was a prime example of bureaucracy replacing common sense and compassion, which has been all too common a feature of our lives for too many years.

I firmly believe that organisations work best when they function as groupings of human beings and when those humans are allowed to react firstly as people and secondly as bureaucrats. Many of the systems failures we have seen come about when people tick boxes rather than using their feelings, empathy, compassion, and judgement.

In recent times I have attended an event at which health and care professionals attempted to communicate their aims to engage the public in their work using PowerPoint slides with type too small to read, and one which even included an Excel Spreadsheet; and I have visited the offices of another organisation charged with public engagement which resides in a building at the far end of an industrial estate remote from public transport routes. Both of these are, to me, symptoms of systems failure. The thinking that led to those situations was wrong, and they lead to decision-making which is unhelpful.

And I wonder if it is a coincidence that the people who use these methods also don’t use social media in their work. Just as they hide away in their offices in inaccessible locations and couch their “explanations” in impenetrable language, they continue to shy away from modern methods of communication and transparency.

There are many laudable, conscious, efforts going on to promote transparency and “working in public” through social media, including the “Social Organisation” initiative in Leeds and the Bromford Lab in social housing. In many other cases, individuals have pushed the boundaries through their own personal use and have seen positive public reactions.

To me, there has to be a role for social media in breaking down the old, damaging consensus, that faceless bureaucracies are the most efficient kind of organisations, and leading the way to a new acceptance that transparency and human reactions are the best ways of getting things done. Social media reveals people’s motives, makes them open to scrutiny, and it helps them find like-minded people and supportive colleagues. This has to be a better way of doing things.

What do you think?

 

Announcing AgeCamp

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UPDATE: AgeCamp 2016 will take place on Monday 4th April at the Shay Stadium, Halifax, West Yorkshire

 

As you probably know, I have been working on initiatives to assist older citizens to use social and mobile technologies for a while now. It’s a frustrating field of work, frustrated on so many fronts by:

  • the reality of technophobia among older people (which IS a reality, but is often vastly over-stated)
  • technophobia among the staff of organisations working with older people (which can often be a bigger problem than that of the older people themselves)
  • inertia in the system, and reluctance to adopt new ways of working
  • risk aversion
  • lack of equipment and infrastructure in institutions, centres, and people’s homes
  • focus on the crucial role of telehealth and telecare equipment, which can often crowd out the potentially important role of social and mobile tech.

Often it can feel a lonely business, trying to get recognition of both the need for older people to use social and mobile technologies, and to get into the system to try it out with them.

So, I’m announcing AgeCamp, an unconference for people working with older citizens. This will be an opportunity for anyone who works with older people (and older people themselves) to get together in a mutually supportive environment, discuss their issues and plan joint responses. And, this is meant in no way to be an event which focuses exclusively on technology. Any issues about working with older people are open for discussion. So, if you want to re-invent the care home, or start a community minibus service, all topics are welcome.

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If you’ve never been to an unconference, here’s a pretty good description of how they work. AgeCamp will be led by the attendees, there will be no fixed agenda in advance, you come along, you pitch an idea, and if at least one more person wants to talk about it, you have a session (in fact you can run a session on your own if you really want to!).

Date

I don’t have a date or a venue sorted yet. (UPDATE: The first AgeCamp will be on 4th April 2016)

Venue

See above. Maybe someone could offer a venue, that would be great. (UPDATE: Courtesy of Calderdale Council, the venue will be in Halifax, at The Shay Stadium)

Sponsorship

I am also looking for sponsors. We need sponsorship for venue hire, catering, maybe some travel bursaries, and for post session drinks. This will be a great opportunity for people with products or services relevant to older people to promote themselves to a range of people working in the sector.

Please get in touch, using the form below, if you can help with any of these issues, or if you just want to get involved and make AgeCamp happen.

See you at AgeCamp!

Preparing for the #HousingDay NewsRoom

I am really excited and grateful to Lewisham Homes who will be sponsoring the #HousingDay Newsroom.

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And I am even more excited that I will be joined in the NewsRoom not only by the guys from Resource, who, of course, are the people who bring you CommsHero, but also by Social CEO, Lisa Pickard from Leeds & Yorkshire HA, founder of #HousingDay, Adrian Capon, of Yorkshire Housing, Jenny Osbourne, CEO of TPASCaroline Chapman, from InCommunities, Beckie Kinsella from Plus Dane, and Hannah Jowett from Leeds Federated HA. But don’t worry, there’s probably room for you, if you still want to come along.

We’ll be curating and amplifying the best content from the day, as well as regularly live streaming news bulletins. And, of course there will be regular live linkups with our sponsor, Lewisham Homes.

I have been particularly impressed with Lewisham Homes’ Humans of Lewisham project, which has taken its inspiration from the world famous Humans of New York to celebrate tenants and their lives in photography with accompanying text. We’ve been discussing this in the Digital Storytelling sessions I’ve been doing recently with Riverside Group, and we’ve agreed that this model provides a fabulous format for telling positive stories about tenants.

And, as the theme of this years #HousingDay is #proudtenant; celebrating the lives and achievements of social housing tenants is exactly what we will be doing.

Announcement: – The #HousingDay NewsRoom

Sponsored by Lewisham Homes

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#HousingDay is approaching fast. The annual opportunity for people who live and work in social housing to celebrate what they do and show the world the positive sides of their lives and work is now in its third year, and, in 2015, it falls on Wednesday 18th November.

This year’s #HousingDay theme is “Proud to be a Tenant”, and social landlords are being asked to work with tenants to celebrate the positive aspects of being a social housing tenant and provide a platform to counter all the negative mainstream media stereotypes.

For #HousingDay last year, I ran the #HousingDay RoadTrip when I drove over 700 miles visiting social landlords from Leeds to West Kent and South Wales to highlight some of the great work they were doing. The trip was sponsored by Documotive, software supplier to the sector.

The RoadTrip was great, it was invigorating, inspiring, and educational. But it was also exhausting. So, this year, my plan is different…. and static.

For this year’s event, I am planning the #HousingDay NewsRoom. I am going to get together with some other social media users to run a news room which will curate, highlight, and amplify some of the best content coming out of the day. There will be an hourly, live-streamed news bulletin running through the events so far and providing a high profile platform for great stories emerging on the day.

I am already very grateful to the support of Comms Hero founders Resource for agreeing to provide the base for the NewsRoom at their offices in Leeds. What I need now is other social media users with an interest in social housing to come and join me on the day to help run the NewsRoom. It will be a lot of fun and we will all learn a lot. Come and join me in Leeds on 18th November.

A momentum is building from year-to-year and each #HousingDay can be more prominent and high profile than the last. Help me make the NewsRoom a success and contribute to the best #HousingDay yet.

Where are the tenant digital leaders?

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What did you do last Saturday? Well I got up at 5am, hopped on a train to London and spent the day at HousingCamp with, what turned out to be a relatively small, but very engaged, bunch of housing professionals. It was a great day, with lots of interesting discussion, and I left feeling, as I did at HouseParty in June, that, events like this provide spaces where those who retain a sense of optimism, despite the turmoil the social housing sector is going through, can come together and find common cause with others of a similar mindset.

I shot the video below of the final session where those who had stayed to the end expressed their thoughts on what they would take away from the day. It includes my assertion that the day had provided the opportunity to launch a nationwide network of digitally savvy tenants.

This is something I’ve been working on for some time now. I firmly believe that one of the most effective ways of countering the negative propaganda put out by some of the mainstream media, and some politicians, about the people who live in social housing is to ensure that tenants are empowered to tell positive stories about their lives and their communities, and to use digital media in doing so. So far, in the work I have done on social media with tenants I have tended to work with the existing tenant representative structures. I’ve met some lovely people doing this, and have seen a number of lightbulb moments as they have “got” social media. But, by and large, it is not the traditional tenant activists who are going to provide digital leadership. There are lots of, possibly younger, tenants who are active on social media, but they probably tend not to associate themselves with tenants associations and the like.

I have met a few digitally savvy tenants. Some face-to-face, and some online. But, as far as I can see, they don’t generally organise around housing issues. There are, of course, some very notable exceptions to this rule, some related to the causes embraced by Russell Brand in London. But I really want now to start on creating a national network of digitally savvy social housing tenants to provide a social media voice for tenants and their daily concerns. If you are such a tenant, or you can help with support, money and resources in getting the network going, please get in touch.

Digital Tea Party – Working with the Asda Foundation

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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.

The Social CEO – The Future of Leadership

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One of the highlights for me of the brilliant HouseParty event last month was the Fireside chat on being a Social CEO by Lisa Pickard, Chief Executive of Leeds & Yorkshire Housing Association. I was fascinated to hear Lisa’s journey, through using social media to becoming one of the best known UK social housing Chief Executives on Twitter. Of course, it is true of a chief executive, as it is true of anyone else really, that their online presence basically reflects their everyday personality, and it is pretty impossible to graft a sociable online presence onto a antisocial person. But it is equally true that not every sociable person understands the importance of a social media presence, or of making it more than just a link farm.

The advent of social media is changing what it means to be a leader in the 21st Century, and Lisa is just one example of a leader who has grasped this fact and is making use of it. In the modern world leadership does not come about through status, it comes from what a leader says and does, and how this is conveyed to others. Thus there are many examples of people who have come to be seen as leaders even though their position in traditional hierarchies might not suggest such. And social media can be scary for senior managers, used to being deferred to because of their status, who have to start from scratch with zero followers and take time to build online influence.

There is no doubt in my mind that this investment in time is worth it however, and that people who embrace social media are better leaders. Lisa herself said that she now felt that her small housing association was punching above its weight because of her profile on social media.

Inspired by Lisa, and some of the other leaders I know such as Nick Atkin, Shaun Tymon, and Jen Barfoot, I have for some time been putting together a programme for a workshop on being a Social CEO. Having formulated the programme, I then approached a number of organisations which run seminars to see if they would be interesting in collaborating on it. The response I got surprised me. It was, in effect, that they were not prepared to take the risk on it as they didn’t believe that a group of chief executives would ever sit in the same room and admit that they didn’t have all the answers. If this is true it is disappointing. Maybe it illustrates the point that some make that traditional hierarchies are threatened by social media, and that the people at the top are threatened more than most. But those, like Lisa, Nick, Shaun and Jen (sorry to those I am missing out), who have embraced it are reaping the benefits. Those who are not yet on board might well find their position being undermined, both by other, forward-thinking organisations, and by those within their own institutions who get it.

So, what do you think? Is the idea of a workshop for SocialCEOs a non-starter. Or should I just go ahead and do it?

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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 Commonwealth – A great Digital Storytelling Project

On Friday, the video below arrived. It’s the documentary film about the Digital Commonwealth project. If you missed it, Digital Commonwealth was a Big Lottery-funded initiative, led by the University of West of Scotland designed to use the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as a hook to get ordinary people to use digital technologies to tell their own stories.

It was a wonderful mix of different approaches and work with different cohorts, ranging from songwriting and dance performances with primary school children, to video-making with pensioners’ groups. I was privileged to play a role, delivering some digital storytelling sessions to community groups in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Ayrshire.

As Jennifer Jones, the Project Manager said to me, this video is probably the best tool for explaining what digital storytelling is about. I certainly don’t disagree.