“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.

Do you need a Council Meeting Broadcasting?

2015-04-27 20.45.34

As you may know I do low-cost live video streaming. I have done this for a large number of organisations, mainly of conferences and similar events. I have done local authority meetings as well, including Wakefield Council full council meetings, Kirklees Council Planning Sub-Committees, and Southwark Council Scrutiny meetings.

In 2014 the law was changed to require local authorities to allow video or audio broadcasting or recording of meetings that are open to the public. Some local authorities already do this themselves. Others welcome members of the public doing it. And some, it has to be said, have resisted it.

Although it is open to any member of the public to broadcast or record any public meeting, it can be challenging to do this if you want to do it in a way that creates an output which can be used as a public record. This is where I come in.

For a modest fee I can broadcast any public meeting and ensure a copy of the broadcast is archived to be consulted in the future. I am experienced at capturing the right video angles and in ensuring that sound quality is sufficient to record everything said in the meeting. I have done this in some very acoustically difficult environments.

So, if there is a meeting you want to see captured, please get in touch to discuss whether I can help you. I might even be able to help you raise funds to cover the costs.



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.

The Social CEO – The Future of Leadership

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 10.18.42

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?

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 10.19.13

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.


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.


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


The Real Digital Champions

A few weeks ago I had an approach from the leader of a team of Continence Nurses asking if I was available to speak to a get together they were holding shortly. I was, and, on the appointed day I set off on the short bus journey from Huddersfield to the land of Compo and Clegg (Holmfirth in other words) to join them.


I had a fabulous time doing what I do a lot of the time, trying to transfer my passion for the internet to others. And, in this case as in many more, the main aim was then to get them to transfer it to those they work with.

I have long contended that one of the key barriers to digital inclusion is that the professionals who work with them can be technophobes acting as gatekeepers who prevent the goodies getting through. Nothing could be further from the truth with this group of Continence Nurses, and it was a lot of fun working with them to explore their own internet passions as well as mine.

This tells me something I have known for a long time; that the best people to be digital champions are those who have day-to-day contact with digitally excluded people. So I always advise organisations to avoid putting their digital inclusion activity in silos, it has to range across the staff body and, in particular, empower those on the frontline to help people get digital. Continence Nurses are not necessarily the group who spring to mind when the phrase Digital Champion is used, but groups like this are in the best possible place to assist people to use digital to improve their quality of lives.

We need to see more of this kind of initiative, and I’d love to work with other groups like this. So, please get in touch

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.

Hospital Wifi a Work in Progress

I’m relatively optimistic that we will see significant progress towards wifi in hospitals becoming the norm in the not too distant future, particularly as recent NHS announcements seem to be indicating an exploration of allowing the public (or “patients”) to access wifi across the whole of the NHS estate. There have been some conflicting messages on this, with some suggestions that the wifi ambition is limited to staff access. But I believe it will not stop at that.

That doesn’t mean we need to be complacent, as one of the big issues is that the autonomy of individual institutions makes it next to impossible to mandate common procedures across what is a massive organisation. But I am confident the tipping point will soon be reached when it becomes an anomaly that a hospital lacks free patient wifi, such that public pressure will cause the laggards to come to the party.

Around a third of NHS hospitals (and virtually all private hospitals) in the UK now have patient wifi. And despite the doom merchants and the gatekeepers, nothing bad has happened. I still come across the old arguments about patient wifi interfering with equipment (as if patient wifi is a different flavour of wifi to that used by staff), being expensive to deploy (not true), or offering a backdoor route into compromising patient confidentiality (can anyone point me to an example of this happening?). If any of these arguments were true do you not think there would be a story about them in the Daily Mail every day? There isn’t, because it doesn’t happen. And if it doesn’t happen in the one third of hospitals which have patient wifi, why should it happen in the other two-thirds? And you can also bet the the private hospitals which have patient wifi have done it for reasons concerned with patient satisfaction.

Being cut off from regular contact with the outside world is a significant stress factor when you are in hospital. Patient wifi thus has a therapeutic benefit, and to deny it is to delay people’s recovery. Thus, it is probably true that lack of patient wifi is costing the NHS in terms of longer stays in hospital.

I’ll be testing some of this out myself shortly as I embark on the DigiWards project. In the mean time, if you haven’t already, please join the Campaign for Free Hospital Wifi, use the #hospitalwifi hashtag on twitter, and help us keep up the pressure.

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.