Digital Inclusion – it’s about confidence and capacity; not training

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I’m just back from two great days in East Suffolk delivering digital inclusion sessions in Lowestoft and Felixstowe. These sessions were a pilot for East Suffolk Councils to find out what works before they roll out a wider digital inclusion programme for residents in the districts. I met some lovely people, and, as always I was learning perhaps as much as they were.

As you probably know now, I have a particular approach to digital inclusion which is based on the following principles:

  • Go to where people are, don’t wait for them to come to you;
  • Reasons for using the internet are different. Some can be harder to find than others;
  • No one voluntarily begins using the internet because they want to access Government services;
  • Most people use the internet for fun. The newcomer’s introduction should also be fun;
  • Show people what others do with the internet. They might want to join in;
  • Demonstrate that internet use is a part of “normal”, everyday life.

One thing of particular note which came out of this for me was that a number of people present at the sessions reported that they had had their introduction to new technologies soured by classroom training approaches that tried to teach them content irrelevant to their lives at a pace that left them behind. They found this experience intimidating, confusing, and boring. And it had taken them some time to re-find their interest. The feedback I had from my sessions suggested that they had now turned that corner and were on the road to making digital part of their lives. I think all of us who believe that digital inclusion is vital to people’s health and wellbeing need to raise our voices against all the wasted resources that go into classroom approaches. I am seeing increasing evidence not only that they don’t work, but that they are actually counter-productive.

My time in Suffolk further confirmed to me that the individual nature of each person’s reasons for digital exclusion means that individualised approaches are necessary, and that these approaches need to be patient and long-term. There is no quick fix. We have to remember that digital inclusion work of one kind or another has been going on for 15 years or more. Those who are still not on board are the most resistant, and probably have the most complex issues around why they are not online. These factors have to be unpacked and addressed, sometimes one-at-a-time. And one of the key components of this approach is that people have to be encouraged to love digital enough to want to keep at it, using digital devices and getting fluent with them. I have seen that it is very easy for people to slip back into exclusion if they don’t keep practicing. And they won’t keep practicing if they don’t like what they are doing.

Some of the other interesting issues which emerged from these sessions included:

  • the lady who refused to believe that the product we found on eBay was genuine because it was less than half the price she was used to paying for it in the shops. I think she was eventually convinced by my efforts to show her how to use buyers’ feedback to check whether the seller had a history of offering genuine products (they had almost 99% positive feedback). It is apparent that people who don’t use the internet don’t have a clue about how much money they could be saving if they researched products online;
  • numerous participants who had been subject to scam telephone calls claiming to be from Microsoft or “Windows” and offering to solve computing problems. One participant had actually gone through with the process, but fortunately his daughter had intervened and cancelled his debit card and wiped his laptop before he could lose any money. But even those who had not succumbed said things like “they were so convincing”, “what he said rang true because I had just been given a new computer”, and “but how did he get my number?”. There is a shocking lack of knowledge among digitally excluded people about how randomised computerised systems work. They don’t realise that it is perfectly possible for them to be chosen at complete random by a system that dials millions of numbers a day. They think there has to be a reason why they were chosen for the call. And they don’t understand that a stranger on the end of a phone line cannot possibly have any idea of the state of their computer;
  • quite a few of the participants didn’t have any close relatives alive. This meant that they hadn’t felt the need to learn to use the internet to communicate, they didn’t have family to show them the ropes, and they didn’t have anyone putting pressure on them to join in online conversations;
  • One of the characteristics that many digitally excluded seem to share is a lack of curiosity about life. This is a real barrier to overcome. It means both that they don’t welcome opportunities to learn new things, like how to use the internet, and it is hard to get them excited about the potential for access to the online world to open up new vistas and opportunities for them;
  • The pressures to use online services are getting to the point where some can no longer resist. This was certainly a factor for a number of participants. The trick, from my point of view, is to prevent these pressures from making internet use seem a chore, rather than a pleasure.

All these issues means that we have to stop trying to push people through systems designed around numbers of outputs, listen to their needs, wants and fears, and address them patiently and sympathetically.

Please get in touch if I can help you work with your clients to address similar issues

2016-08-17 12.09.00

Millom Really Gets Digital

2016-08-17 12.09.00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would be in your Internet Box?

Elio Hector Loez

Elio Hector Lopez helps put together El Paquete Semanal, a sort of Internet-in-a-box delivered weekly to Cubans. Google wants now wants to bring Internet access to the island. Credit: Miguel Helft

Reading this story yesterday about how Google is working to improve internet access in Cuba, I was drawn to the description in the latter part of the article about El Paquete Semanal, the “internet in a box” which Cubans have been using for the past dozen years or so.

How it works is that someone compiles a “best of” the internet on a Terabyte disk and then copies of this are distributed by people traveling around the country by bus. This reminded me of what people often say to me when I run Digital Tea Parties. Digital Tea Parties are informal events (based, of course, around tea parties) where I introduce people to the joys of the internet. I often show YouTube videos of local historical interest at such events, and, a number of times, people have asked me if I carry those film shows around with me. I then have to explain that YouTube is a resource that anyone, anywhere can access, as long as they have an internet connection. This is part of people’s initial understanding of the internet, and the fact that it must have something to offer to everyone, whatever their interests.

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So, if you lived somewhere like Cuba, where your only access to the internet was via a hard drive brought to you on the bus; what would you want to be in the “box”. Let me know in the comments section below.

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

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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.

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.

“OAP Internet Virgins” – Episode 2 – Wow!

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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.

UPDATE

The whole of this episode can now be watched below: