Our Digital Planet is back on the road

I am very pleased to report that Our Digital Planet will be back on the road shortly. Thanks to the support of Nominet Trust and Wigan Council, we will be in Wigan Town Centre from 24th to 29th May, and then in Leigh Town Centre from 30th May to 2nd June.


When I locked up the Internet Station for the last time in Glasgow last November, a profound sense of loss suddenly hit me. This was a bit of a surprise, but, when I analysed it, I realised it was the constant interaction with people that I was missing; the immersion in their daily lives; the feeling that I was being trusted to listen to their stories, and, above all, the deep feeling of satisfaction at being able to do something which I believed would improve their lives.

This is what gave me a determination and a drive to make sure that we could do more of this. So, almost exactly six months after Our Digital Planet left Glasgow, it will be back on the streets again in Wigan and Leigh. I am so looking forward to getting some of those feelings again and being let in to people’s lives. And I hope we can uncover some more gems, like the gentleman who found a video online of his wife as a babe-in-arms being presented to the young Princess Elizabeth in a Maltese maternity hospital; like the lady who was able to connect with her children in the USA; and, of course like Ron. I make no excuse for re-posting the video of Ron below.

And I want as many people as possible to get involved. If you are within striking distance of Wigan, please come down and visit. If you are able to volunteer some time to help people get online, then that would be fabulous. During the week I hope to be doing some live linkups and letting the outside world in on what we are doing, probably using Google+ Hangout, so, please get involved in that. Oh, and we still desperately need 5 laptops / tablets, if you can help with that.

I am very hopeful that Wigan will be the first stop on a national tour for 2013. For that to happen, we need partners to come forward with funding as well as locations.


Here’s James Winterbottom of Wigan Council talking about Our Digital Planet coming to Wigan and Leigh

Here’s Ron, people like him make all this worthwhile

Social Housing – Sleepwalking into the digital nightmare?

Another post inspired by a conversation on Twitter, which followed on from my previous post about disruption from the bottom up. The conversation turned to the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions having a target of 80% of Universal Credit applications being made online. This was deemed to be a much too ambitious target by a couple of people working in social housing. My response was that social landlords cannot afford to see it as too ambitious. It has to be met or they risk losing £millions in rent payments.

The other day I was talking to someone in a local authority about getting Our Digital Planet back on the road. He said to me “we’ve tried everything else, so we need to give this a go”.  And I think that’s a key point. If we accept that we need as many people as possible online (and there’s a debate to be had about that, but, in social housing terms, I think it’s an unavoidable necessity), then I believe some pretty drastic action is needed. The people who remain resistent to joining the online world are those who would be characterised as “hardest to reach”. In this, as in other arenas, I maintain there are no “hard to reach” people, if you are finding anyone hard to reach you are using the wrong tactics.

If social landlords don’t get this right, I seriously contend that they are putting millions of pounds in rents not collected in jeopardy, and that is not to speak of the hardship that many tenants will suffer. And I think it needs a lot of painstaking, patient, non-directive, work of the kind we have been undertaking in Our Digital Planet and that done by the Digital Lounge at LS14 Trust. It entails working individually with each person to find the touchpoint in their lives where they can see that digital technologies can make a difference; and it involves working with them over a sustained period to support them in their use of new technologies, not believing that a one-0ff intervention will solve everything.

I go back as well, to my oft-cited contention that people need to enjoy what they are doing if it is to become integrated with their everyday lives. And it is important to think outside the box when seeking to convince people technology has a role to play. That is why I ran the Twicket initiative. A lot more people were interested in watching a village cricket match online than might have been interested in a blogpost on why technology is good for them.

These are the things I think social housing providers need to do, urgently, in order to make sure those of their tenants still not online can make the leap:

  • provide somewhere they can go to for patient, sustained support to get online and carry on using new technologies. LS14 Trust (see video below) is a fantastic model for this kind of operation;
  • Encourage tenants to become digital champions (example project here);
  • Offer free wifi for tenants – here’s an example of a social landlord doing just that;
  • Work with other public organisations and local charities to source and refurbish computers and make them available at low cost to tenants – here’s an example of service like this;
  • Use social media to communicate with tenants;
  • Assist tenants and community organisations to use new technologies and social media to gain wider audiences for their work (like this);
  • Do interesting, innovative things with new technologies that attract attention (like Twicket);
  • Invite Our Digital Planet to your neighbourhood to launch your strategy.

I recently met Nic and Jo from LS14 Trust who are doing just the kind of patient digital inclusion work necessary. And yet they are struggling for funding. Someone needs to step in and address this.

Forget the new and shiny, how do we carry on our interests and passions in later life?

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 11.16.40This morning I caught a little bit of an interview with Vladimir Ashkenazy on BBC Radio 4.  Something he said struck a chord (maybe even literally) with me. He said that people in their sixties and seventies can still enjoy playing musical instruments even though they might not be as good at playing them as they once were.

I wonder whether one of the things that is holding back the digital inclusion of older people is the tendency to enthuse over the shiny and new gagets and marvel at the new opportunities they offer. I know I am as guilty of this as many people. Perhaps what really matters to older people is the ability to carry on what they have always done and enjoyed,  and which they might be losing the ability to do.

During the Our Digital Planet project, I have come across a number of people whose eyes have been opened as to how the internet could help them pursue old interests. I am thinking of Ron in Bristol (pictured above), who found a new way of approaching his own photography and art, and I am thinking of visitors in Liverpool who were enchanted to find how Youtube offered an archive of material they had not been able to see for years. In one case this was of Tommy Steele singing his hit records from the 1950s, in another this was seeing Ian St. John in his pomp, playing football for Liverpool in the 1960s. And, also in Liverpool, there was the visitor from Malta, who was able to find archive video of his own wife being visited as a tiny baby in hospital by the then Princess Elizabeth.

Could we use new technologies to help people carry on playing musical instruments as their dexterity declines? I am sure there is work going on in this field. One of the other applications that immediately occurs to me is the use of tablet devices to enable people easily to increase the font size on newspaper articles and books which they might not be able to read in their paper versions due to failing eyesight. This could be used for reading music too.  And I know there is lots of other work going on to enable new technologies to be used to help people adapt to the frailties of old age, but I am not aware that any of this is explicitly linked to digital inclusion. If it is not, it should be.

In Our Digital Planet, and in lots of other work I have done, I have been a strong believer in starting from people’s interests. I think we need to think a lot more about how we use the internet and new technologies to help people find alternative ways of doing things they have always done, and not alway be seeking for the new.