Briefing 9 – Digital Inclusion and Social Housing: A Checklist
Some social housing organisations have created new posts called “Digital Inclusion Officer” or “Digital Inclusion Manager”. Others have made this a role within I.T or customer service. Others have it as a standing agenda item and management, board or trustee meetings.
In April 2014, the UK government launched a digital inclusion strategy. Their aim?- “to reduce the number of people who are offline by 25% by 2016.”
They go on state: ” …we have also launched a new Digital Inclusion Charter. The charter brings together 40 organisations from all sectors who are committed to reducing the number of people who are offline by 25% by 2016, and a by further 25% every 2 years after that.”
The justification? ”
The internet has transformed almost every aspect of public, private and work life. It underpins our economy, changing the way every workplace communicates. It is reshaping government through simpler, clearer, faster public services. …But BBC research found that 21% of people lack the basic digital skills they need to benefit from the internet.”
So, it’s on the government agenda, who aim to “get 2.7 million more people online in the next 2 years.”
Many housing organisations have already been looking to the digital realm for years for different reasons. They see the internet as a communication channel, have invested in real-time databases linked to call centres, have set up Facebook pages, started Tweeting, and also invested in texting platforms to keep tenants in touch with news, maintenance, responses to queries and to open up a new communication channel. It’s been more or less successful for different organisations.
Example 1: A small housing association uses texting to inform tenants. It’s one-way communication but can get information and news out quickly
Example 2: Another small housing association interacts with, and responds to tenants on social media – Twitter and via its Facebook page
Example 3 : One larger housing organisation has connected with its younger tenants via texting and also a Pinterest page.
Example 4: Several housing associations now blog and engage in interactive discussion with tenants around issues and developments relevant to their tenants
Example 5: Many housing associations have ensured their web sites are more interactive allowing booking of appointments, as well as ensuring they can be accessed from smart phones and tablets
Here, the use of the digital realm improves customer care, and can help tenants feel more acknowledged and involved. However, what of those tenants who do not own smart phones, tablets, or even have internet access at home?
Tenants can feel neglected, out of touch and short-changed as an organisation’s focus appears to be switching towards the digital realm at the expense of the more traditional channels based on paper and face to face.
The following examples and practical ideas form a useful checklist for taking steps to improve on digital inclusion:
A checklist for digital inclusion
1. Subsidising and enabling the installation of wi-fi in homes
2. Negotiating discounts for tenants with suppliers of gadgets, hardware and software
3. Organising classes in digital literacy and partnering with local learning providers
4. Creating access to the internet in reception areas and using information digital information booths and interactive technology
5. Creating simple guides for using the housing organisation’s website, and offering induction events and resources
6. Making web sites accessible for all diverse groups that use the organisation’s services
7. Creating “buddy” systems with incentives e.g. for younger tenants to coach and buddy less digitally literate tenants
8. Ensuring web content reflects the full diversity of the community e.g. images and language coverage
9. Using mobile technology such as tablets to bring web site content into homes during meetings
10. Helping tenants to set up their computers and other devices to use the housing organisation’s services
11. Creating Frequently Asked Questions to help tenants to get answers
12. Replicated key content. guides and information across different media – e.g. paper and digital
13. Ensuring that web content is friendly to older computers and operating systems
14. Ensuring that all digital content and processes are jargon free
15. Ensuring all digital content conforms to accessibility standards e.g. Royal National Institute for the Blind standards (e.g. images are properly tagged)
16. Being able to switch between media as needed by tenants e.g. from digital to face to face, or from text to phone
17. incentivizing using digital media and platforms
18. Seeking feedback from tenants and users about usability, accessibility and usefulness of content and technologies and being ready to change and innovate
19. Leading by example – the organisation’s staff are all digitally included and walk the talk
20. Demonstrating that digital technology improves service e.g. quicker response by text or use of online booking systems – make digital the best option
21. Make it fun, without stress and going at the learning pace of each tenant
Digital inclusion can, paradoxically, alienate those who don’t want to be included. Some tenants want face to face, paper-based service. That might no longer be an option in current service delivery budgets and models. However, we can communicate and engage in ways that do not male tenants feel that NOT being digitally included is somehow inadequate. Digital inclusion is not a must for everyone. It is part of tenant diversity that people of all ages and cultures may not choose to connect digitally.
Digital Inclusion can enhance tenant care. It can contribute to more effective and efficient service delivery. The above checklist is a start. You don’t need to do all of the above and much depends of the specific groups and communities the organisation engages with. It isn’t about going digital for its own sake. Digital services are part of the wider system of delivery quality service. But it can work for the benefit of all. Those who feel excluded can become problems, leading to dissatisfaction and communication problems. Develop a clear plan. Set some goals. Ask plenty of questions. Enquire into what is needed. Digital inclusion is now an essential part of customer care in social housing.