Southside Housing Associationis participating in SCVO’sSocial Housing Digital Champions Network.

Having joined the SCVO’s digital motivators group back in April, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting digital leaders from across Scotland’s social housing sector to discuss and debate how to create impactful digital inclusion initiatives and networks of digital advocates.

I’d like to clarify at the very outset of this blog post that, in my opinion, there is no ‘bad’ digital inclusion initiative – the brilliant work I’ve seen both within and outside of the digital motivators network is always inspiring and is genuinely life changing for those benefiting from them.  

This post does however, based on some observations, aim to challenge housing (and other sector) organisations to think about how we could potentially increase the impact of our digital inclusion activities on tenants and customers by taking an approach that combines three key components: infrastructure, technology and essential digital skills.

How can each component be used to improve digital inclusion?

  • Infrastructure: provides access to a high quality and affordable internet connection;
  • Technology: provides access to devices and, in turn, to online information and resources; and
  • Skills & knowledge: offers resources and coaching to support users to identify and take advantage of the opportunities presented by digital.

Impact vs. Scale vs. Permanence

When pursued individually, I’d suggest that each of the three options present a tricky trade-off between potential impact (the extent the immediate benefits), potential scale (the reach of the immediate benefits) and potential permanence (the lasting impact of the benefits). The below chart aims to present the various options and these trade-offs:

To give an example: if we are planning to provide a device lending library (giving customers temporary access to tablets, mobile devices or laptops) the potential impact to the customer is high, although the scale is limited to budget/amount of devices in the library. When used in isolation, the lasting impact is relatively low, as the benefits of the initiative stop almost immediately after the customer gives the device back to the organisation.

By applying a more holistic approach, we might aim to combine the lending library with skills sessions, giving customers the option to learn skills while they have the device and to access resources to use after they have returned it. Finally, by introducing the infrastructure component (e.g. we might provide free public Wi-Fi in a block) the customer is then able to use the device at home and browse the internet without having to find a public Wi-Fi hotspot. This will help maximise the impact of resources and the skills sessions, and increase the likelihood of them lending the device in the first place.

In this example, combining the three components varies the potential benefits to the customer and, as a result, increases the chance of creating and sustaining the impact of the initiative.

How can we apply this thinking in practice?

I am aware that, as is often the case, this approach is easy in theory and applying it is far more challenging.

Here are a few questions which, if considered when planning and executing digital inclusion activities, may help you uncover opportunities to maximise their impact.

  • What else could we do (relating to infrastructure, technology and skills) as part of this digital inclusion activity to increase impact? What would be the cost/benefit of doing these?
  • What resources are already available that would allow us to introduce more/different benefits to improve this initiative? How can we make our customers aware of them as part of this initiative?
  • How would adding different components to this digital inclusion initiative benefit the organisation? How do we demonstrate value (including social value) and impact to customers and the organisation (this may be through channel online transactions, tenancy sustainment etc.).

The responses to these questions can then help build a case for investing in a holistic digital inclusion initiative that creates immediate impact, is scalable, and has sustainable benefits for both customers and the organisation.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and, if you have any thoughts, feedback or comments, I’d be keen to hear from you. Feel free to get in touch at cmilborrow@southside-ha.co.uk or find me on LinkedIn.