23 January 2020

In 2018, research conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested that 8% of people in the UK were estimated to have no basic digital skills, lacking the ability to manage information, communicate, transact, problem solve or create via digital channels. A further 12% had only limited skills.

So, there’s an argument that supporting digital inclusion goes to the heart of the social purpose of housing associations. It can have a marked impact on the lives of customers and benefit the communities that we serve.

If this wasn’t incentive enough, there are clear, tangible business benefits. Customers with better employment prospects, greater ability to manage their finances, and a stronger support network of friends and family are likely to be more resilient.

In 2019, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) launched the Digital Champions in Social Housing project, partnering with 30 different organisations across Scotland to create a network of housing providers ‘doing’ digital. To support the project, SCVO partnered with Glasgow Kelvin College to develop an online certificate to help colleagues within the sector to plan and deliver effective and sustainable digital inclusion projects.

Preparation and planning

In order to ensure that projects are holistic, robust and justifiable, the certification places an emphasis on creating plans that are supported by a well-considered business case that is challenged and agreed by stakeholders.

The time and effort invested in preparing a project and completing the planning process properly should result in the following questions being answered:

  • Why are we undertaking this project?
  • What are the expected benefits (for the customer, the business etc.) and how will we know whether or not we’ve achieved them?
  • Could we enhance the expected project benefits by taking a more holistic approach (i.e. by combining infrastructure, technology and skills)? If so, how? What would the implications be?
  • How could we enhance our project by using other available resources?
  • Do the costs and resourcing requirements justify the benefits?
  • Have we agreed an achievable timeline for delivering the project based on the resources available?
  • Who are our stakeholders and how do we plan on involving them?

Challenging the business case using these questions ensures that it is pressure tested. It may then require re-thinking and editing to ensure that the final case has a greater chance of success.

Delivery

Regardless of nature or scale, you need to ensure that there are people championing the project. Identifying the right Digital Champions (DCs) is key: DCs don’t have to be digital gurus, but they do need to be good with people and confident in using digital to solve problems.

There are a number of models available to recruit a network of DCs. SCVO promotes the ‘embedded model’ as this helps make digital a part of day-to-day activities and doesn’t require creating a specific post to deliver. The embedded approach also leverages established relationships with customers, making it easier for staff to find a ‘hook’ to engage in a conversation about digital such as video calls with family or using the internet to explore different hobbies. The hook should initially tap into an interest, and not be housing-related or task-based, like signing up for Universal Credit. This encourages customers to realise that digital is something positive, which then opens the door to conversations about how it can provide benefits elsewhere, including finding employment or accessing government services.

Digital Champion models (source: onedigitaluk)

Once DCs have found the hook, they can use the Essential Digital Skills toolkit to identify skills gaps and build a learning plan. The toolkit is a resource that is free to use and can be adapted to meet the needs of individual organisations.

Monitoring and evaluation

The final part of the certification aims to answer ‘How do we know we’ve achieved what we set out?’. This is incredibly important, as it allows us to quantify the benefits, justify the project and consider lessons to apply in the future.

SCVO uses a ‘Snapshot Week’ methodology to capture quantitative data on the number of tenants reached by DCs. Digital ‘interactions’ or ‘nudges’ happen every day and can be as small as directing a tenant to the online portal for reporting repairs. Recording these interactions as a core part of business delivery every day doesn’t seem practical. Snapshot Week asks DCs to keep a tally of the number of customers they have supported with their digital skills over the course of a week in order to measure impact. These results are then extrapolated to give a monthly overview.

Of course, data is only part of the way we can demonstrate impact. Real life stories really help complete the picture, whether this is through case studies, podcasts, videos or any other creative ways of storytelling. These resources can be great tools for motivating staff to embrace digital, as well as showing customers that it’s never too late to get online and enjoy the benefits digital can offer.

To find out more about the Certificate in Digital Inclusion Project Management (SCQF Level 8) please email digital@scvo.org.uk.

Chris Milborrow, Claire Sharp and Aaron Slater

Chris is Business Improvement Manager at Southside Housing Association, Claire is the Digital Participation Officer and Aaron is the Digital Participation Manager for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Chris Milborrow

Chris is Business Improvement Manager at Southside Housing Association (SHA) in Glasgow. Chris is currently leading SHA’s digital transformation project which includes a full housing management, finance and asset systems implementation in partnership with Orchard Information Systems, and development and delivery of an organisation-wide IT & Digital Strategy.

Claire Sharp

Claire is the Digital Participation Officer for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). She works on a variety of projects in addition to this one, including the management of Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter and the Essential Digital Skills Toolkit. She has ten years’ experience of working in employability and digital inclusion.

Aaron Slater

Aaron is the Digital Participation Manager for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). This includes work on the hugely successful One Digital consortium, Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter and a project working with social housing providers from across Scotland to build a network of digital champions. Aaron has worked in the third sector for the past 10 years.

Digital inclusion project management