“We don’t build houses, we build communities” 

That’s what one of our Digital Motivators said to me at a meet-up this week. What’s a Digital Motivator? Good question! 

Earlier this year we started a new project working with the social housing sector in Scotland. This project felt like a great recipe for increasing digital inclusion for several reasons:  

  • People living in social housing are 20% less likely to have Essential Digital Skills  
  • Housing providers play an important social role in local communities, often engaging with those who are excluded or isolated from many other services 
  • The opportunities to use an embedded digital champion approach is a perfect fit for the housing sector, taking advantage of their role in the local community  

When we started this project, we engaged with housing providers across Scotland, some of which we had already collaborated with, to start building a network. We ended up with 29 providers, from Orkney to the Scottish Borders, eager to get their digital inclusion work underway. Since June 2019 we’ve delivered almost 30 surgeries and trained over 260 Digital Champions (DCs) in the social housing sector in Scotland. We’ve learned a great deal from being in the training room with frontline housing staff. 

Based on our experience of delivering DC training and running our Senior Leaders Programme we know that a key element in a successful digital project is the culture of that organisation. Enter the Digital Motivator (DM). The DM is someone who has an excellent grasp on what their customers need help with whilst being able to lead, influence, shape and flex within their organisation to help make digital inclusion part of that support offer. They are catalysts for changing they way their organisation does things and provides services. These individuals do exactly what they say on the tin – motivate. We affectionately refer to them as ‘keen beans’.  

So how do you prepare a DM for the task ahead? We took them to Digital Bootcamp, of course! This residential bootcamp was a key part of the design of the project – keeping them away from the distractions of their daily work to focus on developing an action plan and building links with others from similar roles.  

Back in their day jobs DMs are responsible for recruiting their DCs. At SCVO we’ve always promoted an embedded model for DCs – ‘digital’ is another tool that can be used to help achieve a positive outcome. Embedded DCs can maximise their impact as they already have established relationships with these tenants, and there’s an element of trust inherent in their interactions.  

Once our DMs recruited staff to become DCs we arranged to deliver a DC Surgery – a half day training session to explore the role and qualities of a DC. DCs aren’t digital gurus, they don’t need to be, but they do need to be good with people. Our surgeries really focus on unpicking fears around digital, the positive impacts of digital, promoting Essential Digital Skills and where to access resources to develop digital skills. We don’t deliver digital skills; we nurture the meta-skills that a DC needs. Being a DC is about upskilling, it’s not ‘another job’ for staff to do.  

In the Digital Team at SCVO we have adopted an agile and iterative approach to how we deliver our projects, often making use of ‘retrospectives’ to continually review and improve how we work. A few sessions into this project we changed the running order of our surgeries. We brought forward a session on fears and prejudices to give learners the opportunity to lay out everything that bothers them about digital.  

 Some of the fears that we’ve encountered have included: 

  • Increasing vulnerability: a common theme we see in the training room is the fear of increasing vulnerability. There can be resistance to getting some people online as they may easily become victims to online scams, especially if they already have underlying vulnerabilities. There are risks to being online, as there are risks to almost everything we do in the physical world. We learn how to mitigate these risks and protect ourselves rather than never leaving our own homes. Once staff feel confident about staying safe online and understand how to protect themselves, they will be in a better position to overcome the ‘risk’ barrier. Of course, digital might not be for everyone, but being able to make more informed decisions will ensure that everyone who can benefit from being online is given the opportunity.  
  • Losing the human touch: many staff, quite rightly, pointed out that digital cannot be a substitution for basic human contact for those who need it most. We completely agree. Digital is an enabler to help increase different forms of contact and communication, but we don’t promote it as the only option – it’s complimentary. Staff need to be reassured that human interaction remains vitally important and that digital won’t replace this.  
  • Efficiency Savings: in most of our DC surgeries we’ve heard staff talk about their anxieties about their organisations going digital to make efficiency savings and reduce the need for paid staff doing jobs that could otherwise be automated. One of our partners in this project (Chris Milborrow from Southside Housing Association) makes the case for senior management clearly communicating their digital strategies, with the focus always on improving the customer/tenant experience. Read his blog here.  In fact, any savings made through online interventions frees up staff to invest more quality time with those who really need it the most.  

So great are the fears of some people when it comes to the digital world it can be difficult to discuss the positive impacts with raising a legitimate corresponding fear. It’s an important session for many reasons. Staff need to be aware of how their own fears and prejudices impact on their ability to get their tenants online. Those that don’t have so many fears need to be aware that others do, and this will apply to many of their tenants. It’s also important to challenge fears through some myth-busting or promoting basic online security and how to control your privacy settings, understanding the things that you do have control over in the digital world. Creating the culture that supports digital means we must listen to these fears so that they don’t become barriers.    

If you’d like to join in on the conversation around digital inclusion in the housing sector then join us on Thursday 20th February at the Gathering. We’ll be hosting a conversation session with some of our Digital Motivators and Kate Forbes MSP, Minister for the Digital Economy. Find out more and register here.  

You can keep up to date with our progress by following @digiscot