For the past 12 months, we’ve been working with 29 social housing organisations across Scotland to build a network of Digital Champions supporting tenants across the social housing sector. The impact of the project which aimed to embed digital inclusion within housing front-line services was formally evaluated and you can read the full Evaluation Report and supporting case studies from The Lines Between on our Project webpage here

We were delighted to learn that the key elements of the project have worked well, and the participating associations and their tenants have already benefited in confidence and skill levels as well as feeling empowered to do more digitally. One of the main outcomes has been the highly valued network to share experiences, ideas, and examples to drive digital change and inclusion work forward.  

Having the opportunity to connect with others to share approaches and challenges is important, especially when one of the guiding principles of digital inclusion work has been impacted by Coronovirus – getting together face to face. Combined with an urgency to help people get online to access life-line services, your own network of ‘digital inclusion buddies’ is vital. 

So, we recently had a virtual meetup with several of our social housing Digital Motivators (DMs) from across the network to check-in about their priorities, adapting their services and digital inclusion support during this time. 

Here’s a summary of the key takeaways:  

Identifying needs – The DMs all indicated that their priority right now was to undertake regular welfare calls to check in with their tenants. Along with a duty of care it’s also helping to build an accurate profile of their tenants, particularly vulnerable ones, and their needs.  

By building in some digital inclusion related questions – Do you have connectivity / a device?  

Do you know how to get online? Would you like help with this? – also ensures they have the right data to focus digital inclusion support going forward. 

Person-centred support – The DMs all agreed that another digital inclusion guiding principle of ‘keeping it person centred’ was key. Finding their tenants ‘hook’ – staying connected to family, managing their health or finances, sourcing essentials – should continue to be at the heart of the support offered.  

This key message was reflected in our ‘Digital inclusion in housing during social distancing’ webinar recently delivered to Chartered Institute of Housing members: 

Regularly updating – DMs recognised that letting tenants (both online and offline) know what the current service provision is, including Digital Champion support, how to get in touch and signposting to other relevant services is important. 

This has involved maximising social media and email as well as using more traditional methods like phone and print. Whilst the urgency and frequency of communicating may be dropping off, it’s still important to update regularly. 

Maximising partnerships – DMs were aware that tenants are engaging with various services in their community that are all trying to respond to needs so it’s important to maximise efforts through partnership working.  Some have linked up with voluntary organisations in the community, both established and emerging, including for digital inclusion activities. With some staff already furloughed and more potentially in the future, linking up with others in the community will be vital to leverage the resources available. 

However, an emerging barrier flagged up was the banning of flexible tech tools like Zoom and Slack due to concerns over security by key partners. Whilst this won’t stop partnership working, the DMs did have concerns it would make collaboration more difficult during an already challenging time. 

Remote working – Along with supporting tenants during this time, the DMs and their colleagues are also getting to grips with working remotely using digital tools.  Some were more prepared than others with remote working options being trialled and embedded in their organisations already, whilst others have been thrown in the deep end!  

Despite this sudden submerge into this new way of working, staff have started swimming in the Office 365 Teams or Facebook Workspace pool with growing confidence. Some credited their existing Digital Champions for helping staff to navigate this along with having a good understanding of staff digital skills after using the Essential Digital Skills Toolkit to undertake an audit. 

However, there was discussion around finding the balance between utilising apps that are traditionally for personal use like Whatsapp and the impact it can have on duplicating work across multiple platforms or being able to ‘switch off’.  

For guidance on remote working and digital service delivery, check out the SCVO Coronavirus Hub here. The Digishift activities will also be of interest with a housing and homelessness focussed session coming soon. 

Keeping conversations going  

Touching base with others in a similar situation was reassuring to the DMs. Whilst the Coronavirus response work is evolving and the learning curve is steep, having communication channels around digital inclusion open so we can continue to respond to needs now and longer-term is crucial. 

If you’d like to join the wider digital inclusion in Scotland conversation, then please join our online community on Slack today!