Monday, 16 July 2012

Digital Inclusion at Wolverhampton Homes

For the past two years, encouraging digital inclusion in tenants has been a delivery plan level priority for Wolverhampton Homes. This means it's in one of the top ten most important things the business is working on.
We recognise that digital inclusion makes sense for our tenants (they're better able to access employment, training, manage their finances, be connected with their family, friends and community). We also recognise it's makes sense for us.
Interacting with us online, rather than in person or over the phone, is cheaper and, when done right, more convenient for both parties. We've long held the view that online channels will not replace face-to-face or phone contact but that online gives our customers greater choice.
At our last STAR survey, we found out that 49% of our customers have some access to the internet. We know that figure will be growing every day, particularly as the non-contract smart phone market matures.
Our approach to digital inclusion has been about creating 'pulls' and 'pushes' that will (hopefully) nudge up the number of tenants who use the internet and help develop their skills.


  • We've held five Homes on the Net sessions - these are opportunities for tenants who have never used the internet to come along and have a go. These are group sessions where tenants sit with a staff member and chat about what they'd like to use the internet for and together they give it a go. What's good about these sessions is they are informal and friendly, and genuine relationships are formed, what's bad is we can only host 12 tenants at a time - not exactly scalable.
  • We put a tablet and PC into a former sheltered housing scheme and hooked them up with broadband. Our ICT team trained the tenants on how to use them. This has had some success with a handful of tenants really taking to it but again it's not scalable.
  • We're setting up an online self-service where tenants can directly access their accounts, update their details, report repairs and book appointments. A lot of housing organisations have similar services but most don't link into their housing management system. If they don't, it (usually) means an email is generated and someone at the landlord end of the transaction has to do something with it. This means it's not a genuine 24 hour service. What we wanted was a system where people could instantly book their own repairs appointments depending on what suited them without having to have a person at the other end. This is way more difficult to set up but we believe it will be worth it for the better quality of service it will offer customers. We have just trialled the first phase with tenants and it went well.
  • We worked with a group of tenants in Low Hill to set up a website for their area. The idea was that a resident-led website would stimulate people to want to get online to find out the latest news and information. It hasn't been a total fail but it hasn't succeeded in the way we wanted it to. Part of the problem, I think, is that we used Ning and the barrier of having to log in to a platform they weren't used to, put people off. I keep meaning to blog about it and I will soon.
  • We've set up presences on social media and encourage tenants to interact with us about whatever they like there. Facebook is the most popular for customer interaction; we get occasional customer engagement on Twitter. We use youtube for videos of anything and everything.
  • We've gone to where the people are: our Council runs the immensely successful Wolverhampton Today facebook page; we share our stuff with them and vice versa, and we are hugely lucky to be working in a city with exemplary citizen digital engagement in the shape of WV11. We interact with those guys whenever we can.
There's a few other initiatives we're trying too. We are also soon to be starting a project with the Council, Police and a couple of other organisations to try and stimulate digital inclusion in neighbourhoods through social media surgeries. I've been a 'surgeon' at various surgeries around the midlands and I've seen how powerful they can be at connecting people and ideas. I have high hopes for this project, but I'm still not convinced we've found the key to unlocking digital inclusion en masse. I think more likely it will take lots of little things over time to get to the tipping point; what I hope is that our efforts can hurry that tipping point along.

If you're ever trying to make the case for digital inclusion, I like this video. This Ning for digital inclusion is also useful to check out.


  1. Hi Kate

    You really are doing some great stuff.

    You say some of your initiatives are not scaleable, but I would question this. Have you thought of training up the tenants who come to your Homes on the Net sessions to deliver such sessions themselves? This could cascade the approach out, very much like how the Social Media Surgery movement has spread.

    Also, I wonder about putting equipment in sheltered accommodation. Could you not source some cheap recycled PCs, perhaps from the machines your own organisation is renewing, and reduce the costs that way?

    And, finally, I think you are right about people not wanting to log on to unfamiliar platforms like Ning. I would favour something like an open blog coupled with use of Facebook pages.

  2. Hi John

    Thanks for your comment. The short answer is yes and yes.

    We have tried to get the cascade approach going and it is working to some extent, but where people can't use a mouse or a keyboard, it can take quite a while to get them to a point where they feel confident and definitely until they feel confident enough to teach other people.

    We are also doing stuff with putting in recycled PCs, accessing grants for new ones, putting in broadband to various blocks and meeting rooms...

    I suppose you are sensing my frustration at it that I don't feel we've made enough of a difference yet, but my hunch is that lots of little things and a concerted effort over time will get there. Maybe we need a digital inclusion camp?

    Thanks once again.

    Kate x

  3. Ooh, I think a #digitalinclusioncamp is a great idea. Paul Webster (@watfordgap) and I have frequently discussed doing a fringe event at the National Digital Inclusion Conference, which many feel has got a bit too glitzy and focuses too much on talking heads dispensing wisdom.

    Let's do it!

  4. Hi Kate, I agree with John - some great work already being done, and your obvious tenacity is shining through!

    Some ideas from me:
    - Utilise local UK online centres, either as a reference point for tenants, or by approaching them to do outreach into your estate - has an address finder if you haven't connected with them already
    - How about creating a couple of nice video case studies of locals who have directly benefited, maybe uploaded to YouTube and then promoting them in your comms to residents?
    - How about offering your next Resident Involvement meeting as an online affair to create some buzz? We use Google Hangouts and webinars to great effect, but there are many other ways of holding an virtual meeting quite inexpensively
    - Maybe even have the Chief Exec could hold an online 'Ask the Boss' session for the staff to show his support of all things online?

    Just a couple of suggestions to keep the momentum going. I agree that it takes a lot of small interventions to get the 'hardest to reach' to engage.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. Hi Kate, I was really interested to read about your digital inclusion activities here. Just thought I should mention that at Digital Unite we have loads of free guides on our website - - about using computers, smartphones, tablets, social media etc that might be useful for your sessions, surgeries (and camps!). We also have a couple of online courses that train people to be informal and formal Digital Champions, designed to address the issues of scaleability. Anyway, good luck with your valuable work, ultimately it is so worth it.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...