This pilot ran for around three weeks in May and we’re now ready to share the results. Its initial scope was to explore how we could effectively connect those ringing the Covid-19 helpline with ‘chat and check-in’ (befriending) services in the borough, utilising organisations offering those services on Find support services. This rested on training customer service agents in empathy and questioning techniques so they could really try and understand the caller’s emotional as well as practical needs.
It quickly became apparent that this style of engagement encourages residents to disclose some very difficult situations. And, by limiting our offer to chat and check-in, we would not be able to address their deeper concerns. So we expanded the pilot to make sure agents had knowledge of the wider support available and could direct residents to services – both internal and external to Hackney Council – that could help.
Community navigators, voluntary organisations and different departments across the Council work well together
Helpline agents derive enormous satisfaction from being able to connect with residents at a deeper level and with greater empathy
Residents only want to seek other support once they know the main issue they are ringing about is being addressed
External organisations helping residents need a little more information about the residents than agents currently provide
This different way of working needs an active and continued effort to embed it into business as usual; and training should be rolled out more gradually than we had time for!
Gov.Notify texts would be a big help instead of reading out phone numbers and urls
There are a few ways this pilot could contribute to a discussion around the direction of customer services, which are mentioned in greater detail in the findings. In brief, the pilot suggests we could:
Expand signposting to more categories (Find support services covers 12 including chat and check-in)
Expand signposting and training to other telephone lines and agents in the contact centre
Expand the depth of training for agents further
We’ll give the last word to the agents; who truly embraced this new approach and rose to the challenge at incredibly short notice:
“A disabled tenant rang the Covid helpline to say thank you for the food parcel. [I] advised about different organisations that we are working with to help residents. They thought the map was a very good idea and asked for a link to be emailed over.”
SC, Helpline agent
“It’s been a game-changer for me to being more helpful…It’s given me permission to be, ummm, a more empathic person, to take more pride in the job that I am doing, to see people a bit more, you know, as a person not just box them off and put them into categories.”
We’re putting some ‘how-to’ content on the Hackney website to get the ball rolling and start engaging with residents on the other side of the digital divide. The effectiveness of this approach will be tracked. We’re also continuing to explore the longer term (weeks not months) options on the roadmap, including the possibility of a volunteer-run helpline.
This week we wanted to concentrate on getting something out of the door. Less chat, more action. That ‘something’ is going to be some short, snappy content and videos of vital tasks that residents want to do online but can’t manage or haven’t tried.
The key message that underpins all of this work is:
If you can’t do it then it’s the design that’s broken, not you.
If you had a leaky teapot, you wouldn’t think ‘I must be pouring it badly’. You’d think ‘useless teapot’. It’s the same with anything online. If you can’t work out how to use it, the designers need to improve the design. Luckily, we’re no longer in the 1990s and software generally does function pretty well. If it didn’t, nobody would use it or buy it and tech giants would be more like tech dwarves.
Getting something out the door
We need to start somewhere so we’re starting with ‘getting an email account’ and ‘how to shop online’. We’ll be creating a page on the Hackney website and adding links to content elsewhere, as well as creating a couple of videos ourselves. This taps into our Reuse-Borrow-Build (in that order) mantra.
We know this approach isn’t a magic bullet. To ascertain if it works at all, we want to test with the food delivery cohort. After speaking to Liz Harrison and Bruce Devile, who are helping to coordinate the food programme, we know we can target a subset of households that want to do their own grocery shopping (and can afford to) but don’t know how. We can reach them by text (they’ve implemented Gov.Notify); and also, after speaking to Helen Clarke in External Communications, we can publicise the Web content by adding a flyer to the food boxes.
Knocking on the door
Going forward, we have a proto-plan to encourage volunteers or voluntary partners to produce digital skills content for residents. Hopefully we can persuade some of the borough’s talent in the creative industries to take up this mantle, through our partnership with Volunteer Centre Hackney. If, when they return to work, we can continue the relationship with them either directly or through their companies, it’s all to the good of Hackney’s residents.
The Web content allows us to deliver something early, test, analyse and iterate. However, we’re continuing to explore our longer term options. We know that 1:1 coaching is effective and are sussing out the practicalities of the helpline idea discussed previously with Connect Hackney. Hackney Council already uses the telephony software Puzzl in its contact centres. Our customer services agents are all now working from home and Puzzl is routing calls to their own phones. Speaking with the applications support team, it’s looking like re-using Puzzl for a digital skills helpline would not be beyond the bounds of possibility. Again, we’d like to pursue the volunteer angle to staff the helpline; at least to get us over the hump of lockdown for isolated residents.
Walking through the door
As we all start leaving the house, we might want to offer face-to-face coaching. We know that those most at risk continue to be reluctant to venture outside and any face-to-face needs to be as geographically close to their homes as possible. We’ve identified some Council spaces that could be utilised and will keep those in mind as this strand progresses.
We want to make sure we partner with talented VCOs operating across this area. We’ve already spoken with some relevant organisations and, over the next week or so, hope to expand our reach further.
We’ve shared our roadmap with the other strands of the Digital Divide programme in the fortnightly stand-up and got some helpful feedback. We will continue to provide an update through that, these weeknotes and member briefings. As ever, any questions, just ask!
This project focuses on supporting people in developing their digital skills. It is part of a broader piece of work around digital inclusion that encompasses improving connectivity and infrastructure with telecoms partners; the work schools are doing to support online learning; the roll out of the Department for Education’s laptop scheme; and assisting Hackney’s exceptional voluntary and community sector and other partners in their ambitions for digital inclusion.
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We had a really helpful conversation with some organisations working around digital inclusion in the borough. We learnt that a personal touch goes a long way in getting people across the digital divide; and are exploring further how we may be able to leverage the many digitally-savvy volunteers in Hackney to create a model that will work at scale.
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What we’ve learnt
Thanks to Connect Hackney, Age UK and Hello Hackney for sparing the time to chat to us last week about their work around older people and digital inclusion. It was really illuminating to have perspectives from a range of organisations, with each participant coming with their own specific experience and expertise.
A few things shone out. Firstly, it takes a lot of effort to get people across the digital divide. A few years ago, 1 in 4 weren’t online in Hackney; now it’s more like 1 in 10. These are likely to be the hardest to reach.
They also don’t have universal barriers or motivations. While we can group into cohorts around a need, this does mean that one cohort will likely be prioritised on some level ahead of another. It would be nice if we could respond to each individual’s circumstances.
Talking with the organisations, a 1:1 approach seems to work best, which makes sense. Who wouldn’t respond better to a personal tutor rather than a lecture theatre? You can collaborate much more easily when there’s only two of you.
Where can this take us?
To date, training has largely involved courses in libraries or community spaces for small groups of residents. While this personal touch undoubtedly yields benefits for those participating, you can’t hope to get around all 27,000 offliners in that way. (The fact these physical spaces are currently shut isn’t helping either).
This is a problem of scale versus personal touch. Two opposite ends of the spectrum. We’ve started to recognise some green shoots, however. There may be 27,000 people not on the internet in Hackney but about 243,000 are. To be fair, some are babies but you get the point.
Can we leverage people power? We’re going to explore further how we can deliver a 1:1 approach at scale. Using the Internet as little as possible to make the initial connection with people, for reasons that are hopefully obvious.
We learnt that there is at least one phone line offering digital support to residents. This is a valuable service in its own right but it also means that there is data on what residents are calling about and an existing model we can learn more from. We need to speak to these helplines! Happily, Connect Hackney can give us pointers.
Don’t be a stranger!
In other news, we continue to gather our stakeholders together – and will throughout this project. We’re avoiding the typical quadrant model of Interest versus Power as everyone will be able to access the same information via weeknotes. We’ll consult with various stakeholders throughout this project: the when, how and why will vary with the stage of the project, the nature of the engagement, etc.
We will, of course, make sure our project weeknotes are shared with those on the other aspects of the wider digital inclusion body of work. We’ve already seen the latest on Connectivity and look forward to more. If you’re just joining us, you can read our previous weeknotes on the HackIT blog.
Across Hackney there’s a wide range of work taking place to increase digital inclusion. This includes work to improve connectivity and infrastructure with telecoms partners; the work schools are doing to support online learning; the roll out of the Department for Education’s laptop scheme; and the work of our exceptional voluntary and community sector and other partners in their ambitions for digital inclusion.
Our project is focusing on the work that the Council can do to support people in developing their digital skills, as part of this borough-wide effort. We are collaborating with residents, local organisations and teams across the Council to learn from their experience and understand their needs.
The digital divide is an enormous issue facing thousands of people.
The key to cracking it is understanding what will motivate people sufficiently that they seek to overcome barriers and get online.
We want to work with organisations and residents to understand these factors and design an approach that will work for as many as we can.
In order to make an impact rapidly, we want to focus on a pilot group of older users in receipt of a food delivery so we can learn, iterate and roll out to others as fast as possible.
This is part of a wider programme addressing other barriers such as connectivity, affordability, etc.
Welcome to the first weeknote of this project; a project that has been paddling in the shallows for as long as the Internet has been around. We know from our Neighbourhood Conversations with residents that the digital divide is a pressing concern. Some of us have been swept along with the digital current, others have ducked under the wave. Coronavirus will likely make surfers of us all.
We’ve put a core team together at the Council to focus on this (Andrew Munk from Employment and Skills, Claire Witney from Policy, Megan Dibb-Fuller from IT Enabler Group and Susan McFarland-Lyons from ICT). However, it needs to be a collaborative effort between the Council, HCVS, voluntary and community organisations, volunteers, businesses and residents. A joined-up approach will be a big part of this programme. Miranda Eeles in Public Health will be helping to forge the link with the wider health and social care system.
There’s a wealth of technical know-how in Hackney and, if any borough can bridge the digital divide, it’s ours. Maybe it’s an overdose of dystopian fiction but, if this were the Hunger Games, we’d be District 14: Digital. Let’s run with that.
Framing the problem
Ahead of wider engagement, last week we needed to get our own heads into the ‘problem space’, using an online tool called IdeaFlip (think PostIts that don’t fall off walls):
What is the problem we’re looking at? Some people aren’t on the Internet.
How does this problem affect them? They can’t do certain tasks that are essential for day to day living and survival. They’re isolated. They rely on someone else and their timetable. Basically, they’re not in control.
What are the effects of the problem on others? Friends and family get frustrated with having to help all the time. Council (and other orgs) resources are diverted to tasks people could have sorted out themselves.
Who is most likely to be affected by this problem? Older residents, people with disabilities (eg poor eyesight, arthritis), those without devices or data, those who don’t trust the Internet or can’t access it… many different types of people.
What reasons do people give for having this problem? Don’t have the skills, don’t have a decent device, can’t afford data, can do what’s needed in person, don’t have time to learn something new, don’t want to.
What can someone do, be or have that doesn’t have this problem? Connect with others online, shop online, bank online, work or find a job, claim benefits, find housing, learn something new, listen to music, read news or get information, book a Covid-19 test.
This week, we’re hoping to get a call in with some key operators in this space so that we can discuss together and kick off that collaboration.
We thought that “I don’t have a device”, “I don’t have the skills” and “I don’t want to” warranted further discussion. Ultimately, this project seeks to overcome different people’s barriers but, without sufficient motivation, we’re not going to be able to do that. We need to understand better what these motivations are. There is little to be gained in giving phones and training if we haven’t yet won hearts and minds and understood the motivation that will drive them online.
An interesting aspect of the current Covid situation is its impact on motivation. Nobody ever woke up and said ‘I need to learn to install Zoom’. They woke up and thought ‘I need to speak to my grandchildren’. That was the motivation they needed to seek help to install Zoom. And, lo and behold, now they’re online. With sufficient motivation, people achieve extraordinary things. Look at Captain Tom Moore.
That’s our key. What are the things that people want to do so much that they will overcome almost any barriers to do them? We need to work with other organisations who know what these things are. Then we can focus on the skills to help people achieve their desires.
This project also forms part of a wider initiative to address other barriers such as connectivity, devices and affordability where these are additionally blocking access.
Start small and learn fast
Whatever we come up with, it needs to be scalable and sustainable. We know from the 2018 residents survey that most Hackney residents are confident using the Internet. But around 1 in 10 say that there are things that they want to do online, such as shopping, which they are not able to do for lack of knowledge or access. Extrapolating, that still could be 27,000 people in Hackney. We framed our problem as ‘some people are not online’. When ‘some’ might be 27,000, you start to see why we need a joint effort, and a new approach. No amount of face-to-face training is going to get round that many people any time soon.
At the moment, we can’t even speak to 27,000 offline residents let alone instigate a digital conversion. Think of the trees we’d have to fell to produce that many leaflets. So we’re going to start with a smaller group – try a few things, learn from others and iterate until we’re confident we’ve achieved what we set out to and can roll out further.
The cohort we’re suggesting to help first is older people on the food delivery list. This group:
is especially isolated (many aren’t leaving the house at all)
is likely to be in lockdown longer than others (they’re shielding)
struggles with the Internet more than others (they didn’t grow up with it)
is less likely to have a device (we can get them one if we have to)
is contactable through offline channels (via the food deliveries)
Interviews with residents in receipt of Hackney food deliveries have found that many residents are willing to pay for their food, they want to be able to choose what they eat and they want to select convenient delivery times. These can all be done online but they don’t have the digital skills to orchestrate an online shop. Over half of Hackney’s over 65s do not have access to the Internet. If we can teach them how, that could be the motivating factor that gets them online.
A quick trawl of Google reveals a mountain of research on the digital divide. We really don’t need to add to that mountain. Rather, we need someone to navigate that mountain with us. In the next few days, we’d like to connect with organisations that understand this cohort or that are tackling the digital divide. What things do people most want to do online? What are their barriers? What’s the best way to teach skills? Have they adapted their model in lockdown? How do we even start a conversation with people who aren’t online? This will be building on work that Policy has already done in this area.
It all sounds so simple at this point. No doubt the Gamemakers will be hurling obstacles in our way at every opportunity. But, if we all stand on each other’s shoulders, hopefully we can ride that wave together.
Weeknotes will be published here on the HackIT blog each week (don’t ask which day, nobody can remember what day it is) or ask Meg to put you on the mailing list.
In preparing for the next phase of development, we are drafting requirements for a new admin interface, API and database to feed the front-end website. This has been drafted from our original user stories as well as the learnings gathered since our rapid rollout for COVID-19. We intend to post on Digital Marketplace to gather bids from external agencies and also work up the cost of developing in-house.
We’re also finalising requirements on a new front-end that will include more complex functionality, in response to user feedback. The map has been around for a couple of months now and it’s a rare luxury to have such research at your fingertips.
Councillor Selman (Member for the voluntary sector) has gathered some useful insights for us. For example, voluntary and charity sector organisations asked for clarification around the verification criteria applied to requests for inclusion on the map. In response, we’ll review the wording of the criteria to make it clearer.
To ensure the map is user-centred and fit for purpose, we continue to carry out user research. In addition to the focussed user research with external participants (surveys, sorting exercises, heat map exercises, etc), we carry out user-testing ourselves in the team each week. This helps to identify any gaps or faults that can be quickly addressed as well as opportunities for future iterations and improvements.
In the press
Word is spreading about the map and this week we featured in UK Authority, which covers all things Govtech, digital and data. Meg did a great job of putting the map into context within the wider programme of our COVID-19 response, particularly in creating a ‘single source of truth’ on local voluntary and community services in an integrated care system.