Bridging the digital divide together: weeknotes 19/05/20

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.

30s read

  • 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. 

3min read

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):

  1. What is the problem we’re looking at? Some people aren’t on the Internet. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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. 
  6. 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.

Motivating factors

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. 

Navigating together

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.

Accelerating online user journeys: weeknotes 07/05/20

Last time, we told you about our improvements to the benefits journeys on the Hackney website, ensuring visitors are presented with a helpful, logical tour of the financial assistance available to them. This segwayed into council tax as there are a number of discretionary schemes and allowances that the newly cash-strapped need to be made aware of. It’s like six degrees of separation, you start following one lead and then realise the whole shebang is interconnected. With Kevin Bacon at the end of it. 

Council tax reduction

We continue to respond to the situation that befalls us. Enormous thanks to the teams in Benefits and Council Tax who contributed, and continue to contribute, to this work. And, of course, to Eleanor Snow who is driving these improvements forward. These words may be mine but the effort is all hers. 

We’ve learnt that the Council is hearing from residents who have a unique set of circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This is residents, particularly owner-occupiers, who have never claimed benefits like Council Tax Reduction before. This is reinforced by more calls to the Council Tax line from residents who don’t understand how to apply for Council Tax Reduction. So we worked to adapt the user journey to meet this new cohort’s needs. And have been careful to choose language that best relates to their situation. The result is a new page that residents can be directed to both online and offline. 

Measure for measure

We need to quantify the effects of our changes; and we’ve been exploring ways to effectively measure their impact. We would expect a reduction in the number of calls from people telling us that they don’t know how to apply online, an uptake in traffic on the relevant pages and an increase in online applications. 

Unfortunately, such data is hard to come by with our current set-up. For example, we’d like to compare the number of click-throughs to the form on the old versus new journeys but, without Google Tag Manager, this isn’t possible. That really only leaves us with uptake on traffic. However, many of our Coronavirus pages are new and so we cannot compare with previous figures. 

Prior to Covid, we’d been working on a side hustle with Tim and Tapan in Data to see if we could embed more of a performance measurement function in our online services; and they were delving into Google Tag Manager and Data Studio. This has been curtailed for obvious reasons but hopefully we can pick it up again soon. Meanwhile, we will continue to do the best we can with the tools we have and the insight of the services with which we work.


Continuing our preoccupation with money, we’ve now moved onto most people’s largest outlay: rent. There are many ways to pay your rent. Possibly too many. There are three ways online. We’ve been looking at the relative ease of these routes, their uptake, our ability to improve them… it’s a multi-faceted problem. But, fortune favours the bold. 

We’ve heard from the service that the number of people not paying rent has increased during Covid and there’s a suspicion this is because they had previously paid in HSC or at the kiosks, avenues that are now barred. We’d like to find a way to switch them to online payments. 

We’ve been working with the rents team to identify ways to drive more people to the online rent portal and ensure an optimum experience when they get there. The KPI here is an increase in visitors to the rent portal. Rents regularly sends communications to residents to prompt payment and so, without better tracking, we’ll find it hard to prove that any increase is due solely to the changes we make. But it’s a start.

The rents team also flagged that they’re keen to reduce the circa 3000 calls a month about rent balances. This information can also be found in the rent portal so we’ve looked at how to improve the journey from the homepage to balance. An obvious KPI will be a reduction in the 3000 calls so we’ll be tracking that as far as we can. 

Down to business

As livelihoods are threatened, demand for business grants has naturally skyrocketed. We’ve been working with Olga Vandenburgh in Business Comms to make sure the content on the website is easy to follow; and reflects central Government’s latest stance. It’s no mean feat to ensure that the website is up to date but is also joined up with other digital channels such as newsletters, microsites, tweets, etc. 

All booked up

Enough about money. We need to feed our souls as well as our bank accounts. For some, the struggle with lockdown is that they are not working, and don’t feel useful. Others are working, and need escapism. Many are on their own and plain bored. Enter stage right, books. Nobody puts it better than C S Lewis, “We read to know we are not alone.”

There has been a 2062% increase in unique page visits to the e-library page in a 4 day period in April compared to February. And more actual visits than rubbish, business rates, rent, noise… you name it. Plus, we know from Hotjar feedback that most residents are specifically looking at e-books on this page and not newspapers or audiobooks. 

Though our libraries are closed, the world of literature remains open through our e-library. The user journey is not perfect but, as the King of Hearts said to Alice, “[We will] begin at the beginning and go on till [we] come to the end.” Much of the library journey is within a third party and not on the Hackney website but we will collaborate with the service to improve the experience where we can. A KPI would be click-throughs to the third party, however, we can’t yet measure this. Libraries does, however, carry data on the number of downloads so we can track this. The trouble is, the more steps you are away from the metric, the less you can establish a causal relationship. 

Still, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. Thanks, Voltaire. He’s always good for a candid retort.

Hackney’s new Change Support Team

Shortly before Christmas, I joined Hackney Council to set up a new Change Support Team. I’m well overdue a first weeknote, so I’ll brand this a ‘month note’ for now… The main news here is that we’re hiring for three very exciting roles – keep reading for details. 

Some first impressions of Hackney:

I’ve been unbelievably impressed by my colleagues around the Council and the work that’s being done – in just a few weeks I’ve seen amazing examples of change and innovation across all areas of council services

The speed and scale of change in the borough is massive. My colleagues in the Data and Insight team put this image together which gives a sense of the scale of change in the last ten years.

It’s sobering to remember though that this level of change doesn’t benefit all Hackney residents equally. The borough still has 11th highest level of deprivation in the UK, and that’s particularly challenging when you look at, for example, the impact of rapidly rising rental costs on Hackney’s low income residents.

Broader than the trends in Hackney, the scale of rising need is shocking. National policy failures in housing, mental health services and adult social care for example all take on new meaning when you see what those crises mean for vulnerable residents and the front line staff who are being asked to do more with less to support their residents. 

The response to these challenges has been incredibly impressive at Hackney, with staff leading on new ways of working in their service areas to manage all sorts of change. In just the few weeks I’ve been here, I’ve seen how Adult Social Care have introduced the Three Conversations Model, how colleagues in Housing have introducing new tech to streamline work around managing tenancies, and partnership working with the voluntary sector and local communities to improve outcomes for young black men. Over 70 staff members from across the council have completed three day Agile training, to help introduce new ways of working, focusing on keeping users at the centre of design and quick experiments which encourage “failing fast”. 

The new Change Support Team:

The Change Support Team will provide extra capacity to support this kind of change. The team will act as an internal consulting agency, sitting with different services across the Council, building confidence and capability to deliver complex change. 

We’re going to hire for a multidisciplinary team – combining expertise in Service Design, Behavioural Insights and Agile Delivery. We’ll run short term projects with different teams around the council. The roles will essentially be like working for a public sector agency – but without the business development and with the ability to work long term with colleagues and build up a real expertise in the borough and our residents.  

The success of our team will be defined by the degree to which we’re perceived to be an integral part of the Council service we work with – embedding the confidence to embrace change and adopt new ways of working, not simply ‘doing transformation to’ services.

I think the roles we’re recruiting for are very exciting jobs – it’s a great way for someone with local government experience to apply their skill sets across a range of services and develop expertise in a range of new areas; similarly this team is a brilliant opportunity for anyone with academic, private sector or voluntary sector background to apply their skills and make a real difference at scale. 

We’re looking for people who: 

  • Have experience of working in teams using Lean, Agile and User Centred principles to drive complex change 
  • Can demonstrate excellent problem solving skills – ability to adapt and iterate when necessary, and lead in ambiguity 
  • Enjoy – and are good at – working with people. You’ll bring an agency mindset to the role, seeing the service teams around the Council as our clients, and bring client or stakeholder management experience to this work. 

I’ve included an overview of the roles we’re recruiting to below – and you’ll find the full job adverts and descriptions on our recruitment site.  I’m more than happy to chat to anyone interested. If you’re not sure whether the job description is right for you, please get in touch on and we can set up a quick chat. 

Two of these job ads aren’t live yet. Keep an eye out early next week – or drop me an email and I’ll be in touch when the adverts are live

  1. Behavioural Insights Analyst (Up to £54k)

Some of the things you’ll be responsible for in this role: 

  • Research: Use quantitative and qualitative skills to lead on research in discovery phase; understanding how Council services are used and where problems are that BI approaches could help solve
  • Designing, running and evaluating experiments: Using behavioural science methodologies to design interventions; working closely with the Service Teams to understand impact of tests on costs, efficiencies, processes and residents’ experiences of Council services
  • Communicating and implementing change:Using outcomes data from tests to work with other teams to implement changes to Council services. Communicating projects and methodologies effectively to build capability and confidence of colleagues around the Council to adopt behavioural science approaches

This job is ideal for someone looking to apply their expertise in behavioural insights to a range of different topics, services, communities and problems. You’ll have expert knowledge of behavioural science techniques, and experience implementing these to achieve better outcomes.  Ideally we are looking for someone with core behavioural insights experience; however we are happy to consider applications from those who have worked in related fields, for example in digital marketing, advertising, public health or social research.

See the job description here

2. Service Designer (Up to £51k)

This role is ideal for someone looking to apply their expertise in change management and agile working to a public sector setting. You’ll do some of the following types of work:

  • Writing Business Cases: Use council data sets and research with service teams to quantify issues, to present analysis of why change to a process or service will benefit the council and residents. 
  • Create process maps and customer journeys: Work with service teams and colleagues in the Change Support Team to map existing journeys and processes, as well as other Agile tools such as user pen portraits, How Might We statements, etc. in order to focus on where Change should happen
  • Design solutions and trial these with service teams: You’ll work with the Behavioural Insights specialist and Delivery Manager to design new processes and test the impact with Service Teams. 

We’re looking for solid analytical skills here, more so than in some Service Design jobs. You’ll need to be confident in business analysis skills, understanding the costs of existing processes and making the case financially to work on any given issue. 

You might have worked as a designer, a management or strategy consultant, researcher or analyst, or have had responsibility for innovative approaches to developing services or programmes; you’ll now be looking to apply your skills to a wide range of different service areas and to join a dynamic community focused on delivering better outcomes for residents

Please see job description here.

3. Delivery Manager

As Delivery Manager, you’ll be central to the new Change Support Team’s success. You’ll have responsibility for: 

  • Managing the team’s workload: Leading on our Agile approaches – for example, leading Sprint planning meetings, Sprint review meetings and retrospectives, managing the Team’s Trello board and cleaning and prioritising the backlog;
  • Relationship management: Liaising between the Change Support Team and Service Teams around the Council, managing pipeline of potential projects, scoping and designing projects with Service Teams
  • Communications and Evaluation: Leading on creation of product road maps, show and tells, week notes, other communications around the Council. Evaluating impact of the team’s projects and creating dashboards of the team’s work

You might have worked as a Scrum Master, in Delivery or Product roles, or have had responsibility for innovative approaches to project management. You’ll be happy to work flexibly, supporting colleagues on projects as the need arises and developing skills in related areas, such as user centred research and data analysis as required.

Hackney Spacebank: weeknote, w/c 12th August

Meet the unicorn of omniscience – handsome isn’t he.

Three things you need to know about Spacebank this week:

1. The end of our discovery is looming

We are aiming to finish our discovery work on community halls by the end of August. There’s nothing a deadline to help us focus on what’s important vs. what’s nice to have. The trick is finding the sweet spot of knowing enough to make a decision about what to do next, rather than chasing the unicorn of omniscience. 

2. Observation of community halls team

Our researchers Sam and Winston spent a few hours observing the community hall team this week. They shadowed colleagues who are responsible for one-off and repeat bookings. It was great to experience first hand how the team deals with enquiries and handle bookings. This extra detail really adds to our understanding about the process. Thanks to Coralie and her team for giving us their time and insight. 

3. Up next

We’ve got a feedback session next Tuesday with stakeholders. We’ll be sharing what we’ve learnt so far and what we’re planning to do next. Hearing what they think is really important to us – good or bad. Their feedback will help shape where we focus our efforts in the next couple of weeks.

We’ll be analysing all the data we’ve gathered from our interviews with the community halls team and existing bookers. We are looking for themes within and across both groups and using the information to build journey maps. We’re also organising interviews with colleagues who use community halls and “non-bookers”. 

Building a pipeline of talent – HackIT digital apprenticeship programme

Our 21 apprentices in our first cohort have been settling in since September – and are already having a really positive impact across our teams. We have apprentices across all our teams- from applications to data, delivery to digital service design, infrastructure, software development and support, on a variety of level 3 and 4 apprenticeships. They’re from a diverse range of backgrounds but they are all either Hackney residents or attended a Hackney school – part of the borough’s commitment to providing opportunities for our residents.

It’s a key part of our workforce strategy – we know that in a market where digital skills are at a premium we need to work hard to attract the right candidates, and that growing our own talent is vital. It’s also a great way of bringing new ideas and diverse experiences into our team.

The right learning in the right way

Since September we’ve been focussed on working with our three apprenticeship providers Ada, Arch and WKCIC to make sure we’re supporting the apprentices with the right learning in the right way. This hasn’t all been plain sailing – working with three separate providers means there  are different approaches to learning, and sometimes a complex set of relationships to navigate. Luckily we’re well supported by the Hackney Works apprenticeship team, and we’ve been able to iterate and improve how we’re doing things as we’ve learnt.

We’ve also been helping the apprentices to build their own professional networks. Amazon hosted a day of learning in December, running a series of skills workshops, idea generation sessions and an opportunity to learn how Amazon innovate. Feedback from the apprentices was hugely positive and enthusiastic – you can read more from Hidayat about the day and what it meant to him.

What’s next?

We’re continuing our work to develop a network of local employers who we can collaborate with to build a pipeline of digital talent in Hackney. As a result of a successful and creative joint workshop with Amazon in December, where we listened to views and generated ideas from learning providers and small businesses we have a host of ideas for how we can move this forwards – on this we’re thinking big, but acting small, and it’ll be exciting to see where that takes us.

Next up for the HackIT apprenticeship programme is strengthening those emerging professional networks. And we’re working with Google, Amazon and other employers to see what other learning opportunities we can create for the whole programme. We’ve got specific events planned for our female apprentices – recognising that women are in the minority in the tech industry and wanting to play our part in changing this. To do that we think we need to make sure we’re consciously supporting them and that that might need different approaches.

There’s a shared mission as well – showing the value that apprenticeships can bring, and supporting our apprentices to feel confident to talk about that themselves.