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Digital inclusion – Facing the future

Helen Reynolds asks what rapid changes in digital technology will mean for housing

There’s some fantastic debate around how technology will impact on housing in the UK, and some skepticism about what qualifies as appropriate. The future is not so distant: we’re used to consumer technology advancing at a staggering rate and public services won’t fall too far behind.

Here are five changes that will affect communities and housing providers in the future Wales.

1. A move from audiences to communities

‘The difference between an audience and a community is just which way the chairs are facing,’ says Chris Brogan.

The old world saw marketing and communications behave like broadcasters – sending a signal from one to many.

Social media has changed all that, our expectations have changed and we can now talk back and as individuals we can all publish our own content online at very low costs.

The future will see staff in organisations having voices among many other people: customers, partner organisations, charities and business will all contribute to online debate and policy forming in a more democratic way.

No more box-ticking consultation, looking for feedback on what they already know they want to do. 

2. The end of print communications

Is digital inclusion going to be ‘a thing’ in 2024?

Eight in ten Welsh households now have access to the internet. Tablet ownership in Wales has doubled in the last year, with just under half (45 per cent) of households now owning a device (source: Ofcom). That’s a rapid adoption of mobile devices since 2010 when the first iPad was released.

Ten years is a long time in housing and technology. At that rate of change, it’s not so hard to imagine us soon all kitted out with wearable communications devices.

The printed word won’t be a thing you do to reach offline people, it will become a separate artform. Paper books haven’t died out, but UK magazines and newspapers are increasingly looking for new business models that recognise the decline in paper publishing.

In the future, housing and council communications budgets won’t include paper, ink and physical distribution.

However, print might live on to create more permanent features that live with us, that aren’t disposable, like art, posters and merchandise. 3D printing will be mainstream, unlocking creativity and innovation in people from all backgrounds.

Housing organisations will play a role in supporting and encouraging creative and inventive people to flourish.

4.Old people will take over (I hope)

Older people will be more respected for their experience, and will demand and make change rather than passively receiving services.

As they access more and better information about their health on the internet, and connect online with people who share their interests, they’ll become fitter and less lonely.

People will discuss views and plans on whatever is the social network of the time and communicate with staff and board members (who are visible and accessible online) to influence policy. Many will use self-driving cars to meet with people face to face.

Older people, far from being a burden on resources, will be active contributors to their communities: leading, documenting and adding their experience and knowledge so organisations learn from the past.

I worked on the Monmouthpedia project, and was gobsmacked at the knowledge local people were keeping stored in their heads. A bit of Wikipedia training meant information that would’ve eventually died with these people was documented for all to find.

To be selfish about this, we are the old people of the future so if we don’t believe and nurture this development, we’ll be sorry.

5. We’ll grow up online

Young people won’t care about their privacy in the ways we currently do. People will share their personal and professional lives unselfconsciously.  They’ll be comfortable to exchange vast amounts of data about themselves in return for free or low cost services.

People will trust housing organisations and local authorities more than the big companies to use their data to improve lives not to improve profits.

Public sector and charity communications will seem less irrelevant when they are starting well targeted conversations. For instance, in response to it knowing your neighbour hasn’t left the house for two days, organisations might send you, a trusted contact, a private message asking you to check on her.

The future belongs to the people not the technology

Housing providers will need to get better at understanding and making use of the things the communities we serve tell us. 

That might be through capturing and analysing social media conversations with tenants or using data from our smart houses to encourage happy, healthy lifestyles. Organisations will be more responsive and better able to adapt.

This shift in what we’re here to do is exciting as we keep our objectives to house and enhance lives but discard the old ways we did things that just won’t work for much longer.

Helen Reynolds is Helen Reynolds is director of Social For The People, social media consultancy, and was formerly digital and social media manager at Monmouthshire County Council. helen@socialforthepeople.com@HelReynolds




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