Listening in Cyberspace

Balancing the decision of when I need face to face meetings and discussions instead of having those discussions online instead is just one of the multitude of new decisions I and others need to make in an increasingly online world. When I watched Evan Davis’s Mind The Gap programme recently I learned the term “agglomeration economics” which to my simple mind seemed to mean people like to meet people in person and by building personal relationships businesses thrive (or something similar).

So, coordinating a network of 3000 centres and 2000 access points, all with diverse ideas, needs, issues and opinions, how can I make sure I and the team spend as much time as possible talking and listening, learning, iterating and evolving?

Previously our network focus groups have taken place face-to-face, twice a year, and they’ve been invaluable. We’ve found out what’s happening for centres and learners, what they think of Tinder Foundation’s services, and what we can do to make things better.  And centres have made friends, shared best practice, and gone away with new tips, contacts, and often new ideas and plans for their centre.  

But, it’s only twice a year, we paid people’s travel costs but not for their time (including travel time which could be considerable), and this way of working inevitably excluded some people. So we’ve taken them digital!

Here at Tinder Foundation we’ve been running webinars for many years.  For those not familiar with the term, it’s an online seminar, where you can see a presenter’s desktop, chat with peers and interact through speech, online chat, voting, messages and ratings.  It’s been a great way for us to offer training to stretched UK online centres staff who can’t afford travel or time away from the coal face.  

It’s very hard to replicate the type of informal networking and interaction you get over a cup of tea and a biscuit.  But this week I think we did it – or took our first steps towards it.  

I took the first session this week, and I frankly can’t wait until it’s my turn again. Participants came from all over the country – from Edinburgh to Exeter – and we’d made sure to prime people about how the session would work, and asked them to come prepared with questions, examples and ideas. It can be too easy to hide on a webinar, and be passive rather than active, which is why we put so much time in up front to make sure everyone was ready and waiting to contribute.

Our conversation was wide ranging, but one of the key things I’ve taken out of it is how important it is to our network that Tinder Foundation paves the way for local partnerships by acting on a national level. That includes work with organisations like Asda, McDonalds and even Jobcentres, who are national organisations with a local presence. With all of these partnerships there were pockets of fabulous practice, but also frustrations about local relationships.  

Many centres are overwhelmed with referrals from JCPs, as they try and get clients up to speed on DWPs new online systems.  But others felt they could be taking on more clients, and helping to triage job seekers more effectively.  That’s something I think we can help with from a national level, and I’m going to take that back to our colleagues at DWP as soon as possible.  

I’m looking forward to seeing how this new feedback cycle can work to make both UK online centres and Tinder Foundation more effective.  I’ve learned all over again that it’s good to talk, but great to listen. And that technology can help all of us do more of both.  But I’ll always still like meeting people with a cuppa and a biscuit too!

Discussing the local digital future

Yesterday I spent the evening at the BT Tower in London, chatting with local authority managers, central government digital teams and a whole host of interesting and inspiring Thought Leaders about technology, the future and local services.  

The Local Digital Futures event was part of a wider Local Digital Campaign led by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), and  The aim is to support the delivery of excellent, seamless services to users at a local as well as a national level.  

We heard from Deloitte that there’s a big appetite out there for better online services, and from Future Cities Catapult’s Dan Hill about how to work iteratively to achieve them.  BT futurologist Nicola Millard also talked about how people really just want an easy life, and a future trend in digital consumer services will be “Easy” (making it as easy as possible to use, to transact, and to buy).

It won’t surprise anyone to learn that I was there to talk about digital inclusion, and how vital it is in the development of local services.  We need to make online services as good and as simple as possible, and we need to put in place programmes to bring along the 11 million people who currently don’t have the skills or confidence to use them.  

This is fundamental to Tinder Foundation’s thinking, and I talked about the picture of the Digital Nation we’re currently living in, and the vision we set out for a 100% digitally included in the recent A leading digital nation by 2020 report earlier this year.  

It’s great to see that digital inclusion is becoming central to DCLG and UK Authority thinking, and last night there was a commitment to it becoming a key underpinning strand of the campaign as it develops, and that’s only going to be a good thing for local services and local people.   

I have always said that leaders need to embrace the transformation that digital is bringing to our lives and to our work: embedding a digital strategy is a change programme not a technology project. This view was echoed by local authority leaders, technologists and digital planners; people are aware of the challenge we face and aware of some of the existing solutions. The UK online centres network, for instance, operates at a hyper-local level AND on a national scale, and some of the conversation that went on into the evening was about how Local Authorities can interpret this to achieve the Local Digital vision.  

Maybe we just need for a few Local Authorities to group together and work together to make Local Digital happen – to take risks together, make investments together, and to innovate together.  I hope it happens, as it’s only in doing so that they’ll be able to be brave, share the burden and eventually reap the rewards.  


With thanks to @lindasasta for the Twitter pic.  Follow #localdigital for more.