This year saw Oxford City Council taking its first steps to helping with Digital Inclusion by running drop-in sessions as part of Get Online Week. Inclusion is a key theme in our Digital Strategy and we have an action plan commitment to set up an Online Centre in Oxford as part of this.
For Get Online Week we ran open door drop-in sessions in our St. Aldates Chambers Chambers office in central Oxford for each day of the week. We had two people available at most times, along with tea/coffee/cakes and the chance to win a tablet PC by filling in an online form to enter a prize draw.
We used a quiet area at the back of our Customer Service Centre that already had self-service PCs, but these had been locked down to give access to only 8 websites (no Google, webmail etc). We had these opened up to ensure we could cover the basics with people.
What we learned
We’ll be having a proper sweep-up of the week to evaluate how things went so we can better plan for our regular weekly online session, but these are the main points that emerged.
- We did poorly on the number of people that attended, despite being open from 9am to 4pm all week. There was one day when nobody called in at all
- We need to be smarter about where we run any regular sessions and how we tell people about them. Only one person mentioned seeing our press release. Regular sessions (perhaps by appointment?) may help this, along with being located in Community Centres. We’ll look to advice from the Online Centres Network on this and see if there are lessons from our Planning Duty Officer Service
- Our Customer Service team were fantastic in supporting us by spotting opportunities when talking to visitors, and referred them down to us for a conversation (even when they were not all that willing to start with)
- People that haven’t been online often describe themselves as “stupid” for not knowing more. They need real support and reassurance that only a 1:1 session can adequately provide. Some interventions bordered on counselling at times, but were worthwhile in terms of the difference they made to peoples’ lives
- People may say they’re not online but may use email on their smartphone already, or have used the internet in some way
- You need to be prepared to spend a good deal of time with people to make a difference. Our low visitor numbers helped with this, and the longer we spent the more relaxed people became and the more we achieved
- Some people will never willingly go online. Even when evidence clearly shows they would benefit they will find reasons to resist. We just have to accept this and plan accordingly
- For new starters, even the most basic of online forms can be a challenge. We were surprised by how much we had to help them, which was a wake-up call for us in terms of form design
- Push factors do come into play. At least two people had visited because of the arrival of Universal Credit in Oxford during October, meaning they will need to be online at some point in the future.
- The online learning resources available from Good Things Foundation are free, perfectly pitched and well received by users
- The internal message about Get Online Week began to creep towards helping people use council online services. We found this wasn’t the best starting point with people, both in terms of meeting their needs and in encouraging greater online activity, but we could move toward what we offer as a council later in the sessions where appropriate
We learned so much from users themselves that we’ve written up summaries of their stories. Their names have been changed for privacy.
Tom had received a letter about Universal Credit and was worried about having to going online to use it. He’d heard lots of stories about whizz-kids that could hack into big organisations and thought that could happen to him too. He had used eBay but his son always completed the online payments for him. He was keen to move into social housing and out of his private rented accommodation.
Tom had already set up a bank account so we worked with him to set up an email address, and to enable his smartphone to receive emails. He was able to see all the security checks that happen with passwords and signing in on different devices, so this reassured him about security.
We took him through our Choice Based Letting system so he could find somewhere else to live. Although he’d been signed up to use it, he’d not made a bid since 2011. Before he left the drop-in session he’d bid on two properties.
We also found an Online Centre near where he lives so he will be able to drop in and go online when it suits him.
Paul felt it was time he “came out of the cave” and got online, but he didn’t know what sort of device he needed. He wasn’t confident about using something that didn’t have a real keyboard. He had a background in using computers at work before he retired, but wasn’t clear how you got the internet at home and wasn’t sure he wanted a “box” at home for WiFi.
We worked through the possible devices he could use (desktop, tablet, laptop or phone) and the advantages/disadvantages of each one. We also talked about how WiFi and phone data plans can provide internet access without needing to have extra equipment in his house.
With a bit more knowledge Paul was happy to go and speak to some of the stores in the city about a small tablet to use.
Mary had heard about Universal Credit and the need to be online so had purchased a laptop/tablet hybrid PC and already had WiFi at home as her son uses a tablet. Although she’d had her PC for a month she hadn’t done very much with it and had very low confidence in using it. Mary also had a health condition that left her feeling isolated.
She’d never used a mouse with a PC so we spent some time practicing with this. We also looked online at shops that sell them so she could see what they looked like and read reviews from other people.
We signed Mary up to Learn My Way where she was able to start a course on learning about Universal Credit. She was also interested in using Learn My Way to learn more about how to use her PC. With lots of reassurance about being not the only person that struggles she was a lot happier and was looking forward to using Learn My Way at home, and the opportunity to come back to regular sessions if she got stuck or wanted more advice.
We also sent Mary details of a national society that gives advice about the health condition she has, as well as an online forum for affected people to support each other.
Katie was introduced to us as needing to make a bid on our Choice Based Letting system, but it became clear that her real priority was applying for a job as she had just become unemployed. Despite completing a print-out of an application form she’d been told by the employer that she had to return it online. We found that this was a Word document, so not accessible to someone without Microsoft products.
Katie had email on her phone but didn’t use a data plan as it was expensive. She was very impressed that we provided free WiFi in our public buildings, which meant she wouldn’t always have to go to the local fast food shop to get her emails in future.
As Katie was from Albania, and not confident with her english, we helped her complete the application form and email to the employer. She wanted to come back to find out more about the online learning she could get access to from Learn My Way.
Katie dropped back in on Friday to say she’d had an interview!
Annie is retired and has been living alone since her husband died. She has a laptop but no WiFi at home and wanted to know how she could go about getting online.
She was keen to know more about tablets, so we had her use our iPad to try it out. She visited some websites that we thought would interest her. Annie was then going to call her telephone provider to discuss options for internet access at home.
Bill wanted to apply for a council residents’ parking permit for his son to use when he visits from Ireland. As the application process is online only and he doesn’t use the internet he’d been shown down to see us for help.
Bill was adamant he wasn’t interested in the internet; he liked to keep active and do things in person every day. As we talked more he gave at least two examples where someone else had used the internet on his behalf to either get a better deal (flights to Ireland to see his son) or improve his circumstances (downsizing his 3-bedroom council house to a flat). He understood that not being online could hold him back but was clear it wasn’t for him.
Bill didn’t want to complete the online application himself so we did it with him.
Amy was looking for a way to move from her own council house to another area using the Homeswapper website but didn’t have internet access at home. We worked with her to look for possible properties she could move to.
One of her reasons for moving was that she was lonely and wanted to have more things to do. We spent some time with her using the internet to search for activities near where she lived currently. We found a womans’ group and health walks for her to try, and got her contact numbers to follow up with.
She also discovered that there was a local library near her house so was keen to visit and perhaps try out accessing the internet there in future.
Denise came across one of our leaflets while in the Town Hall so dropped in, not sure of what to expect. She had a computer and WiFi at home, and had used this to reserve items from Argos or look at things on EBay. She was interested in grocery shopping online and ways to improve her health.
Denise was visually impaired so we explored how the browser could increase its screen size to help her. We signed her up to Learn my Way so she could learn more about how to use her browser and keyboard shortcuts to access things like deleting browser history. She was also going to use it to find out about shopping online and staying safe.