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Innovative digital inclusion project shortlisted for housing sector award

31 January 2022

An innovative initiative to support our socially isolated customers to develop digital skills has been shortlisted for the Best Digital Inclusion Scheme at the Housing Digital Innovation Awards 2022. 

The global pandemic brought the issue of digital inclusion to the forefront and highlighted a critical problem of how people within our communities can become isolated and excluded from accessing vital information and services. As a social housing provider, it is important to us to investigate new, innovative ways to support our customers.  

Our project aims to provide a gateway into the digital world for people who are experiencing isolation, by providing free access to an Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker device.  

With their simplicity, voice activation and ease of use, the Echo Dot devices were chosen as a user-friendly platform with which our customers could comfortably explore technology, particularly those who were older with no basic digital skills. They have enabled some of our more isolated residents to feel more connected with the wider world, especially throughout the COVID-19 lockdown periods. 

The first batch of 10 devices were distributed in November 2020, followed up with further consignments in April and November 2021. 

Referrals for the scheme, originated by front-line colleagues, were followed up with a home visit and a personalised one-to-one set up session, along with a handy ‘how to’ guide highlighting a wide range of practical uses designed to give customers confidence in developing digital skills and incorporating the new device into everyday life.   

Customer benefits

Several weeks into the scheme, a review was conducted with each recipient to gain feedback on how they had found using the Echo Dot. A mutual decision was then made on whether it was beneficial for the customer to keep the device or return it to Beyond Housing for use by another similarly isolated person. 

We conducted telephone surveys with every participant to obtain their feedback, receiving a rewarding response of 100% satisfaction with the project. We were pleasantly surprised to hear that 80% of people were using the Echo Dot either more than five, or between three and four times per day, showing how it had become an integral part of their everyday life.  

Many participants explained how the smart speaker had provided extra companionship, with 89% stating they felt less isolated through using it. We found that many referred to the device as ‘her’ and often talked to the voice-activated virtual assistant, Alexa, as they would a real person.  

The social impact of the project was also measured, using HACT’s method of calculating social value. The overall investment in the project was £540, with the social impact calculated at £74,777. This calculated to delivering a social value return of £138.48 for every £1 invested – not to mention the lifechanging benefits in helping to improve our customers’ quality of life and day to day enjoyment within their homes. 

What do our customers think?

A great deal of positive comments and feedback have been received from customers taking part in the project, including: 

It’s brilliant, I love it. Such good company for me.”  

“I was never confident online before this, now I talk to others about how good it is.”  

“It helps with filling that void when on your own.”  

“It’s changed our whole life really, thank you!”

Participants have discovered a wide range of uses for their Echo Dots, aside from asking Alexa questions. One customer found the device to be a valuable resource for home-schooling while others used it for listening to music and radio programmes, checking the weather forecast and pollen count, setting reminders for medications, alarms or cooking timers, checking the news, enjoying quizzes and puzzles, hearing jokes, tracking parcels, finding recipes and making shopping lists. 

Thomas Guidery, a Reach & Respond Responder from our Independent Living team, took on the task of supporting customers with the installation process, in addition to his normal working role, which led to great feedback that his personal touch and going above and beyond to support customers has been a major factor in the project’s success and why customers fully engaged with it. 

Through undertaking this project, we have seen how a small change can have a significant impact on people’s day to day lives. This kind of technology is such a useful tool for helping to keep our customers independent and happy in their homes, whilst remaining connected with their community.  

Having access to the wider services available within the digital world provides a wealth of opportunities for customers to learn and reach more life-enhancing benefits. The project has also widened our own view on the beneficial digital engagement resources that are becoming available to us across our organisation. We are committed to constantly improving our customer offer and striving to ensure that all our customers can enjoy and benefit from the digital world. 

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