Social housing explores social media


A conference workshop last week gave me an insight into how far we have travelled in the past few years in the possible use of new media in the public and nonprofit sectors, and how we might explore this further.

It's a few years since I did much work in the field of social housing, when I co-authored a book on how Internet technologies could offer benefits to residents and their landlords - so I was particularly interested to catch up by running a workshop at a conference of the National Housing Federation last week. We played an updated version of a card game I had previously used in 2003 at an NHF IT conference.

HousinggameFour years ago there was emphasis on giving people access, conventional web sites, training and support - plus ideas for community storytelling and multimedia. This time I had thrown in cards about blogs, wikis, social networking - plus wifi, mobile phones and Internet TV. How engaged would people be with these possibilities, I wondered?

At the start of the session I asked how familiar people were with these new media tools, and saw a sprinkling of hands - maybe a quarter. Others had heard of them, but few were generally using them in the workplace in order to communicate internally, with residents, or other organisations.

PresentationWe then spent five minutes inventing a typical housing association - with a mix of rented housing and leasehold, some units for older people - and broke into five groups. I handed each group a pack of cards, and invited them to choose those most relevant to the situation, and also add their own ideas. As you can see, each card had an image - so they didn't all look the same - a brief description, and a number 1,2, or 3 giving a rough estimate of cost. Groups were allowed 15 points - so they couldn't choose all the cards.

There was a great buzz as everyone read read cards and discussed how they might be applied, then created a story to present back to other groups.

We ended up with a discussion, and the discovery that even after a few minutes conversation those not too familiar with the tools could learn enough from those who were, and see how they might be used in their work. It was really all just a conversation-starter, but convinced me yet again that helping people talk to each other is usually a lot more fruitful than talking at them. I've listed the card content below, and you can download a pdf of them here. Those at the top of the list below were chosen over those at the bottom. There was general agreement on the use of new media for engaging residents and other stakeholders, and often the need to move to a new content management system with more interactivity. There is high usage of mobile phones among residents, so text and voice messaging would be important. More services online was no surprise - but I was interested that several groups felt they should have a presence in MySpace or a similar social network. Clearly the message of go where people are, rather than expect them to come to you, is getting through. No-one felt that their chief executive would write a personal blog: as someone said, it would just be written by a press officer.

The workshop game, played at the housing conference, was just one of suite of methods Drew Mackie and I have developed over the past few years, which you can find at this Useful Games blog. We used a longer version of a similar game with Digital Challenge finalists: you can read about the Manchester session here.

The main difference with the Digital Challenge version was that we spent time after the initial selection of cards developing stories of how different people in the community could use the technology tool set. That gave a fresh set of even more useful insights into usage.

Reflecting on the workshop session - and others that we have run - it struck me that with a little development we could use this for some qualitative research into the potential for the adoption of different communication and collaboration methods in different settings. The virtue of these workshop games is that they offer scope for exploring most of the relevant issues: the context, history and culture (in the scenario setting); the different roles and beneficiaries (if you bring in characters); the range of possible methods (on the cards). In longer versions we throw in 'crisis' cards to the storytelling, and extend the stories told to impact on programmes.

Drew wrote a paper on Why games a few years back, which you can find here. 2003! Time for an update, highlighting yet again how effective a few bits of paper can be in getting people talking. More so than Powerpoint.

Housing cards content. Download pdf.

  • E-participation: E-mail, blogs and web site used for engagement with residents and other stakeholders
  • Content managmenent system: Move to content management system, with scope for blogs and forums as well as static pages.
  • Focus on mobiles: Mobile phones are a major channel for information and communication.
  • Services online: More services are available online
  • Community content: Residents encouraged and supported in developing content online - text, audio, video, photos - through blogs and wikis.
  • Wireless broadband : Residents and staff can dispense with landline phones and use wireless network for free calls and Internet access
  • Video storytelling: Staff and volunteers use video clips to tell stories
  • Free Web services strategy: Cut software costs and support collaboration online by using new free web services.
  • Instant messaging: All staff are encouraging to be available online for chat - speeding communication and reducing e-mail
  • Social networking: Set up a site on MySpace - or similar - and network there.
  • Information kiosks: Information kiosks provide information and some communication facilities
  • Podcasts: News updates and stories from the organisation - and residents - can be downloaded for playback on iPod or similar
  • Free Internet phone calls: Staff switch to free Skype calls where possible - with instant messaging too
  • Exploration: Staff encouraged to spend time exploring blogs and other social media to help plan new development
  • Chief executive’s blog: The chief executive has a public blog to provide a personal view on developments.
  • Online maps: Web services can be combined to create online maps and other ways of combining data
  • Use feeds to cut e-mail: Staff are encouraged to reduce e-mail by using RSS feeds from new system.
  • Internet TV: Interactive digital TV provides web services and broadcast opportunies without the need for computers
  • News on tap: Use - and add to - news from 24dash on blog
  • Photosharing: Staff and residents are encouraged to upload and tag photos for public sharing.
  • Project collaboration system: Project management and collaboration system like Basecamp used internally to improve team working
  • Wikis for instant web sites: Wikis provide groups with collaborative publishing and workspace - and instant web sites
  • Virtual worlds - Second Life: Engage people in the Second Life virtual world
  • Other Ideas: Selling the additional benefits of going online - shopping, family/friends, family trees; Train the staff and residents; Setting up our own ISP; SMS updates; Online forum - means for residents to interact with each other; Free map services.

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I'm remixing the game for cc licenses and this is very useful, as always ..