Moving from reports to actions

A recent TAPPI report has highlighted the importance of carefully implemented digital technology for housing, particularly for older or vulnerable adults who are routinely left out of digital strategy planning, for example due to a frequent lack of effective internet connectivity in care or social housing. The report makes some excellent recommendations, including a ‘marketplace’ for effective technologies, and ensuring the inclusion of smart technologies in new developments[1]. From the perspective of a company working in this area, it appears, however, that despite a number of reports and policy developments regarding the importance of technology integration and digital strategies for inclusion, it often seems that good intentions do not translate into effective actions. There are likely to be a multitude of reasons for this, including financial constraints, a lack of access to hardware, a lack of understanding of effective products and services, and a concern about staff training and workloads. Nevertheless, in order to improve outcomes and reduce digital exclusion, it is vital to move from reports and recommendations to concrete actions.

 

Ensuring that the social housing and care of the future includes the right technology, suited to the nature of the setting and the residents, is a complex problem. Potential options for digital in these settings range from the use of generic products (such as Zoom) to highly specialised sensors to detect falls or analyse the use of white goods to assess behaviour. During the early days of Covid-19, many care settings used products such as Facebook and Zoom to connect residents with their families. This required considerable input from care staff, naturally restricting the amount of time that could be spent on those activities due to the immense pressure on carers. Nevertheless, this did allow residents to share a little with their families and demonstrated the need for effective digital communication in these settings. However, for vulnerable older residents in social housing settings, where living alone created considerable isolation issues during Covid-19, it was much more difficult to implement digital communication rapidly. Problems such as a lack of Wi-Fi and hardware, combined with a different model of staffing, inevitably created additional problems. Our work with housing associations highlighted this problem to us, and stimulated work on how to solve some of these problems. And this process of working together is crucial in developing solutions to such complex problems.

 

The importance of collaboration

Solving problems associated with digital technology in housing is complex and will take time to work through. Housing providers can lack the in-house expertise to understand and implement the right solutions, and companies with products and services can lack a thorough understanding of the specific needs of providers and residents. Furthermore, the funding models for providers can be highly variable, meaning that decisions on what, when and where new products and services are implemented often require input from a range of stakeholders. Consequently, creating solutions and introducing the right technology into housing settings requires a collaborative approach, taking the expertise and know-how of providers on the needs of their setting, managers, and residents, and combining this with the product and technology knowledge of companies and developers to create effective outcomes that can make a discernible difference. Also, working with finance managers to understand the funding options, affordability, and ROI considerations early on, allow those involved to ensure that solutions are developed that meet the needs of all stakeholders. This has been our approach throughout our development, in particular during 2021, and our direct work and research with housing providers. As we move into the next phase in early 2022, our collaborative work will continue, and bring in further participants from a range of sectors to ensure that we create the most effective solutions for the housing providers for whom we work.

 

Taking a holistic approach

Collaboration inevitably requires considering a problem from a range of angles, recognising the range of needs of different participants and stakeholders. But it is also important to consider the complexity of the problem of digital implementation, realising that it is not just a question of which software package to use, or which sensors are best, but that creating a complete solution requires a whole-problem approach that includes the right hardware and software, combined with high quality internet connectivity, effective training and support, and an effective funding model. Missing out any of these areas will result in an incomplete outcome and will not allow providers and residents to benefit to the fullest from digital technology. For small companies such as ours, looking at the problem holistically allows us to develop our services in the right way, focussing limited funds in such a way as to have the biggest impact to end-users. Furthermore, working in a collaborative way allows consortia to look for funding to help solve problems on this scale, helping to accelerate development and bring real solutions into settings more quickly.


[1] The TAPPI Inquiry Report: Technology for our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation – Phase One October 2021

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