“Everyone has the fear they ought to know more”

“Everyone has the fear they ought to know more”

Want to implement real culture change in your organisation’s approach to digital? It’s time for an amnesty of digital blindspots, says Irene Carson.

What is it about the field of digital tech that has so many people feeling inadequate? Digital technology moves at a pace that can sometimes take your breath away, but it’s a culture of curiosity and excitement, not fear of being left behind, that future-proofs our approach to it.

As a professional in the field of digital tech and culture change, I’ve experienced first hand the power of ‘fessing up’ about our insecurities and owning our own journey to a more empowered relationship with technology.

Three years ago myself and colleagues at Rethink Partners were commissioned to convene the statutory and third sector in Essex and huddle everyone around the issue of how older people were using technology to support independence. Workshops for the project, which we called called Digital Boomers, created a very democratic space: we had providers, commissioners, statutory sector and voluntary sector people together.

We designed the sessions to work through everyone’s understanding of the potential of digital for independence, but they quickly became a safe zone for participants to admit the limitations of their digital knowledge. It was like an amnesty; once we’d established that safety and trust we heard “we have a digital strategy but we don’t really know what we’re doing with it.” A lot of fear of feeling ‘we should know more about this stuff’ got outed.

Approaching this subject from a human angle rather than as techies, our angle has always been ‘Can we enhance independence with tech?’ It’s not about tech for tech’s sake.

The spirit of trust and honesty in our workshops left people buzzing to get back together again. Getting curious about each other they built alliances and friendships. Empowering people to ask ‘stupid’ questions, and interrogate ideas and solutions honestly and with an open mind led to some amazing conversations. We saw a real turning point in the confidence of the professionals who came on the journey with us. We saw them behaving differently back within their organisations, being more confident, more curious, and bolder.

 Why should your organisation make space for colleagues to examine and share the blind spots in their attitude to digital? When we talk about ‘digital hesitancy’ it’s easy to visualise older adults resistant to new habits and tools. My experience is that people at every link in the health and care chain can feel intimidated by the arrival of new ways of working. One of the key findings of our Digital Boomers research within the health and care sector was ‘We don’t feel like we’re doing technology right’.

This was the message from users themselves, but across 160 face-to-face conversations we found that everyone felt the same, including care professionals and family members of all ages.

When we developed our theory of change to help people and professionals everywhere use, trust and love care technology, one important factor was to create spaces and opportunities for people to explore and enjoy technology. We have found making safe spaces for people to openly interrogate ideas and solutions is fundamental to true engagement with new ideas.

Constructive culture change rarely happens on its own. As our recent masterclass on culture change and partnerships for the LGA explored it’s very labour intensive, and it’s not cheap. It needs a lot of seemingly-organic things to happen, but actually it takes a determined and applied structure and co-ordination.

You can find resources and tools to help your organisation evolve its approaches to digital adoption at rethinkpartners.co.uk.

The learning from the three-year journey emerging from Digital Boomers has quite profoundly influenced all our thinking about digital adoption and digital inclusion. Without frank conversations about what all of us involved did and didn’t know, this transformative project would never have delivered the impact it has: building tech confidence, skills and innovation for both local people and professionals.

About Irene Carson
Irene  Carson is Rethink Partners’ MD.  She helps organisations explore and discover why people behave as they do and the causes and effects of those behaviours, decisions and policies.