The trials and tribulations of running a digital engagement project

Our Digital Inclusion Officer, Craig Stephenson, wrote a blog for the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) website about the trials and tribulations of running a successful Challenge Fund project called 'Engagement and the importance of clean pants' - read the full blog below.

Engagement. It is the key to a successful project. But it can be pant-fillingly terrifying waiting on responses to the recruitment for a project. You know there is a need with a requirement to be met and that you have formulated something to help alleviate that need. But will anyone turn up?

This was our project create a Digital Inclusion course for tenants which would take absolute beginners from how to switch on a computer, through to sitting a City & Guilds Online Basics exam in 13 weeks.

We had done our homework; completed our research, created a scoping document, planned our project, had budget approval, secured funding from SCVO, appointed a training company, booked venues, purchased hardware and sent out recruitment letters to tenants. But we knew that no matter how much work you put into a project, if you don’t get customers buying into the idea, it can fall flat on its face.

So the letters went out. And we waited.

Relief when the phones started to ring
You can imagine the relief that I wouldn’t need to change my underwear when the phones started to ring, and boy did they ring. We had 40 places on offer and by the time the phones stopped we had those 40 places secured plus a further 86 on our reserve list. This was clear evidence of need in the two locations where we were holding the courses, but then our research had already indicated that this was the case. Considering the considerable commitment which would need to be made by tenants to attend for 13 weeks, what was it that made this course so popular?

The course itself was very successful. We experienced some tenants not turning up for the first day but we replaced them with those on the reserve list and there were a number who disengaged over the 13 weeks. But for those who completed the course, 80% passed the City & Guilds exam first time with the rest succeeding after a re-sit. We had some great outcomes; as well as increasing confidence and ability in using the internet and computers, the writing of CVs and looking for jobs online, learning how to access government and other services online, saving money and having confidence in online banking, there was success for one tenant in the job market.

So what did we learn from this project?
First of all, there was a specific end point plus a goal of genuine worth for those on the course to aim for. In this case, we had two goals; not only was there a recognised qualification available at the end but those who completed the course were gifted the refurbished laptop on which they trained. This would allow those who completed the course to continue with online learning and benefit from all the advantages that having access to a device and the internet provides.

The huge reserve list indicated real evidence of need. This showed that we needed to invest directly in further computer courses in these areas, and gave us an opportunity to signpost those who were not successful on gaining a place to other resources.

The length of course and the course content needed to be reviewed. A shorter course with a focus on a particular aspect, employability for example, would encourage those attending to complete the course.

But we come back to engagement. What was it that made this course so popular? Why did we get so many people interested in it? The subject of the course, learning how to use a computer and access the internet, was certainly something that people wanted. Was it the City & Guilds qualification? Was it the laptop? Maybe it was the whole package. Certainly, it was the fact that there was something of worth at the end of the course. For some, it would have been the qualification and the laptop was a bonus, for others, it would have been the other way round. It could quite as easily been a special offer for internet access, or a voucher towards buying a computer or tablet, or an opportunity for a work placement, or a completion certificate. The important thing was that it was something which was deemed of genuine value by our tenants.

That is what made this course a success. And saved my pants.