Black’s Blog: Jimmy Black likes Shelter’s ‘I Need Help’ button… and he’s fond of ALISS too

Jimmy Black
Jimmy Black

Getting the creative digital sector together with charities was the theme of Shelter Scotland’s Building Digital Communities Event on July 19. I went to hear more about the new Shelter ‘I Need Help’ button, which will link homeless people and others in need to Shelter’s extensive information resources.

But it wasn’t just about housing. A wide range of charities attended, along with private sector digital creatives. Under the expert guidance of the impressively bearded Andy Young, we spent the day dreaming up ideas, some useful, some dubious, some hilarious. Then we did a bit of reverse thinking, and asked ourselves … “if you wanted to stop charities innovating and making the best use of digital technology, what would you do?“

Plenty of answers came to my mind, but sharing them would bring up too many painful memories from past encounters with previous employers. The climate has changed, and it was pretty clear at the Shelter event that charities want to make the best use of tech. But we need to get our heads round two important ideas.

The first is that apps are not physical buildings designed to last for 60 years. They develop and change, and within months or years they get replaced by something new and better. So we need to keep up.

And the second is that no single app can do it all. One of the reasons Shelter produced ‘I Need Help’, and one of the reasons Comic Relief backed the project, is that there is “TOO MUCH INFORMATION” out there. So Shelter’s app tries to gather as much useful information together in one place as possible. Ironically it’s yet another app, to go alongside ALISS, the CAB’s Advice for Scotland and local information sites like Dundee’s MyLife.

So we need to manage things. Shelter does this well. As I understand it, I Need Help will address housing and homelessness issues, but people are more complicated than that. It would be unreasonable to expect Shelter to compile detailed information which would help people solve other problems which may have contributed to their homelessness, such as depression. But Shelter’s website can, and does, provide a route to other relevant information posted by other charities.

At Building Digital Communities a couple of people mentioned something called ALISS, but no-one seemed to know much about it. ALISS is ‘A Local Information Service for Scotland’, and an upgraded version is currently in the ‘beta’ testing stage. I’d argue that every charity, council, health board and library service should have a link to ALISS… that could save a lot of work for everyone. We just need ALISS to be ready, relaunched, and full of useful stuff.

Check out the beta ALISS site and keep an eye on the Shelter site where the new I Need Help button should appear soon.

  • A former convener of housing at Dundee City Council, Jimmy Black now works for Dundee Voluntary Action on Technology Enabled Care and writes here in a personal capacity.
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