What does the new normal look like for digital change in unions?

In my role at ASLEF I’m a campaigns and communications advisor, which includes digital comms. It will be familiar to colleagues that having digital in your job often means you’re seen as the best person to ask about anything with an on button. That’s particularly common in small organisations.

When I started in this role in 2019 I very quickly became a bit of an agitator for tech in the union. We had some really old tech – a website with a very difficult back end and a membership database in dire need of an upgrade. None of it really worked together or in the way anybody wanted or needed it to.

This was a feeling across the organisation so towards the end of 2019 we had some great leadership from the top and commitment to roll out a new digital system.

We set off on this project and then three months later, the pandemic happened.

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The pandemic and the drive for #digitalunions

In the first week of 2020’s lockdown, I took part in Simon Sapper’s great UnionDues podcast, sitting on my bed with my laptop to record a conversation about digital change in unions. During the call, Simon asked if I thought the pandemic could become a turning point for unions in digitising.

I wasn’t sure. We were in for what looked like being a really difficult couple of months for unions in supporting members to stay safe at work, without access to much of our infrastructure.

My worry was that was as likely to eat into our limited capacity for new digital work, as it could be a spur to new digitisation.

As it turned out though, Simon was onto more than I had thought.

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Data protection responsibilities in designing systems and processes for union casework

As unions bring digital tools deeper into their case management processes, they start generating loads of often sensitive personal data. And that brings some clear responsibilities with it under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

This blog is intended as a kind of broad checklist for principles and practices that you might find helpful to think about to ensure what you’re doing is lawful. As always you should check with your own advisors when planning detail for your union around this, as there will likely be specific factors that affect you in different ways.

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Adapting to the new normal for trade unions

The last 18 months have been a time of drastic change. Along with the rest of society, unions have had to adapt to the pandemic and the effects of the response to it. We had to work quickly to get operations functioning again with closed offices, safety concerns and huge disruption in our members’ workplaces.

Digital played a large part in this adaptation. Denied physical meetings and conferences, and with travel options severely limited, there was no choice but to move as much activity online as possible.

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7 things for unions to think about when updating member contact data

We’ve been working with RCM recently on how unions might work with members to keep contact data up to date. An automated SMS campaign succeeded in getting some great levels of engagement (read the full report here), but making the process as simple as possible for the member to complete.

We talked about the project at our last Digital Lab office hours session, and had a really useful discussion between practitioners from across our affiliates.

I wanted to share some of the points made by our colleagues, as there was a lot in there for unions to consider if they’re planning their own data check projects.

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Digital approaches to case management for unions.

Our latest Digital Lab seminar looked at what digital could mean for case management in UK unions. I’ve been spending a lot of time of late talking to digital leads at our affiliate unions. I’ve been hoping to get a sense of the big issues for digital as we move into a new normal. And case management has been cropping up quite often as a priority.

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Unions and the cloud

I’ve been talking to digital leads in a lot of our affiliated unions over the last few months about our different experiences during lockdown. There have been a number of factors that shaped how quickly unions were able to respond to losing access to offices, but one of those that stands out for me was the extent to which they had moved infrastructure and software to the cloud prior to the pandemic.

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