Making the most of mobile for union digital

One of the biggest shifts in digital over the last decade has been the move to mobile. The overwhelming majority of working age Britons now own a smartphone, and it’s given them a new and much more natural relationship with digital channels.

The ability to complete an ever wider range of tasks over the internet, from wherever you happen to be, has raised users’ expectations. And that can be hard for unions to keep up with.

Our latest report, “Making the most of mobile for trade union digital”, takes a closer look at what mobile means for users and their unions. It’s been written with regular Digital Lab contributor Simon Parry of

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NASUWT Conference 2022: Going back to physical events, without going backwards

Last year we wrote here about the experience of running a fully democratic and participative virtual NASUWT Annual Conference.

A year later and the Union has just held its 2022 Annual Conference at the ICC, Birmingham – our first major in-person event since Spring 2020.  Such an event is almost a year in the planning, meaning we started the journey with the familiar uncertainties as to whether a physical event would even be possible in April 2022 and, if it was, under what conditions.

Our starting point was to completely refresh the way our Conference worked, including by retaining many of the innovations we developed for our virtual conference in 2021.  In doing so, we aimed to run an event that was both more sustainable and accessible.

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Scaling peer-to-peer SMS campaigns in a national ballot – UCU case study

Any organiser will tell you that nothing beats a face-to-face a conversation. It’s the best way to motivate, persuade and win campaigns. But in many workplaces, the last few years have made face-to-face conversations impossible. And this, coupled with restrictive trade union balloting laws, are a huge barrier to achieving the numbers we need if we aim to take industrial action.

As the UCU balloted members across 152 universities during a three-week window in 2021, these challenges were severe. Having face-to-face conversations with that many members, during a pandemic and in a short window would be impossible.

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User research with union reps

Over the last few months, the TUC Digital Lab has been collaborating with Accord to research how the union’s reps feel about technology, and to get pointers on where the union could best invest its resources in providing tech tools for this key group of users.

We worked on this with Joe Friel and Beth Scott of digital design and development agency Yalla Cooperative. They facilitated a series of workshops to help the union run a discovery process, and conducted a series of user interviews with reps.

In the process, we documented different personas and needs for types of rep and insights from the interviews. We used these to refine our understanding of key user journeys that reps and members go through, and to identify potentially helpful interventions that the union could make along each journey.

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Search engine optimisation (SEO) for trade unions

We’re getting a bit techy with our latest report. It’s an introduction to Search engine optimisation (SEO to its friends). This covers a range of concepts around content strategy and editorial or technical optimisation, designed to make your content rank higher in the results returned by search engines.

So, why is search engine optimisation important for unions?

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Looking ahead to 2022 in trade union tech

Unions have seen a lot of changes in tech since our Digital Lab programme started in 2019. In particular, the pandemic gave immediate impetus to many new tech projects over 2020 and 2021.

We’ve seen some great work happening in unions over the last year, and I think it could help us focus the crystal ball for 2022. In particular I’ve got five areas where I think the union tech environment may be set for interesting things. 

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Understanding our digital-only union members

Over the last 20 months, many unions have seen a spike in new members joining. But with a reduced physical presence in workplaces, and with fewer opportunities to network, we’ve been unable to offer them a “normal” experience of membership. 

Indeed, a great many members, suddenly told to work from home yet fearful of the impact of the pandemic on their jobs, joined up looking for support, despite being unsure of what they were going to find.

Last week, we hosted the final TUC Digital Lab session of the year, on the topic of “digital-only Members”. We want to better understand these recent joiners’ experiences and needs, to make our unions as relevant to their lives as we are to those of our traditional members.

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How can unions choose which tech tools will work for them?

Over the course of the pandemic, every organisation has had to come up with new ways of getting things done. For unions, that’s meant a lot of hard thinking and experimentation about ways to organise workers without them being able to meet face-to-face.

While this isn’t a completely new trend (as William Gibson famously said: “the future’s here, it’s just not very evenly distributed”), these moments of great acceleration can leave organisations looking back at their former selves, wondering how they were ever the way they were.

Suddenly, everyone working for a union has had to use new tools and behave differently to do their work. And bringing a much wider range of new tech tools into the organisation so quickly has had lots of wider implications for unions.

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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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