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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Using SMS to verify and correct member data: RCM case study

Data accuracy is vitally important for unions that want to improve the member experience. This has been doubly so over the last year, where many workplace reps have been unable to regularly check in with members face to face, and most communication has moved online. 

But when a member changes their online contact details and forgets to update them with the union, it sends the union’s campaigns into a black hole. The member gets cut off from opportunities to get involved, and worse still, the union might not even realise it.

For this project, the Digital Lab worked with colleagues at RCM to test ways to check and improve contact data accuracy. With a strong focus on offering specialised professional training to members, accuracy of the union’s personal data on members is very important in helping them get the most out of their membership. 

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Using online advice content to help unions find and engage with non-members

The effects of the pandemic have cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, with many more still at risk. Redundancies have especially been a problem in parts of the private sector where unionisation rates are very low. As a result, most workers facing uncertainty at work won’t have a union to turn to. And unions don’t have channels to reach them.

There may be an opportunity for unions to reach out to non-union workers and provide valuable advice content to them. In doing this we could give these workers an initial experience and understanding of unions, learn about their needs, and find other useful ways to engage with them.

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