Using digital technology and asset mapping to tackle social isolation - without special funding
I'm sure that the 15 partnerships supported under the Big Lottery Fund's £82 million programme to tackle social isolation, which I wrote about earlier, will produce excellent projects over the next five years - but how about the other areas that pitched but did not get funding?
And what sort of projects may be developed in future when public sector funding will be even tighter than it is today, as the retiring head of the home civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake pointed out the other day?
Drew Mackie and I used the opportunity of a seminar about social media, community and local local government, run by LGIU and Globalnet21, to explore that recently. Thanks to Francis Sealey of GN21 for the opportunity. Do take a look at the other GN21 excellent events and webinars.
We used the setting of our fictitious town of Slipham, recently the subject of a workshop in Southwark on how to develop digital participation programmes in the face of austerity. Here's the challenge our 20 workshop participants faced:
In Slipham a partnership of local organisations recently failed in its funding bid for a five-year programme supported by the Big Lottery Fund to combat social isolation among older people in the town.
However, the Slipham partnership has decided to turn the rejection into an opportunity, and develop an “austerity innovation” programme that focuses on local assets and global knowledge rather than external funding. To do this the partnership will:
- broaden the scope of the programme to cover anyone challenged by loneliness, or aiming to enjoy living alone.
- research and map local resources and networks that can provide ideas, support, activities or funding - and build relationships to make the most of these.
- help people and organisations use digital technology and innovative approaches to meet their needs and interests.
The partnership is running co-design workshop sessions in which they will develop their new innovative programme to address the broad challenge:
How can we help Slipham people and organisations use technology to help tackle loneliness and/or support living alone.
You can see a full report of the workshop here, with downloads of materials. The format was similar in part to the Southwark workshop: we started with some Slipham characters and organisations, and discussed in groups which project themes might be appropriate to address their needs and aspirations. For example:
- Help people use full capability of smartphones and tablets to connect
- Make tech learning sessions social events
- Build the capacity of community groups to use tech
- Develop a network of volunteer digital champions
- Recruit social reporters to amplify and connect face to face events
- Support community sharing of services online
The groups developed project briefs, and then exchanged these. At this point we introduced another dimension - a social network map of Slipham. The map showed the original partnership organisations, and also more than a dozen others. As well as the map we produced a table showing the assets each organisation held - premises, skills, equipment, membership, funding.
We asked participants to review the map and assets held by organisations, and consider what new connections would be helpful in developing projects. We also offered a set of method cards that provided ideas on how to both build the network and develop projects.
The idea of introducing the network map was to simulate the process of asset and network mapping that may be undertaken by partnerships to underpin asset based community development. I think the session was useful in providing a framework for conversation around these points:
- any plans to use technology should start with people who may benefit - as we explored with Age UK London earlier this year
- in any area there are far more skills and other resources than evident until you start to research them
- bringing the assets into use with any new projects will involve building new relationships
I hope that we may be able to run a similar workshop “for real” with some of the partnerships or other organisations exploring how digital technology can be used to help tackle social isolation, and support programmes for well-being.
The Campaign to End Loneliness ran what looked to be an excellent event in July - Technology: will it ever be a ‘fix’ for loneliness? As well as producing an extremely useful report and video, they provided these summary points:
- Treat technology as a useful tool that should be used alongside a range of other things to combat loneliness: non-virtual relationships are still vital
- Remember that older people want from technology is what we all want: our interests and needs do not just change overnight when we turn 65
- Recognise that people aged over 65 are as just thirsty for new technology as you are, but some confidence building might be needed at first
- Try to focus on the benefits of a technology if introducing it for the first time: don’t describe the service, describe the outcome that it will bring
- We need more funding to make kit and training cheaper (and therefore less of a barrier) but we can start to talk and do more to raise the value of technology at the same time
I used some of the insights from that work, as well as the exploration we did for Nominet Trust into digital technology in later life, to inform our workshop design. The Campaign to End Loneliness workshop provided some examples of specific technologies that could be used in projects, and these and other ideas could form the basis for planning development “for real”.
- Tackling social isolation with digital technology in times of austerity - our workshop report. Download materials
- Technology: will it ever be a ‘fix’ for loneliness? - Campaign to end loneliness
Declaration: the winning partnerships are being supported by Hall Aitken, and I made some early contribution to their work on asset and network mapping. Ideas here are my own. Follow @HallAitken for updates on the programme.