Sometimes it’s better to hide the technology

This is a much delayed post that I have been trying to get around to writing for some time.

Back in February, I attended a showcase event run by Age Friendly Leeds, under the auspices over the multi-talented Abhay Adhikari. There were a number of products on show, but two in particular caught my eye.

Bus Clock

The first was the “bus beacon”. This is a device, based on a raspberry pi which takes the live data on bus times which feeds the displays on bus stops and passes it to a simple clock which counts down the time until the next bus is due at the nearest stop. This is intended to allow people to wait longer in the warmth of their home rather than going out in the cold to wait at the stop.

The second device was the “mesh box”.

Mesh Box These are basically a raspberry pi in a box. Externally, there is just one simple button on box. Pressing this button allows anyone with a box to talk to anyone else in the vicinity with one. They connect to each other via a mesh (hence the name) rather than relying on the internet, so the person using one does not need an internet connection. The idea is that people can talk to their neighbours whenever they feel in company. The boxes do have on/off switches, so people do not have to receive if they don’t want to be disturbed.

Mesh box

What I really love about these devices is their simplicity. They hide the technology and present interfaces which anyone who is anyway frightened of digital devices is likely to feel comfortable with.

I look forward to hearing about progress with these items. If you want to find out more, try giving Age Friendly Leeds a shout.

What would be in your Internet Box?

Elio Hector Loez

Elio Hector Lopez helps put together El Paquete Semanal, a sort of Internet-in-a-box delivered weekly to Cubans. Google wants now wants to bring Internet access to the island. Credit: Miguel Helft

Reading this story yesterday about how Google is working to improve internet access in Cuba, I was drawn to the description in the latter part of the article about El Paquete Semanal, the “internet in a box” which Cubans have been using for the past dozen years or so.

How it works is that someone compiles a “best of” the internet on a Terabyte disk and then copies of this are distributed by people traveling around the country by bus. This reminded me of what people often say to me when I run Digital Tea Parties. Digital Tea Parties are informal events (based, of course, around tea parties) where I introduce people to the joys of the internet. I often show YouTube videos of local historical interest at such events, and, a number of times, people have asked me if I carry those film shows around with me. I then have to explain that YouTube is a resource that anyone, anywhere can access, as long as they have an internet connection. This is part of people’s initial understanding of the internet, and the fact that it must have something to offer to everyone, whatever their interests.

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So, if you lived somewhere like Cuba, where your only access to the internet was via a hard drive brought to you on the bus; what would you want to be in the “box”. Let me know in the comments section below.

Unlocking important stories

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Yesterday I ran my 4th Digital Storytelling session with the Riverside Group. The first three sessions were with Marketing and Communications staff in Liverpool. Yesterday I worked with a group of managers who are closer to the frontline at their North East Office in Gateshead.

As I often find,  in this workshop as in others, people frequently preface their remarks with disclaimers along the lines of “I’ve got nothing to say”, or “no one is going to be interested in my story”. And you’d be surprised how often they then go on to prove themselves wrong. My point is that everyone is unique and every individual has something to say which will be of interest to somebody.

The latter part of yesterday’s session focused on getting participants to have their first stab at making a video with their smartphones. Again, people were very self-deprecating about their prospects, “I’m not at all creative” being the most common complaint. And then they all went away and made really good films.

Everyone has a story in them. Often it is just case of giving them the confidence to express it.

I made some of these points in my Social Media Masterclass at the CIH Scotland Conference in Edinburgh last week. And here is a video interview I did at that session. If you’d like me to help your colleagues unlock their stories, please get in touch.

Councillors and Social Media – Could They be YouTube Stars?

2016-02-12 10.04.45This is my second post on my takeaways from this year’s #notwestminster event. It may not be the last.

This was the second #notwestminster event, and there have been numerous other events with a similar slant, principally #localgovcamps over the past 8 years or so. It is tempting to think that we will always see progress as time passes, but I fear that this is not always the case. And in this instance, there is a field in which I think progress has stalled, or maybe even taken some backward steps, and that is the use of social media by councillors.

Councillors as Youtube Stars

Someone like Cllr. David Harrington from Stockton-on-Tees is living proof of why councillors should be making effective use of social media. More of that, including a video interview below. But, before that, at the Friday, Local Democracy Makers’ Day, I pitched an idea that I have outlined before, namely, how can we make Youtube stars out of councillors?

As I have written elsewhere, I am a firm believer that non-profit organisations need to make much more use of online video to engage with their customers and service users. There are now people who are making millions from YouTube videos; their audience is mainly young people, they are mainly young themselves, and their subject matter is normally pretty frivolous. But that doesn’t mean that this experience cannot be translated to a more serious area. And the benefits of Councillors engaging beyond the “usual suspects” of the politically-engaged, the campaigners and those with an axe to grind, has to be self-evident.

So, on Friday, we formed a group to work on how Councillors can use video to engage with their constituents, and I think we came up with something quite interesting, with possible applications beyond local government. The solution we came up with was a tool which would allow councillors to publish a map of their ward populated with videos about issues in particular locations. Lucy Knight pulled the tool together and published it immediately on her blog here, while I conducted a video interview with Cllr. Mike Jordan to give us some content to display. The video interview is posted below. It’s worth a watch as it gives some insights into how floods have been dealt with in Selby and North Yorkshire.

It’s a very rough and ready tool, but sometimes the most simple things are the best. I think this, if developed further, could be the basis of an engagement platform, providing opportunities for councillors to use video to engage their electorate. And it could be opened wider to allow local residents to publish their own videos on it in an effort to get something done about local issues. Please get in touch if you are interested in helping to develop this tool further.

Councillors and Social Media

And so to the wider issue of councillors using social media. I conducted the interview below with Councillor David Harrington because I was very struck with what he had said about how his councillor caseload has increased greatly as a result of his high profile on social media. A few years ago there was funding avialable to run programmes like this one which had quite an influence on increased uptake of social media on the part of local elected members. But, as austerity has bitten, funding for things like this has dried up. I think that is a great shame, and I’d be very interested in running some social media training sessions for councillors if either funding could be found, or if councillors themselves might be prepared to pay a modest amount to attend. If anyone can help with this, please get in touch. I’d be interested in the views of elected members themselves as to whether they would attend such sessions and how they might be funded.

AgeCamp – Putting Flesh on the Bones

LocalGovCamp 2015

I can now confirm that the first AgeCamp will be on Monday 4th April 2016. Thanks to the kind sponsorship of Calderdale Council, it will be held at The Shay Stadium, Halifax. We are using the hashtag #AgeCamp2016 on social media.

Book your place at AgeCamp2016 here now

As well as Calderdale Council, UKGovCamp have chipped in some sponsorship. Anyone else who wants to sponsor and/or exhibit, please get in touch.

AgeCamp is for older people and anyone working with older people. It will have no pre-set agenda. At the beginning of the day, people will be invited to pitch sessions that they want to run, and the agenda will be constructed from the session topics which people want to talk about.

Attendees will be from all over the UK (and beyond if they can get here). Anyone is welcome. Most people there will be those who have a problem they want solving, a project they want help with, or a product or service that needs developing further. The aim of the day is to come up with ideas that can be taken forward and that will make older people’s lives better.

AgeCamp is an unconference. It will be the first national unconference in the field of working with older people. Such events are now relatively common in other arenas, but this is a groundbreaking event in this sector. I have taken lessons and inspiration from an event run by Age Friendly Leeds last year. You should check out the amazing work they are doing with technology and older people.

A booking site will go live shortly (now live here). In the meantime, please put 4th April in your diary, tell your friends, make plans for your travel and session pitches, and get in touch if you have further questions.

UPDATE: We’re now taking suggestions for discussion topics here and for the Spotify playlist for the event here.

Digital Storytelling for Health and Wellbeing

Not long before Christmas I had the pleasure of working with Fran O’Hara and Pam Luckock of Working With Not To social reporting and videoing at their Dementia Co-Production event in Llandudno.

It was a truly inspirational event, and I was very glad to play my part in helping people to get their own stories about living with their own Dementia and that of their loved ones out to the wider world. It was a really illuminating day, and it demonstrated that it is a much more effective methodology to get people to tell their own stories rather than giving the floor solely to the opinions of professionals. The material from the day is still in production, but I have taken the opportunity to present some snippets within this post.

I believe that the power of the internet to bring people with similar issues together, and the availability of digital tools to enable people to tell their stories are powerful mechanisms for assisting people to take control of their own health, influence their treatments, and increase understanding of the development of conditions. And it is true that, in some cases, digital inclusion is an issue in this respect as people need to be introduced to the internet and its possibilities, before it becomes a tool to improve their health and wellbeing.

I’ve got previous experience of this when I worked with Clinical Commissioning Groups in South and East Cheshire to collect some patient stories.

There is not enough of this kind of thing happening in my opinion. So I now want to organise a national event on this issue, i.e. Digital Storytelling for Health and Wellbeing. Please contact me (john.popham@johnpopham.com) if you want to be involved in this event, either as a service user, a health and care professional, a storyteller, or a technologist. Let’s build a movement which gets people’s health stories out to the world.

 

Growing Old Disgracefully

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the myth that older people don’t do digital really gets my goat. This is just one of many myths about older people which I struggle to counter in my work on digital inclusion. Many of those myths are not about digital technologies at all, they concern wider aspects of people’s lifestyles and what society deems appropriate for citizens of a certain age.

And sadly, it is all too often the case that individual older people only hit the news when they pass away. One of my childhood heroes, David Bowie has left us, at the age of 69. “Older people don’t do digital” the mantra goes, and yet, as Richard Branson has today reminded us, David Bowie was one of the first artists to release an album for digital download.

This is nothing to do with that album. It just needs to be watched again and again; with the context, that this was 1972.

I don’t really know much about the attitude of Motörhead frontman Lemmy’s attitude to digital technology. But, his funeral was live-streamed on Youtube after he departed, aged 70. And, if you think you have ideas about how Senior Citizens should behave, I’ll leave you with this performance from a 63 year-old Lemmy and friends.

A Manifesto for Social Tech in later life

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Yesterday I ran a second Connected Christmas event at Lower Edge Day Centre in Rastrick, Calderdale. There was a mixed group of some who were there for a second time, and some new participants. I hope I was able to open their eyes to some new possibilities. I know we all had a good time again, which is what it is really about. One lady told me she was really disappointed that there had been no carol services on the television over Christmas. Even though she has her own laptop at home, it had not occurred to her to go online to find any she could watch. I was able to help her find carol services on YouTube. One gentleman was an ex-chef. We chatted about his favourite dish, roast goose, and found a video of one of Jamie Oliver’s assistants cooking one. He put up a robust argument that her methodology was wrong.

As ever with these kinds of events I learn as much as the participants. One of the lessons was about degrees of digital exclusion. The lady with her own laptop is a retired accountant. She uses her machine for two main purposes, one is creating and modifying spreadsheets, which is a particular interest of hers, the other is for talking to her grandchildren in Australia via Skype. She sees her laptop as being for those purposes and has to be coaxed to explore its other possible uses. She is unlikely to appear on any official statistics about digital exclusion, she will be counted by the statisticians as being online, and it is great that she is able to see her grandchildren on the other side of the world while she talks to them, but, she is not exploiting the technology to anything like its full extent to improve her life.

The retired chef was an interesting case. I asked him if he used the internet at all. He replied “No. There’s just my wife and I, when we’re at home we don’t have any use for that kind of thing”. I asked if he had friends and family who used the internet. He said that he did, but they lived busy lives and would be too busy to talk to him. But, for me, that’s exactly the point. It use to be difficult to talk to people in distant locations; the internet has changed all that. But many have still not caught up with this fact. These means that a lot of older people are living lives remote from their families and support networks when they could be closely connected with them online.

It was recently announced that there will be free wifi in all NHS premises. This is a massive step forward in helping people who need healthcare to stay in touch with their networks and access information. But it really must not stop there. Huge numbers of socially isolated people spend time in social care settings, whether these be Day Centres, Care Homes, or other facilities. In the case of Care Homes, they probably spend a lot more time in such facilities than they do in NHS premises. Ask yourself how you would feel if you had no wifi or tech in your house. And then consider that 50% of older people currently spend at least some of their time in Care Homes. That could be you. What would you do if cut off from the ability to use online networks and services?

There is a dangerous assumption that social tech has passed older people by, and that they therefore have no interest in it. These assumptions are made by professionals, relatives, and by older people themselves. But my work, and that of others, has proved that the right approach can result in older people being persuaded that social tech both has benefits for them and can be mastered. This approach is about careful and patient exploration of people’s interests and how their lives can be enhanced; it is emphatically not about putting people in classrooms, on courses, or chasing numbers rather than wellbeing. And social technology can open up so many opportunities for older people including:

  • reducing social isolation
  • allowing people to tell stories about their lives, and about treatment and recovery
  • building confidence for the adoption of telehealth and telecare.

So, here is my manifesto for a social technology revolution to transform how technology supports health, wellbeing, and social inclusion among older citizens.

  1. Health and social care professionals need digital skills training themselves, and to understand how social technologies can improve the lives of the people they work with. The most enthusiastic of them need to become digital champions (example DigiWards);
  2. The commitment to free wifi in NHS premises needs to be extended to Social Care settings, including Day Centres and Care Homes (example Ashton Park Care Home);
  3. Events such as Digital Tea Parties and Connected Christmas need to be adopted as the approach to interest older citizens in social technologies;
  4. Recognition needs to be given that digital inclusion of older citizens is a long term process, not a one-off event;
  5. Schemes to recycle tablets to ensure older people can access social technologies at reasonable prices need to be developed;
  6. Research and development of online social networks for older people needs to be further explored;
  7. The benefits of social technologies for older citizens needs to be promoted to their relatives and families.

Please get in touch (john.popham@johnpopham.com) if you can help with any of these objectives.

Connected Christmas in Calderdale

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If you’re reading this you are probably pretty au fait with the internet. You’ve managed to navigate your way to this blog, at least. You may even have arrived here via a Google search. Can you imagine how different life is for someone who has never performed a Google search, who has never watched a Youtube video, or has never sent a text message. One of the first things I heard after waking this morning was someone on the radio talking about “Google, Facebook, and those kinds of services which have become integral to all our lives”. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with people for whom that is not true in any way.

So, yesterday I ran my second Connected Christmas Party. It was at Lower Edge Day Centre in Rastrick, West Yorkshire, and it could not have happened without the support of Calderdale Council’s Adults’ Health and Social Care Commissioning Service, and in particular Elaine James and Stacey Leonard. And, I was very grateful for the support of Paul Webster who was able to join us for most of the session.

And it was a lot of fun, after some initial scepticism and nervousness, participants were soon happily chatting about their favourite music, how their families use technology, and places they used to live, including Huddersfield, Rotherham, Ireland and Australia, which we could then search for on Google Earth and Street View. And the selection of favourite music which people requested included Billy Fury, Dusty Springfield, Mario Lanza, Roy Orbison, and The Beatles, yet again there was no demand for Vera Lynn!

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As we were leaving the Centre, Diana the Manager, asked how it had gone and was very pleased to receive positive feedback. “That’s really good”, she said, “because a few of them were quite reluctant to come along in the first place”. That’s because they had been told they were coming along to learn about the internet. When they arrived and found out that that it was about fun, communication, memories, and music, their attitudes radically changed. This is why I advocate that Digital Inclusion must not be about classes and courses, it has to be about patient and empathetic exploration of people’s interests and needs, and careful matching of content and services online which can meet those needs and stimulate those interests.

So, I’ll be going back next week to help people explore their interests further, and hopefully to introduce some new people to the joys of the internet at the same time.

Ultimately, I do this because I believe that technology can break down older people’s social isolation, and that excluding them from the online world is a real detriment to their health and wellbeing. One really interesting aspect of the conversation was the talk about how people’s families use technology. I believe older people get further isolated because the younger members of their families communicate with each other online, and then exclude those who are not seen to be tech savvy. I hope that what Connected Christmas and similar events can do, is to seek to plug older citizens into the online networks their families are part of and thus ensure they can receive care, attention, and support from those who they care about but who are not immediately close at hand.

The session also highlighted a pressing need for health and social care professionals to be trained to act as Digital Mentors. A topic to which I will be returning again soon.

Thanks again to Calderdale Council for making this possible. Please get in touch if you’d like me to run events like this for the people you work with. This kind of approach works. We need to spread it widely.

Humanising Systems

I woke up this morning to yet another example of what goes wrong when systems fail to perform as collectives of humans. There have been far too many of them to catalogue, and many of these failures are intensely painful to all involved, so I don’t intend to go into them here. The latest story was about attempts to replace the Liverpool Care Pathway end-of-life care system in the NHS with something a bit more personal and tailored to the needs of the individual. The previous regime was a prime example of bureaucracy replacing common sense and compassion, which has been all too common a feature of our lives for too many years.

I firmly believe that organisations work best when they function as groupings of human beings and when those humans are allowed to react firstly as people and secondly as bureaucrats. Many of the systems failures we have seen come about when people tick boxes rather than using their feelings, empathy, compassion, and judgement.

In recent times I have attended an event at which health and care professionals attempted to communicate their aims to engage the public in their work using PowerPoint slides with type too small to read, and one which even included an Excel Spreadsheet; and I have visited the offices of another organisation charged with public engagement which resides in a building at the far end of an industrial estate remote from public transport routes. Both of these are, to me, symptoms of systems failure. The thinking that led to those situations was wrong, and they lead to decision-making which is unhelpful.

And I wonder if it is a coincidence that the people who use these methods also don’t use social media in their work. Just as they hide away in their offices in inaccessible locations and couch their “explanations” in impenetrable language, they continue to shy away from modern methods of communication and transparency.

There are many laudable, conscious, efforts going on to promote transparency and “working in public” through social media, including the “Social Organisation” initiative in Leeds and the Bromford Lab in social housing. In many other cases, individuals have pushed the boundaries through their own personal use and have seen positive public reactions.

To me, there has to be a role for social media in breaking down the old, damaging consensus, that faceless bureaucracies are the most efficient kind of organisations, and leading the way to a new acceptance that transparency and human reactions are the best ways of getting things done. Social media reveals people’s motives, makes them open to scrutiny, and it helps them find like-minded people and supportive colleagues. This has to be a better way of doing things.

What do you think?