Connected Christmas… and Every Day

Loneliness and isolation are killers. There is increasing evidence of this. Indeed, research suggests that loneliness is more deadly than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or obesity. For the past 4 years, I have been working to address the situation by ensuring that older people can be introduced to new technologies in ways which are engaging and which demonstrate to them their usefulness to their lives, particularly how they can enable them to communicate with friends, family, professionals and support networks. And yes, I know that digital contact can be no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but, for people who have no interactions at all, it can certainly help them to build and maintain contacts that would not otherwise be available to them.

In an era when millions of us are keeping touch with our professional and personal networks online all the time, most of the people in greatest need of regular interaction are excluded from these benefits by their own lack of knowledge, unfounded fears, and the technophobia of the professionals who work with them. The work I have done over recent years with older people has clearly demonstrated that, if approached in the right way, their interest can be sparked, their fears can be overcome, and they can be guided on the path to regular online communication.

Every year at Christmas the media picks up on stories about people’s loneliness and isolation. Well, it’s quite a long time till Christmas 2017, but I am starting early on the road to making sure that by the time Christmas comes around, major inroads can be made to changing the situation of many lonely older people.

I am looking for partners to work with me on this strategy, and funders and sponsors able to help me make it happen. Much of what follows is recycled from an earlier post, which is still relevant, and which still forms the framework for my programme to end loneliness by digital means. This year it is going to happen. Contact me if you can contribute.

Digital Tea Parties

During the past four years I have run Digital Tea Parties in Leeds, TraffordWhitby, Calderdale, and London, and there are a number of others in the planning stage. Digital Tea Parties are a great way of introducing older people to new technologies in a non-threatening environment. They allow the focus to be put on human communications and individual and community interests, rather than shiny tech. They are a familiar environment, in trusted locations, and they offer opportunities for those with a degree of interest to take the lead in introducing their peers to new gadgets. It is important in my view not to try to force people to use technologies they are uncomfortable with at the outset. Seeing others like them having a go can overcome that “tech is not for people like me” prejudice that often acts as a barrier.

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Providing Connectivity

I have worked with partners to connect up a number of sheltered housing complexes, provide free wifi throughout and run a number of digital tea party-type sessions to kickstart residents’ use of new technologies.

Relevant Content

I am convinced that one of the barriers to new technology adoption is that older people struggle to find content that is of interest to them. And, in addition to this, I believe that activities such as slumping in front of the television actually contribute to older people’s social isolation by disengaging them from the world around them. Work at Digital Tea Parties, particularly the reaction to the pub crawl video at Urmston, convinced me that people need content to engage with that is directly relevant to them, as I expanded on here.

I am also seeking funding to run this Seaside Recollections project in which I would tour seaside locations guided in real-time by older people in pursuit of their memories of childhood holidays.

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Reminsences and recordings

I have conducted a number of video and audio interviews with older people. I believe this is an important thing to do for a number of reasons, namely;

  • it stimulates the older person’s memory
  • it breaks down some of the barriers to new technology adoption
  • it creates more content of interest to older people
  • it can change perceptions of older people by allowing them to present themselves as they were in their younger days
  • it contributes to project evaluation

Staff Digital Confidence

I am working on a number of initiatives to promote digital skills, confidence and fluency amongst staff working with older people. Funding has been very elusive for these, which is extremely disappointing, because I firmly believe that often staff act as gatekeepers, seeking to keep the older people away from technology because they are frightened of the consequences of letting them loose on it.

All of these are activities which can turn the tide in the battle to promote technology adoption among older people, and achieve the ultimate goal of breaking down loneliness and isolation. We need to roll these things out more widely and scale them up. If you can help, please let me know.

 

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Dementia-Friendly Group Video-Conferencing?

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Last week I was working at the 2nd North Wales Dementia Meetup (#DementiaNWales). I will blog more about that when I get a chance, and there will be a lot of video content to catch up with soon. But, in the mean time…

I ran a couple of sessions about using technology to make life easier for people with Dementia. In one of the sessions there was an appeal to find a Dementia-friendly group video conferencing app so people can keep in touch with each other.

Personally, I think it must be the case that something suitable already exists. A few months ago I would have confidently said that I think Blab is the one. But then Blab was closed down.

So, is there one that exists, or do we need to invent it? Google Hangouts has been significantly simplified in recent months, but still, when I tried to use it with a group with low levels of digital skills, the majority struggled to access it. Another candidate is HouseParty, an app recently launched by the founders of the demised live streaming app, Meerkat.  Would either of these do the job? Or, of course, there is always Skype, tried and trusted to many now, and offering group video chat as a relatively recent development.

I’d be very interested in people’s views (please leave a comment below) on what the issues are for people with Dementia in accessing group video chat, and whether any of the apps I have suggested might do the job, or does the perfect tool need to be created?

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Millom Gets Digital

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Next Wednesday (17th August) I’ll be with Trafford Housing Trust launching a new Digital Inclusion Project at their Millom Court Sheltered Complex. Also involved with the project are Lee Omar of Red Ninja Studios, and Louise Rogerson of Intelesant.

Wifi has been installed at Millom Court, and on Wednesday we’ll be starting the process of firing up the residents to want to use it to bring them closer to their friends and relatives, re-kindle their memories, make their lives easier, and improve their health and wellbeing.

I am really excited to be involved in this project, and I hope it is the first of many on this kind of model. If you are going to be anywhere near Timperley on Wednesday, I’ll see you there.

Social Work is Human Rights #SWisHumanRights – building social movements from events

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On Friday 15th July I had the great pleasure of being part of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) Yorkshire & Humber Conference at York Racecourse. The theme of the event was “Social Work is Human Rights”

My role was to work with the organisers to help get the messages out of the room via live-streaming, tweeting and capturing voices via vox pop videos and filming the presentations. It was an inspirational day, and what really helped was that the presenters told some really powerful stories. Andrea Sutcliffe of the Quality Care Commission illustrated her presentation with the story of her brother’s suicide; we heard powerfully from Gavin Harding about how the NHS is now putting into practice the idea that, to take people with learning disabilities seriously (his words), organisations need to employ them. And we also heard the heart-wrenching story from Mark Neary  about how his son, Steven, was taken to an Assessment and Treatment Unit for one night, and didn’t come home for 350 days, and then, only after a very hard fight from his dad.

All these were very powerful, inspirational stories, which clearly moved people and made them think. But the other thing about the event is that the impact has carried on afterwards, and continues, due to the social media and video content produced. Elaine James has produced and distributed an excellent storify of the event which has been instrumental in carrying on the debate.

As you probably know, I think stories are the most effective means of getting messages to stay with people. Social Work is Human Rights was full of great stories, but their impact will live on and gather momentum due to the social media and video which is circulating on the web.

It seems to me that what we are doing with this kind of approach is to seed, stimulate, and / or launch social movements off the back of events.  If you’d like me to help you do something similar around your event, please get in touch.

Here’s the overview video of the event

And here are the views of some of the presenters and delegates

#HousingDay 2016

Can you believe that this year sees the fourth #HousingDay, the event which has now become a fixture in the annual calendar? #HousingDay is 24 hours when staff and tenants in social housing take to social media to celebrate their work, lives and communities. This year, the event is on the 19th September.

I’ve sort of made a tradition now of organising high profile stunts on the day designed to try to bring the world’s attention to the work that social housing is doing. In 2014 I did the #Housing Day Roadtrip, when I drove 800 miles visiting social landlords up and down England and Wales to highlight their great work, and in 2015, I did the #HousingDay NewsRoom when I was joined by some doyens of the social housing sector to live stream hourly news bulletins about what people were doing for the day.

This year I want to do something that is a little more ambitious. In fact, it might be a bit too ambitious, but I am putting the idea out there to see if there are any takers to help me make this happen.

One of problems that I think besets the social housing sector is that it is guilty of talking to itself rather than to the outside world. #HousingDay is, of course, an attempt to break out of that self-perpetuating bubble, and I think it does that to an extent, but not to anything like the extent that is necessary to make a real difference. And, by make a difference, I mean get widespread support for the sector such that it becomes impossible to impose damaging laws on it, starve it of resources, and make stereotyped TV programmes which demonise tenants. I think we are still a long way from a position where we might achieve these objectives.

2016 is the 50th Anniversary of the broadcasting of the TV programme “Cathy Come Home” the play that did so much to raise the profile of the housing crisis of the time, and which led to the founding of Shelter and many of the housing associations which exist today. That was a real breakthrough moment, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the current housing crisis has caused director Ken Loach to come out of his self-imposed retirement to produce a new film.

So, this is what I want to do on #HousingDay 2016. I want encourage people involved in social housing to organise Housing Film Shows, and I want these to happen in as many towns and cities as possible. I want “Cathy Come Home” to be on the bill of these shows, along with any other housing-related films people can think of. In fact, I want to challenge the social housing sector to make its own films about its work to show alongside “Cathy”. It would be great if each town and city could have its own unique film to show on the day.

But more than the film shows, I want this to be a major opportunity for the sector to talk to others outside its boundaries. I want everyone who organises a show to pack the audience with people who live and work in social housing, but I also want them to invite as VIP guests:

  • local MPs
  • local councillors
  • the Chief Executive of the local authority
  • local business representatives
  • the editor(s) of the local newspaper(s)
  • the editor(s) of the local radio station(s)
  • local and regional TV news
  • local celebrities

And I want organisers not to take “no” for an answer. I want us to move heaven and earth to get as many influential non-housing people there as possible, and I want each show to be a high-profile, media-friendly event.

Can we do this? Is it too ambitious? I hope not. Your comments welcome below. And get in touch if you want to help organise shows.

 

Dementia North Wales – The People Know Best

This is another post about a great event I was fortunate enough to be part of in late November last year.

The Dementia North Wales event was truly inspirational as it gave a voice to people living with dementia. People with dementia were in the room contributing to the discussions and helping to design solutions, and people with dementia were the platform recounting their experiences, and detailing how their condition affected their lives, as well as describing their frustrations with the professionals who often failed to treat them in sympathetic ways.

And here’s the overview video I produced of the day, which I hope captures at least a little of the uplifting mood of the day

Let your staff be your ambassadors – a takeway from #wgt16

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Today I attended the first We Nurses Get Together (#wtg16). It was a great event to be present at, and I’d just like to congratulate everyone involved in making it happen.

During the afternoon I was part of a group that were looking at developing enabling social media policies. Quite a few of the members of the group expressed their frustration that their organisations were still frightened of social media and were blocking staff from using it at work. We explored why this was the case, and management fears of people saying the wrong things and causing a scandal were pretty high on the list.

And yet, one of the group was from Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, an organisation which has experienced more than its fair share of scandal, none of it social media-related. And as part of this Trust’s fight back from its dire position, it is now encouraging all its staff to be active on social media, and to tell their stories about the good work they are doing.

So, there is a real contradiction here. Those organisations which have not experienced scandal are preventing their staff from accessing social media in case they cause one; whereas the organisation that has been through scandal encourages its staff to be open and transparent. This is because they recognise that their staff are their greatest asset and that, by using social media, they can harness their individual and collective voices to place the good work the Trust does before the public. As I said in the session; too many organisations claim their staff are their greatest asset while treating them as if they are a liability. If you really want to get the best out of your staff you need to give their voice free reign, and turn them all into ambassadors for your organisation.

I think this is a really powerful argument to put forward to any managers who are still being reluctant to let their staff use social media. Tell them to consider what is the worst that can happen if someone makes a mistake on social media and could it be worse than any of the things that happened at Morecambe Bay. In the scheme of things, scandals caused by people’s actions on social media are few and far between, but the positive stories of hardworking people wanting to make a difference are many, and they deserve to be told.

Please get in touch if I can help you develop your social media strategy.

Towards genuine consultation

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This weekend, for the second year running, a lot of people came from all over the country to Huddersfield, the town where I live, for the Not Westminster event, which brings together people interested in finding ways of modernising local democratic processes. In fact, this year, many of them were here for two days, and the Local Democracy Makers event was held on the Friday, before the main event on Saturday. More about Friday shortlly.

One of the sessions I was in on Saturday was about re-designing consultation processes, led by  Elli Panagopoulos and Emilie Glazer of Eclipse.

A key conclusion our group came to was that consultations need to be led by organisations independent of the bodies which have vested interests in the outcome. This is rarely the case.

Elli and Emilie had given us all Play Do to help us craft our solutions. We didn’t have much of a clue what to do with it until I realised the shape I had moulded looked like a colourful igloo.

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This led me to think that I really should resurrect my MeetingPoints idea, which is about making consultations fun and in people’s faces in prominent areas. Thanks to the Play Do, I have now added a colourful mobile igloo to be used as a space in which to do genuine consultations.

 

 

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.

 

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.