A Portal to Digital Inclusion?

So, Digital Inclusion colleagues, what do we think of Portal by Facebook? If you haven’t seen it, basically it’s a video conferencing kit, which comes in four different forms, the Portal TV, which plugs into your TV and sits on top of the set, the Portal, a 10 inch, Digital Photo frame-like device with video calling and Alexa built-in, the Portal mini, basically the same thing but 8 inches, and the Portal+, which gaves the same funcitonality in a device with an HD, 15.6 inch screen which pivots to differing orientations. One of the differences it is offering compared to other video conferencing set ups is that the camera follows the person around the room, and the microphones are designed to pick up the voice wherever it comes from. The marketing around it has focused on images of people, particularly older people, using it to communicate with their families in other parts of the world.

I have written in the past that I think video conferencing has an important, and largely unacknowledged, part to play in digital inclusion. I wrote here about the idea of Serendipity Screens, and here about Technology-Enabled Nattering. Video conferencing has been around since the advent of the internet, or even before, but it has yet to hit the mainstream, and it still hasn’t broken through to any great extent into the realm of family communications with the older generations. Will Portal be the device (or devices) to break through? Certiainly I think linking it to the TV will appeal to some who have not seen any reason for owning a computer, a tablet or a smartphone. And the photo frame-like devices may also break through with the non-technology owner. Portal uses WhatsApp to make its video calls, and you can only call people who have WhatsApp or Facebook accounts. We all know there are lots of privacy concerns around Facebook and its associated companies, so some will steer clear of Portal because of that. Facebook appears to be trying to address some of those issues by providing sliding covers for the cameras in the devices which offers some degree of comfort that they are not watching us all the time.

In all aspects of technology development there usually comes along a device or an app that suddenly transforms people’s attitudes and then everybody wants one. The example I often cite is the iPod, which was by far not the first mp3 player, but Apple adapted the concept in ways that made them must-haves to the mass market. Whether the Portal is the iPod of video conferencing remains to be seen, but it is interesting to see that some of the approaches to video which myself and other digital inclusion advocates have been promoting for years are being used to promote this set of devices.

Is Portal really a game-changer for digital inclusion?

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What a long trip to Cornwall taught me about the need for online access to events

Last week I was in Cornwall. A long way from home for me. I was there because I was delivering some Digital Inclusion training to the staff of Coastline Housing on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Housing. Cornwall is somewhere I have visited a handful of times for professional reasons over my working career, and I have also been there for holidays 3 or 4 times. Distance is a relative thing. Cornwall is a long way to travel for me, living in West Yorkshire, but it may not be so far for you wherever you are reading this. The geography of Britain means that the North of England can feel a long way from the seat of power in London, but, in the North of England, at least we have the advantage of some relatively fast connections to get to London and elsewhere (don’t get me started on HS2, though). Cornwall, on the other hand, is a peninsula. I was reminded during one of the sessions I ran, that Redruth, where we were, is 3 hours away from Bristol. So, you might travel to Bristol and think you are in the South West of England, but you can keep going for another 3 to 4 hours and still not fall into the sea. To get there, I took a train to Leeds, then spent 6 and-a-half hours on another train to Plymouth, and then another 90 minutes on a train from Plymouth to Redruth. If you live in Redruth and want to visit London, it will take you 5 hours on the train. It’s a long way from London, the Midlands, or the North of England to Plymouth, but the train gets there relatively quickly. Once the train leaves Plymouth and heads over the River Tamar into Cornwall it moves a lot more slowly and stops at every little rural station.

I could have flown to Cornwall, it takes not much more than an hour to fly from Manchester to Newquay. But Newquay is still quite a long way from Redruth and the logistics of getting from one place to the other proved difficult. So, after considering all the options, I decided to treat the challenge of spending nearly 9 hours (each way) on trains as an opportunity to get some work done. And I resolved not to complain about it, reasoning that this was an everyday occurrence for the people I was travelling to work with. But, during one of the sessions that I ran in Redruth, participants talked about how their geographic location hinders them; how they find it hard to get to conferences and events; and one particular story about a good practice visit to the North of England involving two hire cars and a plane journey. So, it seems, that even living day-to-day in a “remote” location doesn’t mean you can take the travel difficulties in your stride. In fact it probably means that you just don’t have access to a lot of opportunities that others take for granted.

None of this will come as any surprise to anyone who lives and works in a rural area, or somewhere else at distance from the main sources of population. It is a real issue. And yet it is an issue to which we have the solution. But it is a solution which is still not being used anywhere near as widely and effectively as it could be. Scroll back to earlier in the same week, I was in London (yes that place, the centre of power in Britain) live-streaming the Patients’ Association AGM (video below). That organisation commissioned me because they wanted to take their first steps towards ensuring that their business is accessible by their members wherever they are in the country. In an era when we have the ability to reach beyond the rooms we are in and invite others to join our discussions, why are so many organisations still resistant? This is a genuine question. I’ve been live-streaming events for close on ten years now but there are still too many organisations who don’t want to open up their events in this way. Not only that, but it’s very evident that if you live-stream an event in the evening or at a weekend you get a lot more engagement. And I think that is because people don’t feel able to watch live-streams while sat at their desk in the office. It’s not true that engaging with an event through a screen is the same as being in the room, but it is a good option if you can’t be there. I think people erect unnecessary barriers to engagement with events online, and I think we need to break down those barriers. I’ve long believed that the ability to reach out to anywhere in the world using the internet should change the way we work. In the context of organisations such as the Patients’ Association, their mission is to involve people in influencing how health services are delivered, and that is more effectively done if they are reaching out to members wherever they are.

So I believe that we need to drive a big culture change. The first is in organisations who need to see that involving people who are not in the room is a major aid to their work. Beyond that, climate change means that we need to reduce the need to travel to events, and we can lower travel and accommodation budgets. Now I know that a lot of organisations make some or all of their income from running events, but I also believe that there will always be people who want to be in the room, and if live-streaming an event proves to depress numbers attending, then incentives should be offered to attendees.

The second element of culture change is that organisations should be encouraging their staff to seek out and watch live streams of events as alternatives to attending them. And sitting at your desk watching a live-streamed event should be seen as a perfectly legitimate thing to be doing.

And finally, we need to break down the reluctance that many people seem to have in engaging with live-streamed events. People are quite happy to watch “X-Factor”, “Strictly Come Dancing” and “The Great British Bakeoff” on TV and get immersed in the action, but they treat not being in the room at a conference as meaning it is not worth bothering with. Now, there may be a challenge here to event organisers to make their events more engaging, but that would benefit those in the room as much as it would those watching online.

Put yourself in the shoes of people living or working in areas where travel to most events is difficult or impossible. They are missing out on so many opportunities that the rest of us take for granted. And I speak as someone who regularly complains that events being held in London makes them inaccessible to those of us in the North of England. We owe it to those people to open up those events to remote participation. I want to go further than live streaming. I want to have rooms full of people in different parts of the country interacting with each other and providing active input into events. There are so many possibilities but we are being held back from realising their potential. So I am looking for partners to help me develop a comprehensive service to make crucial events in the public and non-profit sectors truly open and interactive. Contact me if you want to be part of this.

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Dementia Choices Action Network (D-CAN) – Starting out using video to share

Last week I was very fortunate to be involved, as videographer and digital storyteller, in the inaugural National Assembly of the Dementia Care Choices Action Network (D-CAN). D-CAN brings together a number of stakeholder organisations with an interest in Dementia with NHS England and Improvement, Alzheimer’s Society, the Coalition for Collaborative Care and others, including people living with Dementia. A key aim of the network is to embed the principles of Universal Personalised Care (UPC) into the practice of supporting people with Dementia across the Health, Social Care, and voluntary and community sectors. D-CAN aims to provide a space wherein innovative practice and lived experience can inform practice at all levels.

i am pleased and excited that D-CAN has begun by recognising the power of video in disseminating messages and ensuring that members can learn from each other. Members want to break down the walls that exist between professional disciplines, between different organisations, between organisations and patients, and between people in the room at meetings and those who can’t be there. And it is this latter aspect that I want to talk about here. I have long believed that the public and non-profit sectors are failing to take advantage of the tools that the internet has given us to communicate beyond normal boundaries. Particularly where organisations are seeking to communicate messages and engage people in their work, it seems self-evident to me that using online video and social media will spread their reach far beyond the walls of the room they are in. That this is happening far too infrequently is a great source of frustration. Ian Donaghy, who hosted the Assembly, mentioned a number of online video resources during his comments, and he asked the audience who was aware of them. Very few of them were, and this is telling.

Stepping away from the direct field of Dementia for a moment, I am going to cite the case of Molly Watt. Molly is an inspirational young woman who lives with Usher Syndrome (which causes deaf / blindness). She has created her own Foundation, works as an accessiblity consultant, and uses online video and social media to document her life and how she uses new technologies to live as full a life as possible despite her limited vision and hearing. I know that she has provided inspiration for many others living with the same condition and given them confidence to overcome the barriers they face to achieving their ambitions. Peter Berry was diagnosed with Early Onset Dementia at the age of 50. He has made more than 100 of his weekly video diaries documenting the challenges of living with his condition. Usually his diaries are just him and his camera, but he has occasionally involved his wife, his daughter, and friends to give a perspective on what it’s like living with someone who has Peter’s conditon. A few years ago I was videographer at two North Wales Dementia Meetups. At the first event I interviewed a number of people in the audience who were living with Dementia. Several of them told me that their diagnosis had left them depressed and despondent. A year later, at the second event, some of those people were on the platform telling their stories and recounting how the first event had given them inspiration to turn their lives around and take positive actions to overcome the limitations of their condition.

OK, so the last example is about inspiration coming from the people you directly interact with, but there cannot be any denying that online video amplifies and spreads the ability to learn from how others do things. And that these lessons are all the more powerful when they come from people like you, living daily with the condition you live with than from official sources.

The fact that D-CAN is making some steps towards recognising that online video has a role to play in connecting people beyond physical meetings is, to me, a great, positive step forward. I believe we need to build on this step and roll the use of video into further meetings and into helping those living with Dementia to learn from each other. And we need to extend this practice into many other areas and many other conditions.

The growth of the internet has brought with it an explosion in the use of online video. More than a year ago, a report was published which showed that young people watch Netflix more than they watch the BBC. The millions of hours of online video which exist represent a major learning opportunity that, by and large, our public institutions are not making adequate use of. And they need to be seeding this resource with their own content that people can draw on. I am hopeful that D-CAN can be part of this process.

All the video from the first National Assembly of D-CAN can be viewed here. The video below, of the delegate interviews starts with Christopher Richmond, who lives with Dementia himself, telling his story. This is just the kind of thing I want to be able to support more of.

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Could you Sponsor a Live-Stream?

Photo by Duncan Morrow

 

I am looking for sponsors. Does your organisation want to raise its profile in the Public, Charitable, or non-profit sectors?

As long-time readers of this blog will know, I specialise in high-quality, low-cost, live video streaming for non-profit organisations. Not all organisations in these sectors can afford even the low prices I charge to stream their events. So, are you a company or other organisation that wants to raise its profile in the sector? Why not consider sponsoring a live stream for a non-profit event? This can be an event  that your organisation is already present at, or it might be something you want your audience to be able to watch, or it could just be in a market where you want to get involved.

Please get in touch for a chat about how we might work together.

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While you are here, can I please ask you to take a minute to subscribe to my YouTube Channel here

If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here

27,000 people at a Local Authority Committee Meeting?

At the recent #NotWestminster event I asked if any local authorities were streaming meetings via Facebook. No one present knew of any, and quite a few people there expressed doubts that doing so would be a good idea as they would be fearful of the kind of comments that would come in during meetings.

And then, yesterday, my attention was drawn to a Facebook Live stream of Luton Council’s Development Control meeting, which was actually being done by the local BBC radio station, BBC Three Counties.

Now, this meeting was very high profile, as the main item on the agenda was a proposed development which included the building of a new stadium for Luton Town Football Club. But, nevertheless, it illustrates my point that this is something that local authorities should consider, as the level of engagement during the meeting would be higher than if they continue to stream via self-contained platforms.

Yesterday’s meeting was broadcast in two halves.

Part one is here. At the time of writing this, this video has had more than 19,000 views and attracted 1,655 comments.

Part two is here. At the time of writing this, this video has had more than 27,000 views and attracted 2,936 comments.

Now I know this meeting is a special case. But I still contend that using Facebook Live to stream Council meetings has to be tried as a way of engaging the public in council business. I can help you do this. If you’d like my help, please get in touch.

After all, there aren’t many Council committee rooms that could accommodate 27,000 members of the public.

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Live Streaming as a Fund-Raising Technique?

I don’t want to draw attention to it, so no links, but, did you know that the so-called “Yellow Vests” who have been protesting in pursuit of their aim of a “No Deal” Brexit in London and elsewhere in the UK have been live video streaming all their activities and using their live streams to solicit donations to their cause? As I understand it they have been raising substantial sums for their cause this way, and effectively funding themselves to spend their time on the streets of Westminster and other cities rather than doing another job.

This makes me think. Could we use this technique for a socially useful purposes? What do you think? Any ideas?

On a, slightly un-related note. I came across this video of a live-streaming “factory” in China. This is basically a large house where young women live and work shifts live streaming themselves. As I understand it there is nothing necessarily sexual in this, they effectively offer themselves as friends to lonely people, mainly young men, who are sitting at home in their bedrooms with no one else to talk to. And they make a living out of it. What do you think of this?

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If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here

 

Lessons from a Connected Christmas

Is it too late to wish you a Merry Christmas? Well, I hope you had a good one.

I’ve been running a number of Connected Christmas events this year using the pretext of a Christmas party to try to turn older people on to the benefits of having new technologies in their lives.

This is always a difficult and challenging task, but I have to admit that this year it appears to have been particularly challenging; and I suspect I won’t do Connected Christmas in quite the same way in future years. I still want to use the opportunity of the approach of Christmas to highlight social isolation and loneliness amongst older people, and the role that new technology can possibly play in addressing this, but I am increasingly coming to the point of view that Connected Christmas needs to be a stage of the process which needs to start much earlier than Christmas.

This year the proportion of people I engage with who say “not interested….  new technologies are not part of my life” is higher than it has ever been in the past. Now I think a lot of it is part of a trend, in that it’s something that has been developing for years now, that the people who are truly digitally excluded are increasingly the hard-core who are super resistant to having new technologies in their lives. It’s not just a question of lack of skills and a lack of interest, it’s an active resistance. And I would like to add a word of congratulations here to the mainstream media. Thank you newspapers, thank you TV and radio stations, you have done a brilliant job of making sure a whole generation is excluded from the Internet. The amount of times I come across the comment that I don’t want anything to do with that because it’s all about fraud, or if I go on the Internet I’m going to get scammed.

But another possibly related issue that I keep coming across is older people who say to me that “that kind of stuff is the bane of my life. My children and my grandchildren are on it all the time and it means I can’t get them to talk to me”.  I try to counter that attitude by saying to people that, if you learn how to use those things yourself and you engage with them, then you will have something in common, you will share interests and you will be able to join in the conversations your family members are having online. I’m struggling to get that message through however, and I am increasingly coming to believe that digital technologies are increasing the generation gap because younger people are immersed in a world that their older relatives are not participating in, and, in many cases the older people are actively resisting opportunities to join in.

I find this frustrating and baffling to a degree. But I don’t think it is unsurmountable. A while ago, I wrote a piece about “Technology-Enabled Nattering” because I believe that what older people really want to do it chat with each other. And when I say “chat”, I mean it in the original sense of the word, not its internet incarnation which involves doing a lot of typing or key-pressing. That’s why I am still looking for funding (anyone, please?) to run some pilot projects which get people talking to each other on a regular basis via video conferencing. And, I want to throw out a challenge here. I think devices like Alexa and Google Home offer the opportunity for social networks to move beyond typing and photographic-based interactions and towards real conversations, involving voices not keyboards. That way older people need no longer be excluded from their younger relatives’ social media interactions. Done right, this approach could mean a real breaking down of the digital divide between the generations. What do you think of this idea, please comment down below.

I hope you have a great New Year. I leave you with a video I recorded just before Christmas, which encapsulates my idea that we should form support groups to crowdfund the purchase of tablets to connect lonely older people to friends and family. What do you think of that idea?

Engagement Through Live Streaming

I first started live video streaming events in 2010. Have experimented with live streaming as a fun exercise, I was prompted to take it up on a serious basis when a former employer complained about the cost of live streaming an event and I offered to do it for them at a much lower price.

Over the years I have evolved my practice, changed the way I do things, and improved the quality of the output. And I have also operated through a period when live streaming has become mainstream, and a thing that lots of people think they can do. This has resulted in a proliferation of live streams, some of which have been OK in quality, but many more of which have been blurry video with indistinct and/or echoey sound. It takes a lot of effort and some additional equipment to produce a live stream which people are likely to want to watch all the way through, and you can certainly forget it if the sound is poor.

One of the big game-changers on the live-streaming front has been the advent of Facebook Live. In many respects, Facebook Live is just another video platform, but something that makes it unique is that, for those organisations which have built communities on Facebook, whether through Groups or Pages, it adds an opportunity directly to address that community and engage them in events and other work.

Just recently I have live streamed two events for Rethink Mental Illness (formerly the Schizophrenia Foundation). The first event was a panel discussion to mark National Schizophrenia day. To date, the live video has been watched by more than 10,000 people. You can see this one here. And then, yesterday, I live streamed Rethink’s Members’ Day in Sheffield. Only a day later, the video from the morning session has had more than 3,500 views, and the afternoon workshop has over 4,400 views.

And in September, as part of Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria’s Digital Transformation Programme, I live streamed a Patient Participation Group Meeting for Library House Surgery in Chorley. I think it is safe to say that everyone involved was bowled over by the fact that more than 500 people watched this meeting on the night, and that, within 48 hours that figure had gone up to more than 2,000. This is for a group that regularly attracts an attendance of fewer than 15 people.

To me, these projects have provided powerful evidence of the power of live streaming for social good organisations to engage people in their work. But I think one of the most prominent lessons is the use of live streaming to build on communities already built up on Facebook. Both Rethink Mental Illness and Library House Surgery already had thriving, interactive Facebook communities, and that greatly increased the reach of their live videos. Rethink were able to draw a wide audience into their events, and, for Library House Surgery, the live video drew people in to participate in development of their services who would not otherwise attend meetings.

The public and third sectors are populated with organisations which have missions to engage members or the wider public in their work. Social media and live video streaming, separately or combined together, have amazing potential to draw people into events and other aspects of an organisation’s work. But the live streaming has to be done well. Broadcasting low quality video, particularly if the sound is difficult to hear, could put people off rather than engage them.

I have a mission to use video and social media to help organisations engage with their client groups. One of my specialisms is high quality, but low-priced, live video streaming. I would love to work with more organisations to use live video to engage large audiences in their work. Please get in touch if you would like me to work with you.

Live-streaming a Patient Participation Group

I am very excited that this Thursday I will be undertaking what I reckon must be a world-first; I’ll be live streaming a Patient Participation Group (PPG). From 6:45pm, the Library House Surgery PPG in Chorley, Lancashire will be live streamed on the surgery’s Facebook Page. I have long been an advocate for live streaming as a means to involve people in the work of public agencies, and I am very pleased to be part of this groundbreaking opportunity to open up the PPG to those who cannot attend meetings.

I am happy to be working with Healthier Lancashire & South Cumbria and Redmoor Health on this initiative.  For any organisations who want to do something similar to engage wider audiences in their work, please get in touch.

Here’s my YouTube video trailing the event.

Thanks for reading.

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Engagement has to be Fun

I present the Bradford Safeguarding Adults Board Community Engagement Event – held on 27th June 2018 at Manningham Mills Community Centre

It was a real privilege to be part of this event. I think the video pretty much captures the essence of the day, which was described to me by one of the participants as “joyous”.

“Joyous?” I hear you ask, “but isn’t Safeguarding a really serious, and potentially scary, issue?”. Safeguarding is certainly serious, but there is a pressing need to make sure it is more widely understood. And it is commendable that Bradford’s Safeguarding Adults Board is committed to making sure that the most vulnerable people in society not only understand the nature of abuse and what can be done about it, but that they can also contribute to the strategy being implemented across the District to keep residents safe. An important element of the Board’s approach is attract people to participate in setting policies and strategy by ensuring that events like this are fun, and genuinely engaging.

So people had a lot of fun at the event, and in amongst the fun, they learnt some really serious stuff; they were provided with tools to deal with abuse in their own lives, they learned about different kinds of abuse, and they contributed to the Safeguarding Adults Board’s strategic plan. And they did all this because they wanted to, not out of a sense of obligation or duty.

I found it particularly encouraging that storytelling was central to much of the message of the day, with a powerful video illustrating a particular kind of abuse, and participants being encouraged to use picture stories to explore issues. This was just one day, but it brought together individual service users and organisations that support their participation on a regular basis. Personally I believe that storytelling, and participation in storymaking, has to be deployed on a wider basis to develop understanding of complex issues and ensure that consultation is genuinely informed via deep understanding of the issues.

I was proud to be part of the day as part of my mission to raise the profile of social care, of the fantastic work so many social care organisations do, and the difference they make to people’s lives. And a key part of the message, which the Safeguarding Adults Board, and other social care organisations in Bradford are central to, is the emphasis on social care being an empowering service which provides the underpinning for people to live full and fulfilled lives in recognition that people know best what is good for them, and the role of professionals is to support them in achieving their personal goals.  In this year when we celebrate the 70th birthday of the NHS, it is vital that we also recognise that the same act gave birth to the modern social care system, and that the two are different sides of the same coin.

There is a playlist of videos illustrating what participants said about the day here, and the presentations and games played on the day are below.