Technology Overcoming Rural Social Isolation

 

A couple of weeks ago I was working at a fabulous, inspirational event, the World Health Innovation Summit Fylde Coast (#WHISFC18) held at the Winter Gardens (above) in Blackpool. If you are not familiar with the umbrella body, the World Health Innovation Summit, check it out here, but, in summary, it is a rapidly growing movement of healthcare professionals and patients dedicated to putting people in control of improving their own health.

This is the first of a series of blog posts stimulated by the people I met and the initiatives I learned about at #WHISFC18.

Professor Nial Hayes is Professor of Information and Organisation at the University of Lancaster. As I was interviewing him for the video below, I became increasingly excited about what he was saying, as I recognised how it accorded with my own interests and ambitions. As part of an EU-funded project, Niall and colleagues have been developing an app called Mobile Age which aims to overcome social isolation among older people in rural South Cumbria. Here Niall talks about the principles behind this work.

 

I chatted further with Niall over lunch, and then he started to demonstrate the app, so I whipped out my camera and captured his explanation (see video below).

Mobile Age is a social connectedness app. It has been co-created with older residents of South Cumbria. At its core is open data about local events which people can use to plan their itinerary and ensure they can get out and about. It encompasses the ability to add events to a calendar as older people often enjoy constructing an agenda for the week and planning ahead.

Critical to the function of the app is an age-friendly map. This has been designed with clear lines which are more visible than some other mapping systems. The map shows benches, toilets (including available toilets within shops) and bus stops. This allows detailed journey planning to take place, including the ability to plan how to get to and from a venue before darkness falls.

Volunteering and educational opportunities are included, as well as links to vital services.

One of the key elements is the personal profile which allows the settings and itineraries to be saved. It also allows someone working remotely to add items into the profile, meaning that someone more tech savvy who is located distant from the user can help them populate their profile and plan their calendar.

I think this is a great initiative which deserves to be used more widely and replicated for use elsewhere. It epitomises my view that technology can be used to bring people together and to help them interact in the physical world, and that it is in no way de-personalising.

 

Live-Streaming Comes of Age

 

I’ve been championing live video streaming since I first starting playing with the late, lamented, Qik app in about 2009. I first used it on a BlackBerry, believe it or not, and then moved on to applying it on a Nokia N95 the phone that had remarkably advanced video capabilities for its time and type. I first live-streamed an event professionally in September 2010, and I have gone on to make a specialism of doing good quality, low cost, live-streaming, mainly for non-profit organisations.

I have done this at the lowest possible cost, which has involved using free (or almost free) apps, and budget equipment.

Last week I had enormous fun live streaming the Academic Archers 2018 Conference from the British Library in London. This was a truly joyous event, in which academics with an interest in The Archers long-running radio programme came together to present the results of their research into aspects of the programme. If this sounds a bit dry to you, check out the laughter quotient on my summary video of proceedings.

And I was very pleased, and a little bit proud, that the BBC, both from the Archers twitter account, and from its website was happy to promote and link to my live stream of the event. I started out doing this as cheaply and efficiently as possible, and it is gratifying that a major broadcasting organisation feels my content is of sufficiently quality to be recommended.

If I can help you live-stream an event, and / or provide a cost-effective quality recording. Then please get in touch. The section of the live-stream linked from the BBC website features Charlotte Martin who plays Susan Carter in the programme. I present it below.

 

Technology-Enabled Nattering

Last week I went to interview an older man for a project about technology-enabled social care. We chatted for ages. Not much of it was relevant to my commission, but that was fine, I got enough footage for the project, and I was happy to talk. The gentleman had some fascinating stories to tell. One of those stories was about how his adopted son in Australia had bought him an iPad which he uses to “have a long natter” with him, over Skype, twice a week. He has been doing for years, originally using the “Friends and Family” discount option on the telephone, then via Skype on a laptop and now on his iPad. He was explicit that these interactions enhance his life. He also said that the technology-enabled care platform his carers use has made his life better because it means that carers who visit him have to stay for the full-allotted time, and that means they are more likely to chat with him.

I am becoming more and more convinced that technology-enabled nattering is the way to introduce older people to the benefits of new technologies. Many older people love to chat, but don’t have the opportunity to do so often enough. They love to chat, but they don’t love to type. Video conferencing is the way forward.

 

Serendipity Screens

In the last few years when I have talked to some people about my work getting older people to access the benefits of being online, a number of them have told me that older citizens do not take to social media. This may be true, in some cases, although I have seen quite a few examples of grandparents linking with their families through Facebook and WhatsApp. It could well be that fewer members of the older generation want to type or tap messages that do their younger counterparts, but there is something that many want to do more of, and that is talk. Could it be that the thing that makes social media attractive to time-poor younger generations, the ability to exchange messages very quickly and frequently, is the thing that puts off older citizens as they want deeper, more meaningful interactions.

Now, I know I am making a lot of sweeping generalisations here, but please bear with me. The other day someone was telling me about their mother who had been complaining to them that their father had discovered Skype. She complained that he spent every evening talking “rubbish” loudly to his two sisters in different parts of the country while she tried to watch television in the next room. At Digital Tea Parties and Connected Christmas events I have often found that Skype (or other video conferencing apps) are popular, partly because they don’t involve people with potentially arthritic fingers having to type, but also because they can be seen as a direct extension of the kinds of interaction people are used to having with those around them every day.

I have long railed against the idea that older people need to be taught to use utilitarian software of the kind that is common in offices. But maybe we need to go further and explore in-depth what more use of video conferencing can do. If people are at home and lonely, why can we not make use of “always on” video and audio connections to ensure they always have someone to talk to?

Which also brings me to the idea of “Serendipity Screens”. A couple of years ago now I heard a radio programme during which the manager of a chain of theatres in the United States talked about how they had interactive screens in the bars connected to each other. The idea was to get people talking to others in a different theatre, who were likely to be watching a completely different production, about their experiences and impressions of what they were seeing. I think this is a brilliant idea to get people who would otherwise not have a connection with each other talking and cross-fertilising ideas.

So, I am looking for partners and funding to explore how we can make more use of video conferencing to connect older people together. And to install “Serendipity Screens” in places like Day Centres and Sheltered Accommodation to get people talking to each other across geographical and cultural divides.

Please get in touch if you want to work with me on this.

How Digital Storytelling brings out the nuances

This is a piece of work I did a little while ago working with Locorum, a West Yorkshire-based social enterprise which exists to help health and care services adapt to the needs of under-represented groups. Locorum were commissioned by Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group to undertake a survey of care needs among older Asian people and then to take the results of the survey and interview people about its findings.

Comments we received about this confirmed my views about the importance of this kind of storytelling. There were a couple of interesting points that came out in discussion about it.

Firstly, the video brought out a number of nuanced views that could not have been gained from a survey. Surveys are OK for capturing statistics, but they don’t get to the “yes, but” views. The issues we were canvassing people’s views on were often complex and the way the interviewees addressed them help very much in shaping responses.

Secondly, I believe it is important to capture people saying what might be quite difficult things to say in public. There is a received wisdom that South Asian communities are highly resistant to letting professional carers into their family relationships, and, if we had just relied on the results of the survey, that is probably the message that would have come through. But the interviews revealed that, because of changes in society, that view is changing. Families are struggling to provide the necessary care in some cases, and they are reluctantly coming to accept that outside help is necessary. But it is acceptable only on certain terms, which include the need for cultural sensitivity, and that it needs to accept that the family is the principal means of care and thus professional care is there to fill in the gaps and must step back when asked to do so.

I’d love to help as many people as possible to use this kind of storytelling in their work. If I can help you, please get in touch.

Reflections on the (first) Digital Flu Clinic


So, yesterday was the Digital Flu clinic at Seascale Health Centre, in West Cumbria. 392 people came through the centre during the day to get their annual flu jabs. 40 of these signed up to access their health records online for the first time, and 20 or so of them came to see me to get advice on their digital lives.

And there is the rub, and it’s why we were doing this really. Getting nearly 400 people in one place on one day is a rare opportunity in such a sparsely populated part of the country. The fact that such a small proportion of them wanted advice on digital issues shows the scale of the challenge. And it was not because they were sorted for that kind of thing. I engaged a lot of people in conversation about use of the internet. The vast majority of them said things like “I don’t do the internet”, or “I am not interested in that kind of thing”. They were mainly older people, and most of them live in areas where both landline and mobile signals are poor. This is a combination of factors which combines to produce a lack of awareness of the benefits of being online. And, in the cases where connectivity is poor, even if they are willing, they probably won’t be able to pursue their interest.

But, we always knew this was not going to be easy. This event is the start of a process. The surgery wants to interact with people online, to help people manage their health through apps and online processes, and to cut down social isolation by connecting people together. I also met with Councillor Keith Hitchen who talked about the frustrations of carers having to travel long distances to meet and attend events. The traveling cuts into the respite time they have, and they often have to miss large parts of events because of the time it takes to get to and from the venue. Online events and other interactions would be so valuable in these instances.

So, there are a number of strands we will be pursuing in the coming weeks, including looking at ways of tackling connectivity issues, working out the most cost-effective ways of ensuring that people can get independent advice on their digital needs, and working with local organisations to upskill them in areas such as video-conferencing and streaming meetings.

I’ll leave the last word to the couple I talked to about their use of FaceTime. “Do you use it to talk to family abroad?” I asked them. “Yes, only last night we used it to see our newly-born 6th grandchild in Toronto” they said. Don’t you dare try to tell me (or them) that new technologies are de-humanising.

Digital Flu Clinic

This Saturday (7th October) I will be undertaking what I think is another first, a Digital Flu Clinic. What’s that, I hear you ask?

Well, I’ll be working with Seascale Health Centre in Cumbria to provide digital advice to the people who come to the Flu Clinic there this weekend. Like most parts of the health infrastructure, the Health Centre is keen to encourage its patients to take up online health services and use health apps. Many of its patients are older, and that applies particularly to those who are eligible for annual flu jabs. These patients are less likely to be using online services, particularly as broadband and mobile connectivity are poor in the area.

Seascale Health Centre covers an area of some 350 square miles which has a population only of around 5,500. 450 people are booked into the Flu Clinic, so this is a rare opportunity in such a sparsely populated area to get such a large group of people together in one place. And it is an added bonus that most of the 450 will be older people.

I am really looking forward to helping people to get to grips with the issues holding back their digital lives. Solving those issues will have much wider benefits in their lives than simply interacting with health services. I also think we have hit upon a concept that could be replicated elsewhere. Who else is up for a Digital Flu Clinic?

Bridging the Gap Between Young People and Politicians

Some good news.

I’ve been working with Global Diversity Positive Action (GDPA) an organisation based in Huddersfield which has a particular focus on unleashing the potential of young people who may have been denied opportunities by mainstream agencies. GDPA will shortly be launching an exciting shop-front project in the centre of Huddersfield, which will include a coffee shop, a co-working space, a recording studio, IT training facilities, and hireable meeting space.

A few months ago, I helped GDPA apply for some funding to run a project which addresses some issues which are close to my heart. And last week we heard that The Community Foundation for Calderdale had approved the application.

Lower Valley Chat (working title) aims to engage young people in political processes by bridging the gap between the language they commonly speak, and that used by those who make decisions about their lives. We’ll be working with young people in the Brighouse, Rastrick and Elland areas of Calderdale to help them create multimedia content which identifies the issues of greatest importance to their lives and expresses the actions they wish see taken to address them. We will then present this material to local politicians and other decision makers and invite them to respond.  There has been much talk about increased youth involvement in politics following the recent General Election, one of the things we’ll be testing in this project is whether this involvement can be sustained, and whether the politicians will really listen to their views, or is it just a case of courting their votes at election time. We’ll be working with colleagues at Calderdale Council’s Youth Service to engage with the young people they work with.

It will very much be up to the young people involved to decide what they want to say and how they want to say it, but we envisage they will build their case using a mix of YouTube videos, SnapChat messages and Instagram posts, with maybe a bit of Facebook and Twitter mixed in as well. The challenge will be to get the decision-makers to engage with them on those platforms. It’s a challenge I am looking forward to.

We are already planning a launch event in a local park featuring a performance by a popular local Grime artist. And the project will culminate in an event where we present the content to the politicians.

We are looking for businesses (local or otherwise) who’d like to get involve by donating prizes to be presented to the young people. Please please get in touch if you can help with this.

Watch this space for news of the project as it develops.

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Friendships not Transactions

I need to get this off my chest.

I couldn’t possibly count the number of times people have given me the excuse for not pursuing digital transformation that recipients of services would miss the personal touch. Indeed I am repeatedly told that, for many the regular interaction with their care worker / housing officer / other professional is their only human contact.

I have 2 responses to this argument.

The first is, why are we not making more use of technology to reduce isolation and increase human contact? First priority in this for me is to assist people to use social networking to make new friends who they can subsequently meet in person. Second priority is to connect people together online, whether it be via social media sites, or via video conferencing.

My second response is this. What has our society come to if the only personal contact people have is with those who are paid to deliver a service to them? This is not right and it should not be used as an excuse for holding back progress. I refer you back to my first response for how we should be dealing with this. Let’s help people make and maintain real friendships, not rely on perfunctory transactions for a semblance of human warmth.

Here’s Paro the robot seal which has proven really good at connecting with older people.

Tales from Notwestminster

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Friday and Saturday saw two days of “Democracy Geeks” getting together in the town where I live, Huddersfield. This is the third year that Notwestminster has happened and the event just goes from strength-to-strength.

Technically, Friday and Saturday were separate events, with Friday being the Democracy Experiments Day, and Saturday being the main event. But there were enough people present at both days to make it feel that they were completely connected, and a Pechakucha evening on the Friday night, also brought some other new voices into the picture.

Friday

So, on Friday, we split into groups to work on particular challenges. I joined the group led by Helen Cammack which was looking at how local authorities could work with community groups as a conduit to public involvement and consultation. After some discussion, we agreed that it would make sense to use Helen’s interests.me platform combined with Kathryn Corrick‘s Represent to develop an online consultation mechanism via which community groups could collectively input to council policy. Helen and Kathryn went away to work on this, while the rest of the group worked on our complementary idea, which was to put together a video news bulletin on forthcoming council business which could be shown at community group meetings.

The idea was to to create a user-friendly package, summarising the business the council was due to deal with in the next month which groups could then discuss and respond to. Thanks to Spencer Wilson who joined the group briefly to help us identify where we could find guides to up-coming business from Kirklees Council.

The video we came with up is below. This is a kind of proof-of-concept. It’s a bit rough and ready, but, I think a fairly good effort given that we basically did it all, including choosing the topics, writing scripts for the section, filming it, and doing a basic edit in half an hour. I finished editing it on Saturday. I’d be really interested in feedback on this concept. I firmly believe that reports and papers are not the way to communicate council business to the public, and I think this idea has merit. What do you think?

And here is the prototype consultation tool that Karen and Helen came up with https://app.represent.me/collections/4680/kcorrick/34/what-do-you-think-about-social-care/questions/3248/what-does-social-care-mean-most-to-you/ I think we’ve got something here.

After a brief break during which I walked the dogs, Friday evening saw a democracy-themed Pechakucha evening. There were some very inspiring talks, and a number of people who had never done a talk before in that format did a great job in grappling with it.  During the evening I launched the Civic Story Factory. More of that later.

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Saturday

We reassembled on Saturday morning, with a fair number of new people. The day kicked off with some Lightning Talks, and I was particularly pleased to see the in-coming Chief Executive of Kirklees Council (she started the job two days later), Jacqui Gedman delivering the first talk, and thus endorsing the Notwestminster approach.

Most of my focus on the Saturday was on the workshop I was running “Introducing the Civic Story Factory”, which launched my new social enterprise dedicated to unlocking the stories of great work done in the non-profit and public sectors. You can find notes of the session (largely compiled by the wonderful Louisa Thomson) here. I passionately believe that we need to tell the stories of what goes into delivering great public services to counter the negative propaganda put out by the mainstream media. The Civic Story Factory will help people to tell their stories and tell some of the best stories itself. Find out more about it here.

We had a great discussion in the Workshop and the actions we committed ourselves to were:

  • Further developing the concept of video summaries of up-coming council business as piloted in Friday’s session
  • Encouraging and facilitating the production of decision-summary videos following council meetings
  • Documenting the benefits to the village of Bradwell Parish Council‘s support for the village’s Annual Carnival.

If you’d like to work with us on making any of this happen, please get in touch.

Notwestminster 2017 was a great couple of days. Keep an eye on the site to see how the other experiments are progressing, and, if you haven’t made it to a Notwestminster event yet, don’t miss out on the next one!

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Thanks to @LDBytes (particularly Diane) for some of the images used in this post