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

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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The Christmas Advert for Social Good?

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It’s that time of year again when the retailers are releasing their Christmas adverts, their intention being to tug at your heartstrings to persuade you to spend your hard-earned money with them rather than their rivals. And, for the last few years at least, they’ve been crafting them in ways designed to ensure that lots of people want to share them via social media.

All this effort, all this time, all this money put into making us want to buy things. Wouldn’t it be great if similar resources could be put into persuading people to be kind to each other, to help those in need, and to build a better society. Could you do it. Could you tell your story, the story of the good work you do, and of how you are making lives better, in the style of a Christmas advert? Go on, have a go!

I am passionate about the power of Digital Storytelling and I want to help all organisations and individuals to gain the skills and capabilities to tell their own stories to the world. If you share this objective, and just need a little help getting there, please get in touch.

PS.

Sorry about the creepy video

 

Addressing the Web Skeptics

Last week I presented at the ARCH (Association of Retained Council Housing) Tenants’ Conference in Leamington Spa. My theme was about Digital Engagement of Tenants. At the beginning of the afternoon workshop, I asked who, in an audience of about 40 people, had never used the internet. 2 men at the back of the room put their hands up, so I told them I hoped I would have convinced them they were missing out by the end of the session.

So, at the close of the workshop, I asked the 2 skeptics if I had changed their minds. One wouldn’t say anything. The other proudly told me he had not changed his view and went on to expound his theory that the internet has stopped people from learning things. That, because people now have information at their finger tips, and access to tools such as spell checks, there is no incentive actually to learn things any more. I explained my view, that having the internet at our disposal encourages us to be more creative, and to use the parts of our brains formerly dedicated to storing information for activities which allow us to deploy our skills and abilities to more effective ends. He wasn’t having it, I’m afraid.

Fortunately, I got a lot of positive feedback from the remainder of those present, and a number of people came forward to tell me I had inspired them to want to use the internet in ways which had not previously occurred to them. But I couldn’t help thinking about those two skeptics and all the things they are missing out on. The truth is the opposite of what that man claimed it to be. Closing one’s mind to the possibilities offered by the web is the ultimate act of refusing to learn. I personally will not rest until I have got everybody to understand that.

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Time for a Social Housing Sharing Strategy?

You’ve probably heard a lot about the Sharing Economy, but you might not know what it actually is. There is some debate about this. At its heart it is about people using their assets and skills for economic benefit. Some argue that that the more apt name is the Rental Economy. Examples of this kind of activity are things like AirBnB, Lyft, and Uber. What people are doing in these examples is not really sharing, they are renting their assets out. There are examples of sharing where people barter goods and services, but what the new wave of so-called sharing platforms do, is basically to use the internet to allow people with resources to offer them for hire to those who need them. Is it really sharing? Well, no, but, for the seller it can open up otherwise unused assets to generate economic benefit, and for the purchaser it can enable them to afford to do things they otherwise would not. I was prompted to write this post by news of the launch of Waze Commute, which allows commuters to find drivers commuting their way and pay them a modest amount for joining them for the ride.

It seems to me that social housing residents could benefit greatly from greater application of these kinds of approaches, but that they are probably benefiting least from them. I have been encouraged in recent years by the growth of the Asset Based Community Development movement, which emphasises the strengths available in communities rather than the deficits, but I’m not sure how far that is being translated into the economic sphere.

And a major consideration in all this is the relatively high level of digital exclusion among social housing tenants. While the so-called sharing platforms thrive because of ubiquitous internet access, and, particularly use of mobile internet, many social housing communities remain excluded from this party. I know as well, from personal experience, that some social housing tenants can be resistant to embracing the internet because they are reluctant to share their personal details and data online. So, I would suggest that any strategy to realise economic value from assets, skills and services in low income communities must have a digital inclusion strand at its heart.

I believe we need to start a debate about how social housing tenants can be included in the “sharing economy”. Who is up for that? Mabe a Twitter chat, a roundtable, or an actual event?

 

 

 

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Millom Really Gets Digital

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Yesterday I spent an extremely enjoyable day with the residents of Millom Court in Timperley as we launched Millom Gets Digital which is the first step in Trafford Housing Trust‘s strategy to bring wifi to its Sheltered Accommodation schemes and promote the wider digital inclusion of its tenants. I was really grateful to be invited into the home of the residents and it was fantastic talking to them about their lives and how technology might enhance them.

It was a great help that the first person I met when I arrived was Dorothy who was bent over her tablet using Facebook. She quickly volunteered that the introduction of wifi to the scheme has been immensely beneficial to her as it means that she can see and talk to her son and grandchildren in the USA on an almost daily basis. There turned out to be around 5 out of the 25 or so residents present who already were using some kind of digital device on a regular basis. This was very pleasing as one of the aims is to get residents to pass on their skills and interests to their neighbours.

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So, Jim Tunstall from THT, Lee Omar from Red Ninja Studios, Louise Rogerson from Intelsant and myself spent some time talking to the residents, telling them stories about the benefits of new technologies, and encouraging them to try out some new tools. Then we discussed people’s hopes and fears about new tech. The first comment from a resident was that she felt strongly that people should stop staring at their devices and talk to each other. We countered that argument by pointing out that the majority of new technology use is indeed about communication, and that it gives people the opportunity to talk to anybody, anywhere in the world. This point was backed up by Dorothy’s experience of talking to her family across the Atlantic.

We carried on talking, experimenting, and playing, over lunch. Gradually some of the more reluctant members of the group started to soften their attitudes and little victories were being won all over the room.

As we reconvened after lunch and further discussed some of the issues raised it became apparent that there were a small number of committed technology users who were very pleased that the wifi had been installed and extremely keen that it should stay. It is currently free to use on a trial basis and THT are looking for some evidence of the direct benefits it brings to people’s lives before deciding (a) whether to retain it at Millom Court, and (b) whether to roll it out to other schemes.  This should provide a further incentive for the committed residents to act as digital champions for their neighbours, as wider use is necessary in order to collect the proof.

Today was further proof for my beliefs about the effective routes to digital inclusion, namely;

  • begin with the power of communication and fun uses of the internet. Getting to grips with these will develop digital fluency and allow beneficiaries to tackle utilitarian uses at a later date;
  • nobody who doesn’t work in a office has any use for a desktop PC, and not many need a laptop. Touchscreen devices are the most effective gateway to the internet for novice users;
  • you will never convert every member of a group on day one, and it is futile to try. Start with those who already have some interest and get them to cascade that interest to their neighbours. Eventually, even the most reluctant will realise they are missing out on what everybody around them is benefitting from;
  • internet use is one of the most effective means of keeping older people’s minds active. It should be available on prescription.
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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.

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Why Senior Leaders Can’t Afford to Ignore Social Media

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about management and leadership and social media. And I’m thinking about this in the context of the world I inhabit most of the time, that of the public and voluntary sectors. I know a number of senior managers and leaders who are great on social media, but I also know a lot of people who are still complaining that their access to social media and other useful tools is restricted in the workplace. More than 10 years after social media use first became widespread, there are still a large number of organisations either not taking it seriously or blocking it.

This is a really important issue in today’s networked world. Social media and other new technologies have changed the world of work for most people. They have caused organisations to work in more open and collaborative ways, they have flattened hierarchies, and they have allowed like-minded individuals to find and connect with each other to pursue common goals. But, there are still organisations who are oblivious to these changes, or who are actively resisting them. This is bad for their organisations for a number of reasons:

  • People are using digital tools in their private lives and they expect similar experiences when they go to work;
  • Organisations not using modern tools risk being outflanked by those that are;
  • Deploying social media and modern digital tools makes work more interesting and fulfilling, meaning staff are more likely to stay with the organisation, be committed to its vision, and produce better work.

So, what does this mean for senior managers and leaders? Well, surely that point about flattened hierarchies is some kind of threat isn’t it? Maybe not, considering that organisations are indeed changing. The fact that social media in particular allows leaders to tap into knowledge, expertise, and enthusiasm wherever it exists in the organisation has to be an opportunity.

And it is certainly true now (possibly more than ever before), that leadership and status are not necessarily correlated. What social media has definitely done is to highlight where the thinkers, the innovators and the change makers are in organisations and make them visible to the outside world. These kinds of people are not always at senior positions in the hierarchy.  There have been far too many examples where such people have been frustrated that their ideas have not been taken up, and they have subsequently left the organisation, in many cases to establish their own startup companies. One of the key challenges for leaders in the second decade of the 21st Century is to provide opportunities for all staff to contribute to the mission, feel valued, and understand that they have opportunities to progress. Even organisations which ban staff access to social media need to be aware that this is not a foolproof strategy for suppressing criticism, as staff are quite capable of communicating via their smartphones, or in their own time outside work. It is thus far better to offer opportunities for people to make their contributions as part of their work rather than outside it.

I maintain, therefore, that we are no longer in a world where status automatically begats respect as a leader. That respect has to be earned. If you are in a senior position in a large organisation, how do people who work in it, who may never meet you, or do so rarely, get to know you, and work out whether you are deserving in their trust as a leader? We all know that “management by walking about” is a good strategy, but, when the organisation is above a certain size, that may not be practical. This is where social media is your friend. Developing a good social media profile can bring you closer to your staff, as well as enabling you to make those contacts which tap into knowledge and expertise which doesn’t reach you through the usual channels which exist in hierarchies. If you want an example of how this can work, have a look at the public profile of someone like Sir Richard Branson who has been extraordinarily successful in a range of different business spheres, but has managed to maintain his “nice guy” image. Branson is a living embodiment of the power of public relations, and it pays to be aware that good relations internally within an organisation are at least as important as those with external bodies and individuals.

The openness afforded by social media has transformed what it means to be a leader in the modern workplace. But, if you are not already active on social media platforms it can feel like a scary place to venture in to. Because there is no deference on social media. If you are starting from scratch, you have zero followers, and people used to being listened to by virtue of their status in the hierarchy can feel this is like starting out all over again. But the things to remember about social media are:

  • It is a slow burner, and you need to build profile and reputation over time;
  • You can use it to connect with peers in other organisations who have already been there and done it;
  • Unless you are a celebrity, a politician, or someone who deliberate courts controversy and offence, social media tends to be a friendly place, full of helpful people (that’s certainly been my experience over the last 10 years).

A high profile on social media is an essential part of any manager’s toolkit in the current climate. If I can help you on develop your practice in this area, please get in touch

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Capturing Older People’s Technology Stories – Jenny’s Story

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This is another in my series of interviews with older people on how they use technology. I am very grateful to Baeti Mothobi of Orbit Housing Group‘s Social Reporting Team for capturing this story for me. This is part of work commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better.

Jenny’s tech story:

  • Jenny has been aware of the need to keep up with developments with computers, so did did some courses, and, eventually, bought a laptop, which she now uses all the time;
  • She never feels lonely, but that could be because she uses her laptop to communicate every evening;
  • She knows if she ever wants to find anything she can use Google;
  • The internet helps her hobbies. Jenny sings in a choir, and she can now learn the songs by accessing the music online;
  • Jenny is currently struggling to master her Internet Service Provider’s chat facility;
  • She learned about computers initially from the 5 year-olds at the school where she taught. They taught her not to be frightened, “it’s only a machine”;
  • Jenny researches places she might like to go on holiday online. She sees images of them which make her excited, so she can then plan her holiday;
  • She also finds booking holidays and flights quite straightforward.