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.

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.

digitparty_leeds3

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.

digitparty_leeds4

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.

 

Digital Inclusion – it’s about confidence and capacity; not training

2016-11-30-12-10-11

I’m just back from two great days in East Suffolk delivering digital inclusion sessions in Lowestoft and Felixstowe. These sessions were a pilot for East Suffolk Councils to find out what works before they roll out a wider digital inclusion programme for residents in the districts. I met some lovely people, and, as always I was learning perhaps as much as they were.

As you probably know now, I have a particular approach to digital inclusion which is based on the following principles:

  • Go to where people are, don’t wait for them to come to you;
  • Reasons for using the internet are different. Some can be harder to find than others;
  • No one voluntarily begins using the internet because they want to access Government services;
  • Most people use the internet for fun. The newcomer’s introduction should also be fun;
  • Show people what others do with the internet. They might want to join in;
  • Demonstrate that internet use is a part of “normal”, everyday life.

One thing of particular note which came out of this for me was that a number of people present at the sessions reported that they had had their introduction to new technologies soured by classroom training approaches that tried to teach them content irrelevant to their lives at a pace that left them behind. They found this experience intimidating, confusing, and boring. And it had taken them some time to re-find their interest. The feedback I had from my sessions suggested that they had now turned that corner and were on the road to making digital part of their lives. I think all of us who believe that digital inclusion is vital to people’s health and wellbeing need to raise our voices against all the wasted resources that go into classroom approaches. I am seeing increasing evidence not only that they don’t work, but that they are actually counter-productive.

My time in Suffolk further confirmed to me that the individual nature of each person’s reasons for digital exclusion means that individualised approaches are necessary, and that these approaches need to be patient and long-term. There is no quick fix. We have to remember that digital inclusion work of one kind or another has been going on for 15 years or more. Those who are still not on board are the most resistant, and probably have the most complex issues around why they are not online. These factors have to be unpacked and addressed, sometimes one-at-a-time. And one of the key components of this approach is that people have to be encouraged to love digital enough to want to keep at it, using digital devices and getting fluent with them. I have seen that it is very easy for people to slip back into exclusion if they don’t keep practicing. And they won’t keep practicing if they don’t like what they are doing.

Some of the other interesting issues which emerged from these sessions included:

  • the lady who refused to believe that the product we found on eBay was genuine because it was less than half the price she was used to paying for it in the shops. I think she was eventually convinced by my efforts to show her how to use buyers’ feedback to check whether the seller had a history of offering genuine products (they had almost 99% positive feedback). It is apparent that people who don’t use the internet don’t have a clue about how much money they could be saving if they researched products online;
  • numerous participants who had been subject to scam telephone calls claiming to be from Microsoft or “Windows” and offering to solve computing problems. One participant had actually gone through with the process, but fortunately his daughter had intervened and cancelled his debit card and wiped his laptop before he could lose any money. But even those who had not succumbed said things like “they were so convincing”, “what he said rang true because I had just been given a new computer”, and “but how did he get my number?”. There is a shocking lack of knowledge among digitally excluded people about how randomised computerised systems work. They don’t realise that it is perfectly possible for them to be chosen at complete random by a system that dials millions of numbers a day. They think there has to be a reason why they were chosen for the call. And they don’t understand that a stranger on the end of a phone line cannot possibly have any idea of the state of their computer;
  • quite a few of the participants didn’t have any close relatives alive. This meant that they hadn’t felt the need to learn to use the internet to communicate, they didn’t have family to show them the ropes, and they didn’t have anyone putting pressure on them to join in online conversations;
  • One of the characteristics that many digitally excluded seem to share is a lack of curiosity about life. This is a real barrier to overcome. It means both that they don’t welcome opportunities to learn new things, like how to use the internet, and it is hard to get them excited about the potential for access to the online world to open up new vistas and opportunities for them;
  • The pressures to use online services are getting to the point where some can no longer resist. This was certainly a factor for a number of participants. The trick, from my point of view, is to prevent these pressures from making internet use seem a chore, rather than a pleasure.

All these issues means that we have to stop trying to push people through systems designed around numbers of outputs, listen to their needs, wants and fears, and address them patiently and sympathetically.

Please get in touch if I can help you work with your clients to address similar issues

20161123_115907

Dementia-Friendly Group Video-Conferencing?

20161123_115907

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?

Internet Radio for the Technophopic?

Over the last few months, I’ve met a few people whose older Irish relatives living in the UK are distressed because RTE Radio has ceased broadcasting on Long Wave and can therefore no longer be received in mainland Britain. This has prompted me to restart an investigation I mused about a few years ago.

It is, of course, possible to listen to RTE Radio anywhere in the world via the internet. But with the Irish diaspora, as with many other groups, there is the issue of older people who rely on it but are not capable of making the switch to online listening because they are not comfortable with new technologies. So, is there an option for listening to internet radio that is very easy for someone who is technophobic?  There are a number of standalone internet radio sets, but I have never come across one which is particularly user-friendly (please let me know if I’ve missed one).

So, I have been thinking about a couple of potential options. One is Amazon Echo, which has recently arrived in the UK. This would definitely do the job, as Adrian Scaife of Tunstall Healthcare demonstrated for me when I visited Tunstall’s Mary’s VIP Home back in July. The video of that demonstration is below.

The Echo is a great device, but £150 is a bit pricey for many people. Especially if its main use will be as a radio.

So, another option might be to get a cheap Android phone, some are going for as little as £30 these days, and set it up so that you can use Google Now to voice-activate radio stations through the Tunein Radio app. The issue with this is that you’d probably need to connect it to a decent speaker for it to work effectively, which will add to the cost and make it a bit more complicated. Of course, if the person already has speakers or a hifi system they could plug it into, that might solve the problem. And perhaps if the person has a relative who has upgraded their mobile phone, they could donate their old phone for this purpose.

I’d be interested if anyone has other solutions. This could really help some older people who rely on familiar voices from back home. It would not just be good for people of Irish origins, but for all kinds of other groups as well, and even for people, like myself, who live far away from where they grew up, but might like to listen to local radio from back home.

Any other ideas?

 

2016-08-17 12.09.00

Millom Really Gets Digital

2016-08-17 12.09.00

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.

me_at_millom_gets_digital

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.
Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 16.42.34

Millom Gets Digital

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 16.42.34

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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 22.40.52

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

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 22.40.52

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.

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 22.47.00

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

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 22.47.00

Another in my series of interviews with older people on how they use new technologies. This is a piece of work commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better. I’d like to thank Barbara’s daughter, Bridget Aherne, for arranging this interview.

Some of the things Barbara told me:

  • Barbara is still working; for an NHS GP;
  • She was sent on a computer course by her employer and gained an ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) Certificate;
  • Barbara has had a mobile phone since the 1990s when her daughters insisted she get one for her personal safety;
  • She teaches dancing and is now using music on her phone for this purpose rather than CDs;
  • Barbara communicates online with people in the USA, Canada, Australia, and Ireland;
  • She believes emails are much easier and cheaper than letters;
  • Barbara is part of the UK Irish community and keeps in touch online with many different groups;
  • She is contributing to a blog about the Irish experience of the First World War;
  • She is often frustrated by the computers she uses at work, they freeze often;
  • Barbara has frequently to help patients at the surgery where she works to use the self-checkin system;
  • She loves sharing family photos online using One Drive and Dropbox;
  • Barbara is concerned that her technophobic husband will lose out when Radio Eireann ceases broadcasting on Long Wave;
  • She loves internet banking as she can see exactly where her money is going, and she does online banking for some of the groups she is involved with;
  • Barbara does some of her shopping online;
  • She uses the internet to keep an eye on events in her husband’s home town in Ireland.

The EU Referendum – proof of the power of storytelling

I’m banging on about storytelling again. Because I believe a momentous decision has just been made because slightly over half of the UK adult population believed a story. That story might be true. It might not. I very much doubt that all of it is true. Much of it might have its roots in truth. But….

You see, the Leave Campaign bus had a slogan on the side which said “We send £350m a week to the EU: Let’s spend that money on the NHS”. Nigel Farage made a speech in front of a poster saying “Let’s spend money on the NHS; not Brussels”. This morning he has said that nobody promised the EU money would be spent on the NHS. You see, not all stories are true. But some of them are powerful enough to make people believe in them.

I watched a TV programme recently about the guy who debunked Yuri Geller and several evangelical Faith Healers. Even though their methods were publicly shown to be fake, after a brief glitch in their popularity, most went on to resume their careers. People wanted to believe that what they were doing was real more than they wanted to believe the facts. The story won out over the reality.

So, in the face of myths, we have to tell the real story and we have to get people to want to believe the reality more than they want to believe the myth. People believe that all social housing tenants are cheating scroungers because of “Benefits Street” and the like. They believe that having any kind of ambition in life is setting yourself up for a fall because that is a recurring motif in TV Soap Operas.

So, some of the stories we have to tell, in ways that that engage people, are:

  • Social housing is necessary for social cohesion and a balanced society;
  • Some people need benefits because they can’t work either permanently or temporarily;
  • Collective community actions can improve people’s lives;
  • Some people can and should be able to improve their own health and wellbeing if given support and access to resources;
  • WIthout immigration our economy would collapse;
  • Ethnic and social diversity is a social good and enhances all of our lives
  • Older age is not “God’s Waiting Room”.

And those of us who believe in these ideas, or work in organisations whose existence depends on them, need to tell these stories ourselves. All the evidence suggests that no one else is going to do it for us.

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.