At last we have a shared framework for deep thinking about digital engagement

Any party or coalition that comes to power after the May election will have have to re-address the two main aspects of the government-social digital landscape.

One the one hand they’ll need to continue to use tech in transforming and improving services (and saving money), driven from the top. On the other they’ll have to continue to support ways to help more people get online to use the services, as well shopping, working, learning, socialising and doing all the other good stuff the Internet enables.

The landscape can be pretty confusing, with score of different programmes, agencies and organisations in the innovation, transformation and digital inclusion businesses.

Fortunately a small group in the Department of Communities and Local Government, led by William Barker, have done a great job of surveying and mapping, and come up with a draft blueprint that begins to show who’s who, who is doing what, and how they relate. Click to enlarge, or see the original here.

Grey Cells model

On the left side of the diagram is stuff that government has to get right, including access, affordability, usability, and standards – and on the right are the activities government wishes to support … and hopes other people will get right. These include health and well-being, community participation, quality of life, supporting learning, and economic and working choices.

Each of the “Grey Cells” has links to back up documents, and William explains on the Public Service Transformation Network blog how they developed the framework.

As I wrote earlier, the Grey Cells work evolved from an initial focus on digital connectivity for older people, and you’ll find in my post links to a really impressive database of local case studies and good practice, a resource pack, as well as results from a number of events. It’s a model of how other cells could be filled out from the policy-makers perspective.

I think that the Grey Cells blueprint could provide us with a much-needed framework to connect policy and programmes with the reality of what’s happening on the ground – whether through local programmes, or people’s choices as consumers to acquire a new phone, tablet or (less and less) a computer.

I’ll post more about different aspects of the framework. Among the major challenges, as I see them, are:

  • How to populate the right side of the blueprint with day-to-day stories, conversation and connections that complement the official reports and programmes. Unless everyone involved can talk about the issues and opportunities, little will change. There are some stories  and practical ideas there already, and I hope to help, with others, through the Ageing Better exploration. Earlier posts here.
  • How to enable people in public services to connect and collaborate online with anyone else. Civil servants can meet face to face, some can blog and maybe tweet, but many sites are blocked to their desktops and using anything as simple as Google docs or Quip.com seems extremely difficult. They are digitally excluded.
  • How to make progress when many of the organisations don’t understand or use current digital tools – as John Popham says here – and there are additional cultural challenges.
  • And most importantly, how to enable personalised engagement. None of this works unless people, individually, decide to start to use digital tools and services, and connect with others.  Maybe a minimum personal technology assessment kit would help.

The good news is that we now have a framework within which to address the challenges, and come up with some ideas for moving forward. I just hope no politician decides to “weaponise” the digital divide in election campaigns. It’s more complicated than that, as Grey Cells shows us.

 

 

 

 

 

SEEFA symposium identifies challenges to innovation in Ageing Better – it’s culture as much as tech

Summary: a symposium on innovation, technology and later life provides confirmation that many of the challenges to making use of tech for ageing better are organisational and cultural as well as technical. We have plenty of tech – the issues are how to personalise and support use appropriate to people’s needs and situation. But ageing organisations can’t do that if they aren’t using social tech themselves.

I found the SEEFA symposium last week on ‘Transforming not excluding – the impact of information technology and innovation on later life’ most useful because it didn’t focus on innovative technology. It was more of a high-level distillation of the sort of day-to-day conversations people are having in the field. However, it could have been even more useful with some additions, including fairly standard social tech. More on that later.

SEEFA is the South East England Forum on Ageing, and the event was hosted in the Lords by Lord Filkin, who is chair of the Big Lottery Fund’s Centre for Ageing Better. Several score people, mainly in later life, were addressed by Baroness Sally Greengross and a good range of speakers with experience in industry, ageing, care and other fields.

I was one of a panel asked to make a contribution, and there was a lively Q and A. The symposium was facilitated with an informal-yet-informed touch by Guardian public services editor David Brindle so that, unusually for this sort of event, if felt like a big, sensible conversation.

I was particularly listening out for confirmation or otherwise of the ten provocations about innovation in Ageing Better that I posted recently, and the challenges I distilled from those for the Ageing Better exploration.

You can also review key points yourself from the symposium, because John Popham declared #itlater the event hashtag and dived in to lead some tweeting and then created a Storify.

Here’s my provocations, (enhanced with some comments I received). I’ve added points from the symposium discussion, and from people tweeting in response to the stream. See John’s Storify for attributions.

1. There isn’t an opt-out from technology – but you can choose how much you participate. (Technology has changed the world dramatically, and it will continue to change. What’s important is enabling people to choose how they engage).

From the symposium and tweeters:
Why isn’t technology transforming people’s lives as much as it might? Are people aware of the potential?
Technology is changing fast – you don’t have to be older to get out of date.
People can feel more in control of their lives with appropriate technology  - but tech makes things smaller and faster, which can be challenging.
Social connectedness is a key determinant of personal well-being.
Older people don’t want to be singled out – they want to be part of everything.
“Older people” is not an identity but a statistical category

2. Government is concerned that many older people are not online – but there are limits to what government can do. (People will engage with what’s interesting and useful to them, and use devices that most suit their needs).

From the symposium and tweeters:
Focus on the individual, their needs and interests.
Focus on what tech can do – not what it is.
There are distinct business benefits in connecting older people – however some businesses don’t want older customers who create problems.
Everyone needs a reason to change, and changes to services could be the catalyst.
Lack of basic education and literacy is still a barrier for many.

3. Everyone needs Internet access … but beyond that, no one size fits all. (Cost is a barrier, and then personalisation is important).

From the symposium and tweeters:
The lack of rural connectivity continues to be a huge problem.
Confirmation at the symposium about cost – or perceived cost – as a barrier to adoption, and the need for personalisation of devices and use.
There is no such things as a typical older person
Be careful about language. “Older lady said she didn’t need “mobile banking” because her tablet never left the house”.
Need to build people’s confidence

4. Computer courses and basic skills training don’t meet the needs of many older people. (Tablets are much easier to use than computers for most purposes, and smart phones and smart TVs may also meet many people’s needs).

From the symposium and tweeters:
The digital skills needed for work are generally not the same as those needed for non-work entertainment, learning, communication.
People working in organisations have tech “done for them”. It’s a shock to retire and find you have to do-it-yourself.
Older people tend not to search Youtube for user guides. Printed manuals are still needed.

5. Simpler interfaces are needed for computers and mobile devices – not just more functions. (Older people should be involved in design).

From the symposium and tweeters:
A lot of discussion about the need for co-design.
Why are there no big new products for older people at the Consumer Electronics Show?
A lot of support for “simpler”.
Some people were urging inclusion of older people as users of the latest tech, while others favoured more simple, low-cost options. It’s probably not either-or – it depends on the individual, their situation and preference. Personalisation – not general dumbing down.

6. Relatively few organisations in the ageing field are actively engaged in the online world or using collaborative tools. (Using social technology should help enable greater greater cooperation).

From the symposium and tweeters:
If you aren’t using social technology you can’t understand it
Organisations in the field generally don’t provide staff with equipment, software and devices relevant to people’s personal non-work needs
If people in organisations don’t use social technologies, their ability to share knowledge is severely limited
“What does it say that only four people in the room at #itlater have tweeted during the event”

7. Digital social innovations in services are not scaling. (There’s too much focus on the tech, and not enough on what it does, together with a lot of re-invention).

From the symposium and tweeters:
There is much potential for using tech to help people in care lead a good life and connect with friends and family. Why not adopted more?
Funders are supporting new developments, rather than encouraging adoption and adaptation of existing

8. There is a raft of research, but little knowledge-sharing of that and day-to-day practice. (A lot of research is hidden and not transferred to practice. A culture of competitive tendering reduces people’s inclination to cooperate and use what’s already available).

From the symposium and tweeters:
“Not invented here” is a huge barrier to adoption. Partisan discussion of issues and solutions doesn’t help.
Need to break out of the silos.
Much research and other knowledge is in formats that are unusable by practitioners – we need new knowledge products.
In 2015 all digital events should be promoted vigorously with a hashtag inviting wider debate and be live streamed
“We’re sharing as much as we can on http://connectingcare.org.uk ! Plz suggest more & banish wheel reinvention”
The first step to change is securing the buy in – changing organisational culture to be more open to innovation and tech

9. The energy for change lies with apps, connectors and storytellers. (To which we can add, evolution of trusted technologies such as TVs. Bring the storytellers together).

From the symposium and tweeters:
The potential for using TV was one of the hot topics at the symposium, with recommendations for a number of devices.
Tablets are increasingly proving more attractive than computers – but again depends on the individual and activity.
We need to be better storytellers about how people are using technology
Don’t push people to use stuff they have never experienced. Start by letting them see how others use tech

10. The digital divide is no longer a useful metaphor. Reality is more complex.

I’ve mixed insights from the symposium into the exploration provocations partly for my own purposes, and partly to show how it is possible to build on existing knowledge. All of these points could be remixed into a different set of provocations – and you are welcome to do so.

What’s now important, I think, is focusing on key challenges and developing ideas tro meet them. I’m trying that on the site hosting the exploration into innovation Ageing Better.

When David Brindle called on me for a contribution at the symposium I said (expanded somewhat here) that when I was a mainstream reporter on the Evening Standard in the 1970s we had typewriters, hot metal type-setting and a cuttings-based library. Reporters were a crucial channel – if they did their job well – in transmitting what was new and innovative. Few people had access to a cuttings library. Newspapers and other publishers owned the technology.

I noted as a reporter then, that we would see, in any field, a cycle of forgetting. Faces would change as people moved jobs, but the same stories would resurface as “news” every three or four years, if you checked in the library. Most people wouldn’t have a cuttings library, and so couldn’t know whether it was new or not – which was fine for a lazy reporter.

But why is it that we see the same sort of thing today, when people have the means of research and publication on their smartphones? Why is so much publishing of newsletters and reports designed for the paper-based library, rather than a format that allows easy sharing? Why is research funded that duplicates past work?

At the symposium there was no reference to the work of organisations like Nominet Trust and NESTA in this field,  to sites like Connecting Care, or people like Shirley Ayres who do so much, often unpaid, to share experience in the field. I’ve gathered those and other references here.

I think that discussion at the symposium, and what I’ve gathered from the exploration, provides insights into the re-invention of wheels, lack of sharing, and silos:

Culture

  • Organisations operate in a highly competitive funding environment, so they are reluctant to share ideas that might be used by someone else in a bid
  • Funders and sponsors want organisations to demonstrate how their resources produced results. Collaboration could dilute that.
  • Organisations want to promote their work and profile.
  • There is comfort in staying within your professional silo
  • Managers want to control and deliver – not encourage innovation and exploration that might not meet targets
  • Government wants scale and it is easier to do that through one-size rather than personalisation
  • Senior people in London-based organisations are more easily able to go to events and network with policy people and funders than people outside London. There’s not much incentive for the London circle to share.
  • “Networking” is what you do to increase your knowledge and influence … not to help connect others with ideas and opportunities

Technology

  • While social technology does not on its own enable cooperation and sharing, it makes it far more possible, and among those who use it engenders a culture for that.
  • Most organisations, and their staff, in this field are trapped in old tech systems designed for a different age. Even if they want to use social tech they may not be able to.
  • Learning has to be done in people’s own time, often with their own devices
  • Where social media is used, it is mainly for broadcast and marketing, rather than sharing useful resources
  • Unless people are using social technology, they don’t know what’s possible

Of course there are lots of exceptions … but am I wrong? John Popham has recorded some heart-felt audio here on organisations and social tech.

As I’ve said in this piece, I found the symposium very useful and interesting, and I was glad of the opportunity to contribute. Big thanks to Peter Dale and Julia Pride. It was impressive.

However I don’t see how SEEFA – or any similar organisation – will be able to take their exploration into technology, innovation and older people to the next stage without more use of the technology themselves.

For example, in terms of this sort of event I would suggest a plan, as part of the logistics, to blend online and offline activity, including:

  • Social media accounts for the organisation – at least Twitter and a blog
  • Online research by staff to scope the field, and curate some resources relevant to the event to set the scene
  • Pre-event activity online to engage people who may follow the Twitter stream, contribute, and/or blog
  • Online registration – if places outside the organisation are available
  • An online landing page about the event which can then be referenced in tweets
  • Speaker bios and outline content so that contributions can be co-ordinated beforehand
  • Recruiting participants to tweet
  • An agreed hashtag
  • Video interviews, and ideally streaming
  • Curation of online content after the event

If John Popham hadn’t committed time and expense to come to the event, and then act as a social reporter to declare a hashtag, lead the tweeting, and Storify the tweets, we would have to wait some weeks for a report. It might then not be in bit-sized pieces that can be shared. (I do the same sort of thing, but John is a better live-tweeter. He does great video too). There wouldn’t have been much external participation without contributions from Paul Webster and Shirley Ayres, creating content and alerting their networks as well as John’s and mine.

So my friendly suggestion to SEEFA is this: before publishing a report of the symposium, no doubt including barriers to innovation, please start using the technology! SEEFA’s experience in doing that, together with some of members, would provide very valuable additional insights.

Update: SEEFA have kindly invited me to talk to their executive about the technology challenges facing organisations. I think this will be a great opportunity for me to share some ideas – and also learn about the realities of running an organisation with volunteers and limited resources, in a fast-changing world.

 

 

Ten provocations about innovation in Ageing Better

Update: I’ve developed the Innovation in Age Better site to include an ideas platform, where you can add ideas, comment and/or vote. I hope to gather more from today’s symposium – see below.

I’ve got to the point in my exploration of innovation in Ageing Better when it feels like to good time to pull together some talking points, and then use any discussion to refocus on the challenges, ideas for action, and some mapping of who might do what. I never quite understand where I’ve got to until I’ve written it down, and I’ve been invited to a symposium in early January on ‘Transforming not excluding – the impact of information technology and innovation on later life’ organised by Age UKs in the South East and SEEFA, the South East England Forum on Ageing.

The symposium is being hosted by Lord Filkin, who is chair of the Big Lottery Fund’s Centre for Ageing Better, so I need a script in case there’s a chance to contribute. Or just pitch online, of course. All my Ageing Better posts here, including quite a bit on the challenges of BIG’s Ageing Better programme.

I’ll return to these provocations – and the follow-through process – in later posts, and pull together some of the references I have that back them up. Meanwhile, what do you think? There’s an open document here, for comments or additions.

1. There isn’t an opt-out from technology – but you can choose how much you participate. The world is being changed by the Internet and digital technology: work, entertainment, public services, learning, social connections are all being transformed. What’s important is help people choose what works for them.

2. Government is concerned that many older people are not online – but there are limits to what government can do. Government wants to save money by moving information and transactions online. Many older people don’t see the point, and no-one can force them. People need to see what’s useful to them personally – not to government.

3. Everyone needs Internet access … but beyond that, no one size fits all. Unless you work in an office, you will want devices and apps that meet your needs, not those of an organisation.

4. Computer courses and basic skills training don’t meet the needs of many older people. These days people are just as likely to learn by using a tablet, with help from a friend, volunteer, or younger member of their family.

5. Simpler interfaces are needed for computers and mobile devices – not just more functions. The wider range of tools can be provided at a second level, where they are less bewildering to new users.

6. Relatively few organisations in the ageing field are actively engaged in the online world or using collaborative tools. That’s a problem in developing policy or practice – because you can’t really understand the way that social media and the online economy and culture are changing the world, if you are only using office systems. Nor can you share experience readily.

7. Digital social innovations in services are not scaling. There are lots of innovative projects, but people on the front line may not have the tech skills, support or incentive to adopt them. Or they may not know about them.

8. There is a raft of research, but little knowledge-sharing of that and day-to-day practice. Organisations are competing for funding, and this works against a cooperative culture.

9. The energy for change lies with apps, connectors and storytellers: those developing useful personal devices and apps; those trying to connect ideas, innovators and investors; and those telling stories about what’s working in terms everyone can understand.

10. The digital divide is no longer a useful metaphor. Reality is more complex.

As I’ve said on the open document here, the exploration has given me quite a few ideas on how to move things forward, for example:

  1. Generating ideas for action around key issues: e.g. access, support, personalisation, simpler devices.
  2. Mapping who is doing what, and who might collaborate if better connections were made.
  3. Focusing on small-scale innovations that might scale.
  4. Starting from austerity zero: what might we do if existing programme were not around, and funding were very limited.

I’ll come back to those ideas in later posts. Thanks to members of the Action Action Alliance Digital Inclusion Group for their encouragement and input. I should emphasise they bear no responsibility for the provocations at this stage, although I’ll be checking out what they think.

Update on Ageing Better Innovation – look to apps and connectors

Here’s an update on my exploration into how digital innovation may help support personal well-being, and services for ageing better. There’s nothing public yet from BIG’s Ageing Better programme, but impressive work in the Department for Communities and Local Government, and an interesting personal well-being app from Scotland.

There’s no news yet about when Big Lottery Fund may launch the online community for its £82 million Ageing Better programme, which might have helped the 15 partnerships who are working hard to prepare their business plans to share experience – now they aren’t in competition.

These plans have to be in before Christmas, and there’s then three months review within BIG before the partnerships each get £2.6 – £6 million over the next five years … or not. There’s been substantial support from consultants Hall Aitken to complement the in-house expertise of partnerships, so hopefully all will be well.

The online community, when launched, may also be a way to help introduce some digital innovation to the programme, which I and others have argued is important but was lacking at the start. That topic will be the subject of a symposium – “Transforming not Excluding, the impact of information technology and innovation on later life” – organised in January by the South East England Forum on Ageing. It will be hosted by Lord Filkin, who is chair of BIG’s £50 million Centre for Ageing Better, so there may be scope for some joining up there.

It seems to me the most useful current policy exercise to explore the benefits of digital inclusion and innovation for older people is the Grey Cells initiative being run by William Barker and his team within the Department for Communities and Local Government. There’s already a really impressive database of local case studies and good practice, a resource pack, as well as results from a number of events. I understand wider engagement will follow in the New Year.

Meanwhile I’ve been hosting some online discussion with the Age Action Alliance Digital Inclusion Group. No firm conclusions yet, apart from confirmation that there may be a lot going on, but it is difficult to find out or keep track … which makes the Grey Cells initiative all the more important. We hope to pilot some mapping of who knows who, using Drew Mackie’s expertise, in order to see how social network analysis could help.

The always-interesting NESTA newsletter took me to their latest film on understanding Digital Social Innovation and Jamie Whyte’s report of a recent event on the topic. No explicit mention of digital for ageing better there – but what looks like very interesting discussion on creating digital social organisations, and the right infrastructure for digital social. I wonder how it might tie back to NESTA’s Living map of ageing innovators developed last year, and their associated Five Hours a Day framework I wrote about here. There’s further NESTA blog posts here.

Overall my sense is that there’s three levels of activity in the field of digital tech and ageing:

  • The world of policy and funding
  • A host of intermediate organisations in the various businesses of ageing, digital inclusion and innovation
  • People’s individual attempts to use digital tech for personal benefit and well-being

Provocative generalisations follow …

A recurrent theme from people who have been around for a while, and are prepared to share their insights, is that there’s little understanding of who is doing what, a great deal of re-inventing and refunding, and much working in silos. That’s at the top level.  The intermediate organisations are constantly competing for funding, which makes cooperation difficult.

Relatively few people in policy and the field of ageing are familiar with the wide range of digital tools and systems for knowledge sharing that are around. Unless people have a personal enthusiasm and commitment to learn, it’s difficult to keep up. Office systems may block social media and even relatively simple communications tools. The default for communicating outside (and even inside) organisations remains email and attachments.

Meanwhile innovative consumer-level solutions are being developed to help older people connect with friends and family, and with care services – as shown in the useful round up by the Connecting Care team. The Financial Times reports on The Silver Economy: Tech sector taps surge of connected boomers .

An industry has begun to emerge in providing devices and applications aimed at the wealthy boomer generation that has the time, money and superfast broadband connections to embrace the digital age.

Ofcom, Britain’s communications regulator, found that older users are driving growth in the UK’s social networking, for example, with more than a third of people aged 55-64 using such websites compared with less than a quarter in 2011. There has been no significant growth among any other age group since 2011.

Trying to make sense and connect up what’s happening in policy and intermediate organisations is very necessary … but pretty frustrating. There is not a culture of cooperation and digital literacy, so innovative thinking is not flourishing. On the other hand, older people are learning from the younger members of their family and each other. While policy makers may be saying “put older people at the heart of designing new programmes” and rather failing to do so, people are doing it for themselves. OK, there’s lots of people not connected, but personal consumer tech is where the energy is.

How refreshing then to find that in Scotland the government’s NHS24 telehealth and telecare organisation is following that route by supporting development, with New Media Scotland, of the personal wellbeing app Ginsberg.  I found out about this through a blog post by Ben Matthews of Futuregov – themselves developers of some highly innovative projects like Patchwork and Casserole Club. Ben interviewed team member Jodi Mullen who explained:

Ginsberg is an online tool to help people improve their health and mental wellbeing. Users tell Ginsberg how they feel every day and record information about their sleep, exercise, nutrition, alcohol intake and other physical activities, as well as adding context about what has been going on in their lives. Ginsberg combines this emotional, physical and contextual data and provides users with smart, personalised and actionable insights.

You can sign up on the web here. It is really easy to use, and connects with other apps and services.  I’ll be chatting with Jodi to find out more about their approach. I’ve a hunch England can learn a lot from Scotland – as I always do from my Edinburgh-based colleague Drew.

I can’t end without mentions for some free agents  - whether inside or outside organisations – who innovate and share.

Paul Webster is working with Miles Maier to share resources and advice on Connecting Communities, as I’ve mentioned.  John is currently encapsulating his wide expertise into a Social Media for Social Good Advent Calendar, Shirley Ayres has added to her  extensive work in the field with a provocation paper on the long term care revolution. Ken Clemens keeps up a stream of tweets about Ageing Better in Cheshire, and some insights on the programme.

Apologies to others I haven’t mentioned this time … which leads me towards a route through all this complexity. When I was an old-time journalist, rather than an ageing social reporter, it wasn’t what you knew (or had in a filing cabinet or on a bookshelf) but who you knew. Want to find something out? Call your contact.

Google and social media have made us lazy, and confused. Searches produce too much, and we are swamped by so many social media channels. The value of people like John, Shirley, Paul, many more, is not just that they share stuff, but they make sense along the way. Harold Jarche sums it up in in his Seek Sense Share framework, and advocacy of personal knowledge mastery. We all have to develop our digital literacies and networking behaviours to help nurture a cooperative social ecosystem, and value the community connectors (more here on ecosystems).

Within that model, it doesn’t really matter too much whether or not Big Lottery Fund provides an online community platform. What’s important is to help people learn to share, work out loud, and connect with others. Which bring me back to some north of the border innovation, and the need to talk to Drew about our social network mapping. If you want to have a go yourself, the software to use is Kumu.io.

Ageing Better links

Deep conversation needed on BIG’s Ageing Better community platform. How about asking people in for a coffee?

Update at the end of this post confirming the online community is likely to be launched within a few weeks, and that it will be public and open to anyone interested. I’ll be promoting the idea of additional networking to the Age Action Alliance via their Digital Inclusion Group.

Following my Storify of tweets yesterday about the Big Lottery Fund’s Ageing Better online community, Paul Webster helpfully responded “a conv to watch”. But how to keep the conversation going?

Some really important issues were raised by Paul, Shirley Ayres and Alastair Somerville, following Ken Clemens picture of the announcement sheet at an Ageing Better event. Backstory in these posts.

  • Is there a general strategy for digital engagement and innovation in the £82 million programme?
  • Will the knowledge sharing platform be closed, for programme leaders only?
  • Wouldn’t it be better to connect with conversations already taking place on blogs and other social media?
  • If a new system is planned, wouldn’t a networking tool like Yammer be better?
  • Will the winning submissions from partnerships be published, so we can see what is being planned?
  • Shouldn’t the programme be setting standards for transparency, online learning and public debate?

And all that in a few messages of under 140 characters.  Far more cogent than I see in many forum-based online communities.

The issues are particularly important – as I’ve argued in more detail in this paper – because the knowledge-sharing and innovation challenges faced by the Ageing Better programme typify those of competitive,  centralised, big-spend approaches. It seems crazy to focus so much money on 15 areas (among many more who expressed interest) and then spend so little effort on helping those beyond the privileged few learn from the activity. There’s also the question of how much learning from well-funded projects will be relevant in the leaner years ahead?

The difficulty in holding a conversation about these issues is, I suspect, compounded by BIG’s role as a funder and inevitably rule-bound organisation. On the one hand anyone in receipt of BIG funding, or hoping to get some, will be wary of wading in.

On the other hand, BIG has to be seen to be scrupulously even-handed and cautious … particularly after the little difficulties about funding for projects related to Big Society. (However, I do recall that there were attempts to question, at the time, whether those investments were such a good idea … more open conversation might have helped avoid later embarrassment:-)

I should declare some further interest here, since I led a small team carrying out an exploration for BIG into directions their People Powered Change programme might take, back in 2011-12. That involved a lot open blogging, tweeting and a creative event. So I know that BIG is open to conversation within an appropriate format.

I don’t think anything so substantial is needed to get things started. Nor do I think online exchanges should be in the lead. Maybe something like a David Gurteen Knowledge Cafe? If the Treasury can host a discussion on How can we more actively share knowledge, BIG could host its own. David has even produced a tip sheet on how to run a Cafe yourself – though I know it will be best if he facilitates.

So the answer to the challenge of how to keep the conversation going could be as easy as “pop in for a chat and a cup of coffee”. And tweet it as well.

As a small contribution to the online chat I’ll also be posting shorter pieces over on this Known blog that I hope will more easily integrate posts and social media comments.

Update: just after I pressed the button to publish this post I got a tweet from BIG’s Older People team following up my earlier requests for a chat saying one of their Ageing Better managers would be in touch soon. That’s really encouraging.

Further update: the chat was very helpful in confirming that the online community will be launched within a few weeks, and that it will be open and public. I felt, from our discussion, that there was acceptance of the value of strengthening digital innovation in the programme through links with a range of interests in the field. I’m sure BIG will be make their own connections – and I said that additionally I would report to the Digital Inclusion Group of Age Action Alliance with a proposals to complement the new platform with some bottom up network building – as outlined here.

BIG plans to host an #AgeingBetter online community. Open, closed, connected …?

Here’s an update to my past posts about the Ageing Better programme, with news that the Big Lottery Fund will be providing some support for online sharing of stories and experience. It emerged from an event for partnerships in the programme. I don’t know if there was much discussion in the room, but the news sparked some sharp responses on Twitter. That’s where people are talking about the issues. Will the new space connect or not?

Building a knowledge sharing network about Ageing Better from the ground up

In my last few posts I’ve promoted the idea of more digital innovation in the Big Lottery Fund’s £82 million Ageing Better programme, and ways to share knowledge and experience both among the 15 local partners and more widely.

After tweeting about my most recent post, I was rather encouraged by this response from BIG’s Older People account:

Hall Aitken, referenced in the tweets, are the consultants providing support to the 15 partnerships, and last week ran an event for some of them to get together for the first time since receiving confirmation of funding.

Earlier Shirley Ayres**, who perhaps does more than anyone to promote the use of social media and knowledge sharing in the field of social care and well being, tweeted about the event … “huge investment of public money affecting millions should be live streamed” … but to no avail that I could see. There were quite a few tweets, and I asked if there would be a round-up and report, but didn’t get any response.

Earlier this week there were a lot of interesting tweets with the tag #wellbeingconference from Ecorys, who are also working on Ageing Better. It looked as if there could be useful cross-over.

It is, of course, very welcome that Big Lottery Fund, consultants and others tweet from events … but it isn’t a substitute for well-curated resources and more organised ways to share knowledge. Unfortunately that wasn’t planned, as far as I know, with Ageing Better  … but maybe there’s scope for a DIY approach rather than waiting for a central response. (I’ll also check with BIG whether something is now being planned).

In a January 2013, in a report for the Nominet Trust on innovation in social care, Shirley concluded with the recommendation:

There is a need to explore the potential for developing a Community Wellbeing and Social Technology Innovation Hub which brings together all the organisations funding, researching and promoting digital technology innovations and pilots across the wider care sector. This could be an independent organisation or a new remit that falls to an existing one, however it could also be developed ‘from the ground up’ in a way that takes advantage of the very technology that it reports on. By supporting practitioners, researchers, funders and policy makers to share resources in ways that makes them highly discoverable, we could begin, now, to create this useful hub of knowledge. We could start simply by aggregating links using a shared twitter hashtag or social book-marking site (such as www.diigo.com); or we could look to bring together the available open source software (such as that which www.educationeye.org.uk is built upon) to bring together, catalogue and share this information as it is published. Either way (or indeed using a mixture of both), we need to create a better shared understanding of innovations in this sector.

The new Ageing Better programme makes Shirley’s recommendation even more relevant. I like the suggestion of a bottom-up approach rather than a new platform. It chimes with my thinking about social ecosystems, outlined in this paper. There I suggested a similar approach, with more emphasis on network mapping, plus some workshops:

  • Identify some key people active online who are interested in the topic
  • Invite those people to nominate others that they think would help share knowledge in the field. From this it will be possible to draw a first map of the ecosystem.
  • Outline the idea of building a social ecosystem – as a simpler version of this paper – including the different elements: mapping, resource gathering, ideas generation, workshops, online activity etc. Invite commenting and participation – aim to find some champions.
  • Produce a set of provocations to help focus the challenge
  • Look for opportunities to run workshops – and develop a DIY kit for running workshops. This would include a framework for workshop content, as above: people, organisations, activity, methods etc, and also for reporting the workshops.
  • From the network, identify content curators and bloggers who will act as social reporters to help make sense of content, and share.
  • At one or more points in this process, invite the emerging champions to face-to-face events to work out a vision of what we are trying to achieve, and who does what.
  • Look for opportunities along the way: will someone fund continuing socialreporting/facilitation; another organisation convene events; existing interests in the field pick up different elements of the work.

There’s more in the paper about how this ties into the work that Drew Mackie and I are doing on a Living Lab. There I write:

I’m using the term social ecosystem – or ecology – here as shorthand for the connected cloud of people and organisations, networks, content and tools that may be involved in sharing knowledge around a situation or topic, using a range of different media.

The Living Lab is an evolving programme of workshops and online social reporting activities, led by David Wilcox and Drew Mackie,  to explore how to use digital and other media in different settings – or ecosystems. In practice we often use a fictitious town called Slipham as the setting for the Lab, and then use insights to work “for real” on various projects.

The key elements in an ecosystem – which we simulate in Slipham – include:

  • The people with different interests, motivations, experience, and disposition and skills. Some will have a wide network of relationships, some less; some will share ideas openly, others not.
  • Organisations that may or may not have a culture of sharing, good or poor internal communications, hierarchical or networked structures.
  • Networks that define the relationships between people and organisations
  • Content in different formats and media: ranging from books and essays to blog posts and tweets; highly structured or snippets; formal or informal.
  • Types of exchange: conversational or formal; stories or documents.
  • Platforms for sharing: big public systems like Google, Facebook and Twitter that provide the platform for much exchange; closed systems within organisations; self-hosted systems.
  • Tools: social media and other tools that allow us to share content on platforms as well as face-to-face conversations, phone calls, paper-based communications, radio, TV.

I’ll check out with a few people in the field – including Shirley – whether it is worth putting some effort into this approach. For a start I think we could achieve a lot with some simple network mapping, assisted by my colleague Drew Mackie, agreement on hashtags, and some simple curation of content.

** Here’s a round-up of some of Shirley’s workTwitter accountand blog.

 

 

 

Why BIG’s #ageingbetter programme needs added digital innovation

A recent study prompted the headline that loneliness is causing as many deaths among the elderly as cancer, and another that loneliness is more deadly than obesity – so it is clearly important to explore and share ways to tackle the issue as rapidly as possible.

That’s why I hope Big Lottery Fund’s £82 million investment addressing social isolation and well-being among older people will make a substantial difference as soon as possible.

BIG is supporting 15 partnerships over five years in its Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better programme, and as I wrote the other day I think there’s a lot of scope to extend the impact. Another 15 partnerships were shortlisted, but didn’t get funding, while scores more expressed interest.

This piece isn’t to argue for more funding – but rather to start an exploration into the potential role of digital technology on two fronts. First in developing innovative approaches to services, and the ways people can use technology themselves to develop relationships. Second, in enabling sharing of experience among the partnerships, pioneers in the field, and others.

On the first point – innovative approaches to services – we gained some insights into the potential from a workshop Drew Mackie and I ran recently, and reported here, using a fictitious scenario. But what’s happening for real? The 15 partnerships are currently turning the vision statements that won them a place in the programme into detailed plans that will, hopefully, confirm full funding from next April.

The vision statements were prepared as part of a competitive process, which is now over. Could the partnerships now publish summaries of the statements? That would provide a first base for an exchange of ideas between partnerships and more widely.

At the moment it is difficult to find out who is doing what. There’s no central information point, so I did a lot of searching and came up with a list of links, which is here. It’s early days, so perhaps unreasonable to expect a lot of dedicated web sites (though Bristol has a good one, including meeting papers).

However, I do think it is easy to see that many lead organisations in the partnerships have a rather limited online presence … perhaps reflecting the general situation among voluntary organisations in this field. They are hard-pressed, the proportion of older people online is lowish, so it probably isn’t seen as a priority in normal circumstances.

Shouldn’t that change with this programme?

Which brings me to sharing experience. I don’t think that the specification for the support programme to partnerships – now being provided by Hall Aitken and Ecorys – emphasised the need for contemporaneous knowledge sharing. There are events, but these are infrequent and I believe limited to the 15.

At this point I should repeat a declaration of interest made in earlier posts. I did some preparatory work on asset mapping in the programme, and saw how meticulously the bidding and support have been organised. I’m just focusing here on what I see as missing elements: digital innovation, knowledge sharing, and generally more openness. Things may have moved on internally since I was involved, and if so I’ll update. My current interest is to see whether a social reporter – with others – can help make a difference. There’s already some discussion of these issues on Twitter, which I’ll connect to in later posts.

In its press release, BIG says “partnerships in the fifteen areas will test what methods work and what don’t, so that evidence is available to influence services that help reduce isolation for older people in the future”.

The release adds:

Throughout the Ageing Better investment, evidence will be produced to show the social and economic impact of a range of approaches. Ecorys, working with the Brunel Institute for Ageing Studies at Brunel University and Bryson Purdon Social research, will measure the impact of the funding and share successes and lessons learnt so projects deliver sustainable improvements.

While that process is obviously important, evidence won’t be available for some time – and may not be entirely relevant for organisations outside the 15. They’ll be developing activities without the benefit of BIG funding. What seems to me important is to include sharing of what might be termed austerity innovation. As I wrote here, there’s going to be less funding in future.

What’s needed, I would suggest, is support for partnership organisations to increase their digital capabilities, and encouragement to share. Then to join this activity up with the many people  already active online in this field. We curated a lot of resources and contacts in this exploration for the Nominet Trust, into using digital technology for better later life. See in particular work by Shirley Ayres.

I’ve written a first draft here of a paper outlining how it might be possible to develop a social ecology to facilitate sharing, based on the principles we have been evolving in our Living Lab work. I’ll follow up on first steps in a further post.

 

 

 

Using digital technology and asset mapping to tackle social isolation – without special funding

I’m sure that the 15 partnerships supported under the Big Lottery Fund’s £82 million programme to tackle social isolation, which I wrote about earlier, will produce excellent projects over the next five years – but how about the other areas that pitched but did not get funding?

And what sort of projects may be developed in future when public sector funding will be even tighter than it is today, as the retiring head of the home civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake pointed out the other day?

Drew Mackie and I used the opportunity of a seminar about social media, community and local local government, run by LGIU and Globalnet21, to explore that recently. Thanks to Francis Sealey of GN21 for the opportunity. Do take a look at the other GN21 excellent events and webinars.

We used the setting of our fictitious town of Slipham, recently the subject of a workshop in Southwark on how to develop digital participation programmes in the face of austerity. Here’s the challenge our 20 workshop participants faced:

In Slipham a partnership of local organisations recently failed in its funding bid for a five-year programme supported by the Big Lottery Fund to combat social isolation among older people in the town.

However, the Slipham partnership has decided to turn the rejection into an opportunity, and develop an “austerity innovation” programme that focuses on local assets and global knowledge rather than external funding. To do this the partnership will:

  • broaden the scope of the programme to cover anyone challenged by loneliness, or aiming to enjoy living alone.
  • research and map local resources and networks that can provide ideas, support, activities or funding – and build relationships to make the most of these.
  • help people and organisations use digital technology and innovative approaches to meet their needs and interests.

The partnership is running co-design workshop sessions in which they will develop their new innovative programme to address the broad challenge:

How can we help Slipham people and organisations use technology to help tackle loneliness and/or support living alone.

You can see a full report of the workshop here, with downloads of materials. The format was similar in part to the Southwark workshop: we started with some Slipham characters and organisations, and discussed in groups which project themes might be appropriate to address their needs and aspirations. For example:

  • Help people use full capability of smartphones and tablets to connect
  • Make tech learning sessions social events
  • Build the capacity of community groups to use tech
  • Develop a network of volunteer digital champions
  • Recruit social reporters to amplify and connect face to face events
  • Support community sharing of services online

Slipham characters The groups developed project briefs, and then exchanged these. At this point we introduced another dimension – a social network map of Slipham. The map showed the original partnership organisations, and also more than a dozen others. As well as the map we produced a table showing the assets each organisation held – premises, skills, equipment, membership, funding.


We asked participants to review the map and assets held by organisations, and consider what new connections would be helpful in developing projects. We also offered a set of method cards that provided ideas on how to both build the network and develop projects.

The idea of introducing the network map was to simulate the process of asset and network mapping that may be undertaken by partnerships to underpin asset based community development. I think the session was useful in providing a framework for conversation around these points:

  • any plans to use technology should start with people who may benefit – as we explored with Age UK London earlier this year
  • in any area there are far more skills and other resources than evident until you start to research them
  • bringing the assets into use with any new projects will involve building new relationships

I hope that we may be able to run a similar workshop “for real” with some of the partnerships or other organisations exploring how digital technology can be used to help tackle social isolation, and support programmes for well-being.

The Campaign to End Loneliness ran what looked to be an excellent event in July –  Technology: will it ever be a ‘fix’ for loneliness? As well as producing an extremely useful report and video, they provided these summary points:

  • Treat technology as a useful tool that should be used alongside a range of other things to combat loneliness: non-virtual relationships are still vital
  • Remember that older people want from technology is what we all want: our interests and needs do not just change overnight when we turn 65
  • Recognise that people aged over 65 are as just thirsty for new technology as you are, but some confidence building might be needed at first
  • Try to focus on the benefits of a technology if introducing it for the first time: don’t describe the service, describe the outcome that it will bring
  • We need more funding to make kit and training cheaper (and therefore less of a barrier) but we can start to talk and do more to raise the value of technology at the same time

I used some of the insights from that work, as well as the exploration we did for Nominet Trust into digital technology in later life, to inform our workshop design. The Campaign to End Loneliness workshop provided some examples of specific technologies that could be used in projects, and these and other ideas could form the basis for planning development “for real”.

Declaration: the winning partnerships are being supported by Hall Aitken, and I made some early contribution to their work on asset and network mapping. Ideas here are my own.  Follow @HallAitken for updates on the programme.

How BIG could digitally amplify the impact of its £82 million investment tackling social isolation

The Big Lottery Fund’s investment of £82 million in 15 partnerships, that are working to reduce social isolation, could spark innovation and benefits beyond the 200,000 older people immediately involved in the programme. However, to achieve that I think the programme deserves more attention than it is getting, and the addition of an innovative approach to promote storytelling and learning.

The programme was announced earlier this year, as a joint initiative with the Daily Mail, and a couple of weeks ago BIG confirmed which partnerships would be funded from the 30 shortlisted. Originally a much longer list of areas expressed interest, so it has been a highly competitive process. As BIG says in its release:

Currently, there are 10.8 million people aged 65 or over in the UK and this is expected to rise to 16 million over the next 20 years. Of those 10.8 million, 3.8 million live alone, and one million say they are always, or often feel, lonely. 17 per cent of older people have less than weekly contact with family, friends and neighbours.

More people are now at risk of becoming isolated as the population of older people grows, lacking contact with family or friends, community involvement or access to services. The Big Lottery Fund aims to encourage changes and improvements so older people are happier, healthier and more active, contributing even more to their communities.

That’s a major social issue, and as BIG says “partnerships in the fifteen areas will test what methods work and what don’t, so that evidence is available to influence services that help reduce isolation for older people in the future”.

The release adds:

Throughout the Ageing Better investment, evidence will be produced to show the social and economic impact of a range of approaches. Ecorys, working with the Brunel Institute for Ageing Studies at Brunel University and Bryson Purdon Social research, will measure the impact of the funding and share successes and lessons learnt so projects deliver sustainable improvements.

Before going on I should declare a slight interest, because I’ve been marginally involved through sub-contract work in planning how asset and social network mapping may be used by partnerships to underpin the community engagement and asset based approach advocated by BIG, and summarised by BIG England chair Nat Sloane:

There are concerns about a ticking timebomb facing adult social care, but older people have a wealth of experience and skills to offer their communities. We need to tap into this – to help them help themselves and others living alone. Our Ageing Better investment will put them at the heart of the way the projects are designed and delivered to ensure that future generations of older people not only live longer but also live well.

There’s lots happening in the partnership areas already, with many excellent ideas hinted at in the information so far released. That makes me feel there is plenty of scope to share stories day-to-day about local projects over the next five years of the programme, as well as undertaking the structured assessment planned by Ecorys.

All partnerships are expected to put older people at the heart of their programme, both in guiding projects and acting as volunteers, and that provides a lot of opportunities for community and social reporting – which is, of course, one of my interests. However in this instance I would advocate that partnerships work with local social media enthusiasts to develop the necessary skills, and with people like my friend John Popham, whose blog details his work on digital storytelling and what others are doing in the field. I could list a dozen other people – like Shirley Ayres – who blend professional work with a personal commitment to sharing learning about social innovation using digital technology. I expect to meet quite a few at the Futuregov Expect Better event this week.  Perhaps nationally Globalnet21 could help with some of their excellent webinars and events, as well, of course as organisations like Age UK and the Campaign to End Loneliness.

The announcement of winners on September 8 received no significant coverage that I spotted – apart from making the lead in Tony Watts new Later Life Agenda newsletter. Tony’s OBE for voluntary work in the field is well deserved. Nothing in the Mail, and as far as I could see, little local coverage (I’m wrong on that – see update below). Nothing about the vision statements setting out the programmes in each area, that will now be developed into plans by the end of the year, and hopefully funded from next April.

I think BIG deserves more credit for the meticulous way in which the programme has been developed – and the partnerships for their innovative proposals. Even more I think it is essential that there is some way for people involved in the programmes to tell the stories of what is being achieved – and the challenges they face – to maintain their enthusiasm and inspire others around the country, beyond the 15 partnerships.

However, I wonder whether there may be a problem here for funders like BIG. They know the power of digital storytelling, use social media themselves, and increasingly fund projects enabling people to tell their own stories. They can issue press releases, and put out competitive contracts to promote programmes, and hook up with big media. All important – but not on their own enough to help foster the social ecoystem that releases the energy of local partnerships and people (who may not yet have the skills for storytelling) and also uses the amplifying capacity of people like John, Shirley, and Tony (to name a few … multiply that by scores).

What’s needed is the national equivalent of the local approach being promoted by BIG: look at the existing communication assets and networks in the field – and not just the big organisations but the freelances and volunteers. Set out some comms objectives, and invite people to pitch ways and means to achieve them by training, support, content creating, publishing to a range of media. Bring people together to build the human networks that will create five years of buzz in the virtual ecosystem. A modest investment in facilitation would yields much higher returns on the £82 million.

My suggestion would be to start this as soon as possible, so that partnerships can move from their competitive and secretive mode – imposed until now – into a more open and cooperative culture that will produce some cross fertilisation of ideas in plans now being prepared.

That would also help carry partner organisations and volunteers through the flat spot between January and April when full funding is confirmed, based on December submissions.

The obvious question is “how much would this animation cost” – but I don’t think it is the first thing to ask. That should be the same as the one partnerships are addressing locally: “how do we find out who is already doing good stuff in this field, and what would it take to encourage and support them to do more”.

Disclaimer: these are personal ideas, and do not reflect those of others I have talked to in the programme or elsewhere. I’ve drawn on inspiration from similar explorations I’ve worked on, including one with John for BIG on People Powered Change.

Update: I clearly wasn’t watching my Twitter feed as closely as I should in the week of September 8, when Hall Aitken – who are supporting partnerships – did great work in tweeting local coverage of the awards as it emerged. But there doesn’t seem to be any one place to find out details: the main Big Lottery Fund page about the programme has a latest news link, but it goes to a piece about Middlebrough, not the press release.

Further update: link now fixed, to the press release. There’s a list of the partnerships with funding. The Old People Twitter account @BiglfOlderPeop provides updates.

There’s now a Storify of the Twitter responses to the announcement.