A little recap on Big Society

I’m really enjoying Paul Twivy’s book Be Your Own Politician, which champions social action and citizen engagement, informed by his insider knowledge of how challenging it is to promote and negotiate support for that within the political establishment and Whitehall.

Paul recounts how he succeeded through work with Comic Relief, Timebanking, Change the World for a Fiver, and the Big Lunch, among much else – but not so much with the Big Society Network and Your Square Mile. His chapter on how this unwound is fascinating, and generally confirms my understanding as an independent observer and also paid-for socialreporter for the Network at one stage. Here’s the Big Society Wikipedia entry.

Paul recounts the point at which the change of leadership of the Network, from his initial role to that of Steve Moore, emerged through Steve promoting the fact in his bio for a TEDx event in Athens in November 2010. I picked up the bio reference – without any briefing from Steve – and blogged a piece “Steve Moore leads new Big Society Innovation Platform“.

I aimed to provide people with an even-handed update on Big Society developments, because they were so difficult to come by,  and declared I’d known Steve for a some years and worked directly for him and then the Network. I explain that Paul had worked hard on developing Your Square Mile, and this was due to launch soon.

Unfortunately Steve had jumped ahead of any official announcement, and Paul recounts in his book the difficulty and embarrassment this caused. (I didn’t appreciate until now that Steve had used Paul’s slides for his talk). May I offer a retrospective apology for my part in the upset? I probably should have checked, since I had worked for the Network, and owed it more than a purely journalistic relationship.

On the other hand, there was considerable public interest in Big Society and the Network, and I think it’s fair to say I was one of very few people trying to get behind the politics and provide a running account. I was frustrated by the lack of briefing – although reading Paul’s account, I can now better understand the reason for that. It wasn’t an open process.

Anyway, you can read that particular blog post here, and judge its tone yourself. The tag cloud on this blog – right sidebar – shows that that over the years I’ve written more about Big Society, Big Society Network, and Your Square Mile than most topics, starting with a report of the launch. That includes a video interview with Paul and Nat Wei, as well as David Cameron’s remarks. I subsequently joined the Your Square Mile mutual, reported the launch, including an interview with Paul.

I’ll leave the retrospection at that for now, although it would be interesting to reflect on what Your Square Mile was trying to achieve, and whether there are lessons for what’s now needed for local social action, blending digital and non-digital methods.  There may be some wider value in the work I’ve been doing with Drew Mackie on Living Well in the Digital Age, and the idea of local Living Labs.  Here’s some thinking on operating systems and social apps, connecting local frameworks with the DCLG Grey Cells model.

Updating exploration into Living Well in the Digital Age

Update summary: Over the past month we’ve run a workshop with the Department for Communities and Local Government; developed some ideas on why digital innovation is important on various fronts; engaged with the new Centre for Ageing Better; and authored a paper on networks and network mapping. In addition I’ve taken a few steps to re-organise content, including moving blogging about Living Well across to mediablends.com and setting up a wiki.

Blog posts from mediablends.com

Here’s summaries of recent posts on mediablends.com archived on a new wiki.

Next steps in our Living Well exploration Briefing for workshop held with the Digital Inclusion Group and Department for Communities and Local Government, outlining our ideas for Living Labs March 27 2015

Living Well workshop report Report on the workshop held with the Digital Inclusion Group and Department for Communities and Local Government March 27 2015

Do we need Operating Systems for Living Well in the Digital Age – or a more human worldview? The new Open Policy Making toolkit from Cabinet Office helps me join up the idea of a new operating model for government with an operating system for local labs for Living Well in the Digital Age. Together they could support the emerging Grey Cells model for digital service development and citizen online engagement. However, doubts emerge about the analogy. 04/04/2015

Practical ideas for making sense of technology in Care, Living Well and #AgeingBetter Local councils and partnerships will this year be faced with the growing challenge of deciding what technology solutions to develop and promote for care, health and wellbeing in their community. We’ve put together some ideas on how to approach those issues, from our exploration into Living Well in the Digital Age. The paper is here.

Why #AgeingBetter funders and policy makers should embrace digital technology – some resources Digital technology is increasingly important for Living Well in the Digital Age. Here’s suggestions on why funders and policy makers should review existing resources. 21/04/2015

Twitter helps @BetterAgeing Centre engage with potential for digital innovation in #AgeingBetter The Centre for Ageing Better has responded positively to a Twitter discussion about the lack of reference to digital technology in its strategy. Sending a blog post in draft helped. 22/04/2015

How do we shift from yet more research and reports to innovation in #AgeingBetter? Ideas please If we believe yet more old-style research and reports isn’t the way to promote greater innovation for living well in the digital age, how can we help organisations like the Centre for Ageing Better make the change? Ideas please 23/04/2015.

Networks and network mapping

Drew Mackie has authored a really comprehensive paper on networks and network mapping

Reorganising content

Here’s how I’m re-organising content following earlier blogging on this site, and use of  a Google site.

  • First, blogging is now over at mediablends.com, on a Withknown site. The advantage of that is the site allows you to automatically post the title and a link to Twitter and other social media. Any responding tweets then curate under the post, which makes it easy to track conversations. It also uses webhooks to post to the team space we have on Slack.com.
  • Second, my son Dan set up a Git-powered wiki on mediablends.org.uk where I’m gathering content from earlier sites, archiving the blog posts, and adding longer papers with Drew Mackie.
  • Third, I’ve followed Dan’s advice in using Markdown both on the blog and wiki: that’s basically text files with simple markup like # • [] () that an editor turns into html. It’s quick to write and easy to transfer between sites.

I’ll update occasionally here, but do please take a look at mediablends.com and content on the wiki.

Two reports promote people-led local solutions – Big Lottery Fund strategy and a Locality campaign

Two launch events today promote more local control and citizen involvement in the delivery of services and the development of community projects.

  • Locality, through its Keep it Local campaign, is pressing for more public service contracts to be let to local organisations, instead of large private sector companies. They quote research promising big savings, and well as more responsive services.
  • The chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund, Dawn Austwick, has launched a strategic framework Putting People in the Lead, saying “we want to start with what people bring to the table, not what they don’t have; and from the belief that people and communities are best placed to solve their problems, take advantage of opportunities, and rise to challenges”

Locality is, in part, arguing on behalf of its 500 members, some of whom supply local services under contract and would like to do more.

However, I think there is a very valid argument more generally for local contracting, because it it will be increasingly important to make the most of local assets and relationships as public bodies face more cuts.

There’s a rather good 2012 Locality essay here by Jess Steele on new-style regneration.

New regeneration will be driven by local people as agents of neighbourhood change, connected through solidarity networks, with the state and market as enablers. It will focus on the fine grain of the lived neighbourhood, abjuring all silos and proactively weaving new fabrics of ownership and responsibility for the built and social environment. It will work within its means, finding new ways to unlock resources and capture value. It will encourage and reward the grassroots virtues of thrift, impatience and sociability.

That doesn’t work so well if a lot of the resources for local delivery are controlled centrally, and directed to standard formulae.

Locality have also been playing their part in realising local assets, and building networks, with their 5000-strong programme of community organisers that has supported around 1500 new community projects and actions over the past four years. The programme has been funded by Cabinet Office as part of the original Big Society vision. A new legacy organisation – Community Organisers Ltd, or CoCo – will launch this summer.

The Big Lottery Fund framework is admirably short, with the emphasis on some key principles and general statements about the way the Fund will work as an enabler and catalyst as well as grant-maker. Dawn Austwick writes:

We also want to be more of a catalyst and a facilitator – recognising the feedback we got about our place in the funding ecology and civil society more broadly. It’s not our job to prescribe but it can be our job to link, to share, and to encourage. To be a network, or a central nervous system that people navigate around, finding fellow travellers, being surprised and intrigued by the work of others, sharing evaluation and impact stories, and so much more.

There are three specific first steps:

Accelerating Ideas: a pilot programme providing a flexible route to funding for innovative practice that can be adopted and adapted more widely to grow its impact.

Awards for All: new test-and-learn pilots are underway to simplify our open small grants programme.

Digital Community: a new function of our website which will begin to put digital at the heart of our grant-making. The community will enable people and organisations to network, collaborate and communicate, opening the Fund up to our stakeholders.

I know that these ideas have been some time in development, from work John Popham and I did for BIG on People Powered Change back in 2011–12. I don’t know if our input made much difference, but Shawn Walsh, Linda Quinn and other staff were very responsive to the ideas we were reporting, and Linda’s blog at the time foreshadows some of today’s directions *.

As I wrote earlier BIG have already soft-launched their digital community, which you can see here in test mode.

There’s a blog post about the Strategic Framework but as yet comments are not enabled (see correction**). However, Dawn is inviting responses on Twitter @DawnJAustwick.

BIG are currently interviewing for the post of Digital Community Manager, so there may be more scope for online engagement when that post is filled.

We certainly need somewhere to discuss how things will play out locally in the face of another round of austerity, which looks likely whatever the government, and pressure on local government to save money through digital services.

More ideas later on what it may take to blend digital into people-powered local developments, and help realise Jess’s vision.

* More recent, and extensive, consultations about strategy were carried out last year: Your Voice Our Vision

**  commenting is open on the post about the strategy once you join the site. Obvious really – apologies.

Open Policy Making promises engagement as well as digital innovation

A couple of posts on the Open Policy Making blog this week provide insights into how digital technologies, network thinking, and new ways for government to operate may change the way we receive services, engage as citizens – and maybe develop our own community-level innovations.

We learn that civil servants are exploring the future with specialists in in data science, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, sensors, applied programming interfaces, autonomous machines, and platforms.

Will this just lead to more top-down initiatives which will be tough for our elected representatives to understand and guide – let alone anyone else? Hopefully not, from the tone of the posts. Maybe it will help with joined-up communities for citizens too.

William Barker, Head of Technology Strategy and Digital Futures at the Department for Communities and Local Government, wrote yesterday:

Top down thinking and decision making no longer delivers the range of services that communities want. Open Policy Making is about broadening the range of people we engage with, using the latest tools and techniques and taking a more agile and iterative approach.
Open Policy Making is about broadening the range of people we engage with, using the latest tools and techniques and taking a more agile and iterative approach.
DCLG’s “Grey Cells” Open Policy Making Initiative working with the Transformation Network has been joining-up the “grey cells” of user experience, innovation, new thinking and service transformation – using a people and places centred approach to explore how digital technology and approaches can make a positive difference.

As William explains, the Grey Cells model is focusing initially on digital inclusion, Better Services, Elders as Assets and Digitising Government.

As I wrote here, with more details of the model:

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.

Today Paul Maltby, Director of Open Data & Government Innovation in Cabinet Office, writes about how ideas like nudge, digital, wellbeing, social action, open data, social finance, user-centred design have moved in five to ten years from the fringes of how government could develop in the future to become more mainstream, and asks, what will be the new norm by 2020–25?

Paul links to this video from the Government Digital Service explaining the idea of Government as Platform:

However, development could be enabling at community level too:

Platforms are about providing a (digital) framework within which others abide by rules, using data and a payment and regulatory ecosystem to unleash invention at scale. Could this notion not be applied to the wider face-to-face operation of government? Think of developments where innovative services like Casserole Club would be able to provide its amazing service in not just a handful of local authorities, but have the opportunity to develop at scale as needed by users UK wide. Consider how NationBuilder has developed a platform to organise social campaigns, and if the same organising principles were built in to the fabric of government what this could mean for democracy – particularly among a generation that expect to collaborate and create content. This brings with it an opportunity to redefine the role of government, and even create a different relationship between state and public.

There’s more about a new operating model for government, and reference to a workshop with NESTA and the Open Policy Team where they’ll be talking with specialists in data science, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence etc.

It is encouraging to get windows into latest government thinking from the Open Policy Making blog and other sources, including prototyping in the Policy Lab

What particularly interests me – together with Drew Mackie, and other colleagues – is how to help support similar open and creative thinking at community level about the impact of digital and the change it brings. We are experimenting with games and simulations evolved over the past 15 years, and well as explorations like our recent one into Ageing Well and Living Well in the Digital Age.

I’ll write more shortly about a workshop we are developing that aims to bring the Grey Cells model down to community level, with a scenario like this one.

We all need to understand a bit more about the implications of the terms and processes that Paul describes – and to do that we need creative, social spaces in communities to complement those in Policy Labs.

How about celebrating the 20 year history of community networking and hyperlocal

The annual Talk About Local unconference #TAL15 on Saturday was a great opportunity to catch up with the world of local blogging, online communities and community journalism that’s now collectively known as hyperlocal.

As usual on these occasions Will Perrin, Sarah Hartley and Mike Rawlins did a great job of semi-organising the crowd into self-managed sessions about everything from WordPress plugins to crowdfunding, and “surviving the abusive relationship with Facebook”, and stimulating lots of energising conversations in between. Here’s Sarah’s round-up.

The event also prompted me to reflect that it’s now just 20 years since I and a bunch of other enthusiasts, inspired by earlier North American online pioneers, and the arrival of the World Wide Web, launched UK Communities Online as a network to support local digital initiatives, or what we called community networking … so please excuse a little digital nostalgia. Maybe 2015 is a good time to look at what was then, what’s now, and what might be next.

In 1995 I spotted, thanks to the Web, that the Morino Intitute was holding their second Ties that Bind conference at Apple HQ in Curpertino, and managed to blag my way to a fare and conference tickets. Thanks due to Kaye Gapen, and Steve Cisler.

You can read here a history of what happened over the next few years, including a launch conference in October 1995 at BT headquarters, and funding for network development from BT, IBM, the Department for Trade and Industry and others.

Tribute is particularly due to Richard Stubbs, Michael Mulquin, Kevin Harris, Dave Greenop and other pioneers who did so much of the early work. Michael became UKCO director. Terry Grunwald provided so much inspiration and experience from the US (and we must rehost the Making the Net Work site). I hope we might update all our stories – about which more below.

Although Communities Online didn’t survive as a network, I think it helped people explore what the Internet might mean to local communities, and to share experience in experimenting with different approaches before the days of blogs and other social media. I believe that we contributed to government thinking, and industry too.

I’ve put together below links to pages I wrote. Many external links are unfortunately broken, which shows how digital is not necessarily a good archive medium. Or put another way, if you want stuff to last, you have to maintain your own site. Even so, I’m afraid I lost some stories.

What’s perhaps most interesting is the sort of models for Community Internet we envisaged then … as expressed in a Manifesto which the BBC helped promote at the time.

Summary of a manifesto for local onine communities – 1999

  • Every citizen, regardless of their economic circumstances, should be able to share the benefits of the Information Age – including better communications, greater participation, electronic life long learning, and e-commerce. To achieve this they should have access to local community technology centres, plus public online forums and services to create an online community. The centres will provide technical support and help ‘on the ground’, the forums will be ‘virtual spaces’ for online communities related to localities.
  • Centres and online communities should be easy to find – signposted locally, and through a national gateway.
  • Public support should be available, particularly in low-income neighbourhoods, where the market is unlikely to provide facilities on a sustainable basis without public funding.
  • Development of centres and online communities should be piloted through pathfinder projects, with community participation.
  • There should be a network and support for the local champions and partnerships who will develop the centres and online communities.
  • A virtual resource centre should be developed to provide sources of advice for local champions and partnerships, and a neutral space online for discussion of the development of centres and online communities.

Long version of the manifesto

Quite a lot of this has come about. The Tinder Foundation has been particularly successful in developing and maintaining a network of local centres.

The people who gathered on Saturday at #TAL15 – and others – are innovating locally in ways we couldn’t dream of. Chris Taggart’s Openly Local map shows hyperlocal sites throughourt the UK and Ireland.

There is a Centre for Community Journalism and course at Cardiff University

I mentioned the manifesto and Communities Online to Will and a few other people at the unconference, and found some interest in discovering more about our collective history … and what we can learn from the journey.

We talked tentatively about a 20-year anniversary event, and re-gathering stories from the pioneers.

It could provide an opportunity to explore more fully what community-based models are most relevant today, to complement the local digital frameworks being developed by Government: see for example my reflections on the Grey Cells blueprint. My hunch that in future we’ll have to look at personalised approaches, as well as local sites, as I wrote here about Living Well with tech.

I’ll check whether others involved in 1990s, and now, would be interested in organising something, and if so hope to get an organising group together, ideally with TAL.

Meanwhile, if you are interested, please drop a comment, or contact me via david@socialreporter.com or @davidwilcox.

Talk About Local and #TAL15

Links from the Partnerships Online site

Other links

Switching focus from Ageing Better to Living Well with tech: it’s all personal

The Ageing Better exploration into how innovations, enabled by digital technology, can help support personal well-being, has now reached the point where we can drawn some conclusions and plan the next stage.

As you’ll read in the summary below, the exploration, which I’ve been leading with Drew Mackie, was triggered by the Big Lottery Fund’s £82 million  Ageing Better programme, and particularly the initial lack of ways to exchange experience and introduce digital innovation. We’ve been working with the Digital Inclusion Group of Age Action Alliance. (DIG).

As I reported the other day, BIG has now opened its online community for testing, and there is a space for Ageing Better. We should hear more about local plans – and innovative developments – in a couple of months when the partnerships know how far their business plans have been approved, and receive confirmation of funding.

Meanwhile the main conclusion in our report is that we should switch our focus from programmes, to exploring in more detail what digital technology means to the individual – in different situations, with different interests, needs, capabilities and support. The scope for digital healthcare is likely to be particularly important, as Tony Watts has highlighted.

We’ll be playing through what that means in a workshop next month with DIG, and I’ll be posting more here about the approach we’ll be taking, based on the games and simulations reported here.

Summary from our interim report

The exploration into how to use technology for Ageing Better started in the autumn of 2014 with the idea that it should be possible to map organisations and resources in the field to enable more sharing of experience, reduce constant re-invention, and promote cooperation. The Big Lottery Fund hadn‘t done that centrally in 2014 for their five-year £82 million Ageing Better programme – could we demonstrate an alternative bottom-up approach, building on past work in the field?

This report summarises the journey that is documented more fully on our site – and comes to the conclusion that we should switch our focus from technology in Ageing Better, at a policy and programme level, to technology for Living Well as individuals, together with what is needed to support that in local communities and centrally. The challenge is that every individual has different interests and preferences – so one size of support doesn’t fit all.

Over the four months from September 2014 we moved beyond the basic idea of mapping of resources and organisations to:

The rationale was that we needed to know what we were looking for in mapping, before starting a big trawl. It‘s been a voluntary effort so far, and we needed to focus. We decided that if we could generate ideas on tech for Ageing Better, and cluster those, we could then look at which organisations might share experience and perhaps work together.

We were able to test some of our emerging ideas against a wide-ranging discussion at a symposium on technology and innovation, organised by the South East Forum on Ageing. Our blog post linking our exploration to the SEEFA discussion was re-published by Age Action Alliance.

What emerged from that – and our other explorations – was that the idea of promoting cooperation among organisations in the field, to achieve greater benefits and innovation, was somewhat naive. As other commentators confirmed, co-operation is difficult because organisations are competing with each other for funding; innovation is difficult because few organisations actually use social technology. The major challenge is culture. We could map ideas, organisations, and resources – but the likelihood of making any difference is low.

At this stage – in February 2015 – we are considering a change of focus towards the individual. It seems likely that the greatest progress will be made by exploring how older people – and those who help – can choose and use technology for personal well-being.

Tony Watts, chair of the South West Forum for Ageing, has set out how to make progress by linking digital health and digital inclusion. Roz Davies provides a model of citizen-centred care and digital health provision. The Grey Cells initiative from the Department for Communities and Local Government provides a framework for digital engagement that could help connect the individual and programmatic models.

So at this stage we are considering reframing the exploration towards Living Well with Technology – what can be done to enable and support the individual. Although our focus is on older people, the lessons will be more widely applicable.

Mapping, connecting, convening is needed at the programme level, but we don’t have the resources to do that, or any leverage to achieve much change. We do, however, suggest some modest ways forward.

Conclusions from the exploration so far

I think we can conclude:

  • There‘s lots of opportunities for innovation and use of tech for ageing better – but it is difficult to move forward on a broad front because of cultural and other barriers in organisations in the ageing and inclusion industries. There‘s great work being done – but also much re-inventing of the wheel. Competition for funding inhibits cooperation. Lack of familiarity with technologies limits development taking account of the consumer adoption of mobile tech. As this blog post summarised, the energy is around people apps and connectors – not organisations.
  • We need a shift of metaphor and framework from digital divide. Instead of thinking how to get people to learn about computers, we need to focus on how to help people adopt just enough tech for their needs, and how to support that. The models needed are personal and social ecologies.
  • We now need to experiment at several different levels: the individual, the surrounding social network and support system, and in programmes.

Overall, the issue is Living Well with Technology – rather than Bridging the Digital Divide.

Here are several ideas for moving forward:

  • Use the workshop games and simulations that we have been developing for our Living Lab to help people play through the options at different levels, and then turn the games into kits.
  • Test the ideas at a neighbourhood level
  • Explore the scope for work with partnerships in the Ageing Better programme, or with towns and cities aiming to create Age Friendly places.

Do get in touch if you would like to know more – david@socialreporter.com

Big Lottery Fund soft launches online community – and advertises an interesting job

The Big Lottery Fund has opened up an online community platform that’s been under development for some months, judging by earliest message in some of the forums, and news trailed here. The Welcome says:

You’ll be able to network with other people, learn about previous projects, get expert advice and share your knowledge.

There are online spaces for countries, programmes, projects and groups. I’ve been particularly interested – as discussed here – in a platform for knowledge exchange on BIG’s Ageing Better programme, and that’s now available here.

I haven’t spotted any formal announcement of the online community , although BIG is advertising the post of Digital Community Manager. I gather that’s a replacement, rather than new job, and the site is currently being used for some live testing.

I’m interested in the development strategy, because the usual wisdom – see Feverbee’s excellent resource – is that this should be a carefully managed process from the outset.

I hope there may be a blog post explaining the process, and inviting enthusiasts to give feedback and ideas. I think one of the challenges/opportunities will be to engage people who currently use the various BIG twitter accounts and tag streams, and connect with BIG blogging, which tells some great stories. There is some blogging here.

My hunch is that success will also depend on internal engagement, and whether BIG staff are able/encouraged to join in. That would make it an attractive way to get guidance on funding, and tap into the enormous knowledge resources that BIG holds about projects. I found some encouraging posts from funding managers.

Either way Digital Community Manager is going to be an interesting job.

I’ll hold off further comment until I’ve had a look around, and take the positive view that it is really good news BIG has created the space, and is hopefully open to input on how it develops. Hope to see others in there too.

Update: just spotted this strap line “Welcome to our online community – Test phase! Help us improve by signing up and feeding back!”

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.

Update post on Grey Cells from William Barker at Open Policy Making

 

 

 

 

 

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.