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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; or we could look to bring together the available open source software (such as that which 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.

Playing through council plans for digital participation in the face of cuts

Summary: How we used a cast of fictitious characters and organisations to help a London borough plan its digital participation strategy in the face of austerity cuts.

Over the past few years Drew Mackie and I have used fictitious characters and organisations as the basis for our workshop games, with successful explorations of how digital tech can be used by community enablers, nonprofit consultants, older people and other groups. Recently we’ve coalesced these into Slipham, a place with all the social and civic challenges that we hope digital tech might help address.

We are using Slipham as the testbed for our Living Lab explorations into how to combine a number of techniques, including network mapping and storytelling as well as games. Recently we were delighted to help Southwark council design a seminar for officers, members and local organisations on digital participation. As part of that we created a new and not-unrealistic scenario:

The London borough of Slipham faces major cuts, and the council, community and voluntary sectors have decided to form a partnership to explore how greater digital participation could help everyone in tough times. Top priorities, themes and ideas emerging so far include:

  • increasing people’s chances of getting a job or training through great tech skills and confidence
  • supporting activities for health and wellbeing, including combatting isolation and loneliness
  • reducing costs of running services through greater use of online channels
  • increasing effectiveness of groups and organisations through tech-supported productivity
  • improving collaboration and partnership working across council and other sectors
  • cutting time on meetings through greater use of audio, video, and online methods
  • using online methods to give a voice to the most vulnerable
  • developing online fundraising to help groups facing cuts

To do this a core group of Slipham digital champions are staging a creative planning session that includes some external advisers. They are looking at the assets in Slipham that could be better used, and networks that could be further developed. They are also researching innovations elsewhere.

Some 60 people spent two hours working on the challenge in groups.

  • First they selected some characters from the persona cards we had created (enlivened by Drew’s cartoons), chose a theme to address and some organisations that might collaborate, and created a brief for a possible project.
  • Then the groups exchanged briefs, and used cards with suggested activities and methods to create a project plan. That provided inspiration for possible projects that the people in the workshop could develop “for real”.

You’ll find a full report of the workshop here. In planning the workshop we used the card-based organising system Trello, and afterwards I loaded up all the workshop materials.

Trello is a terrific, free system for organising anything. Imagine a virtual wall of Post-it notes – but with scope to add images, links, checklists, discussions on the back. You can keep boards personal and private, make them public, or use in a team. Here’s a few bookmarks about using Trello.

I’m exploring two further developments with Trello:

  • how we might create cards on Trello and print them off for use in workshops. Currently we do that in Pages.
  • whether we could use Trello for a simple online solitaire version of the game

If you are interested in a game session, and/or further development, do get in touch.

Huge thanks to Kevin Dykes, Cara Pottinger and Southwark colleagues for the opportunity to run the game, and joining so enthusiastically in designing and helping run the session. We’ll be staying in touch as workshop participants and others develop projects triggered by the session, and other work Southwark is doing.





Revisiting the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (cities, that is)

Back in the 1970′s, when local councils were knocking down swathes of terraced housing and replacing them with tower blocks, a young architect worked with a group of residents in Macclesfield to fight the authorities, and to save and refurbish homes in Black Road.

Over the next decade Rod Hackney pioneered citizen-led design, and was able to count Prince Charles as an advocate of community architecture. In 1987 Rod was elected President of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Last week Rod returned to the President’s office at the RIBA, with some of his colleagues and friends from the early days of citizen architecture, for the launch of a reprint of his 1990 book: The good, the bad, and the ugly: cities in crisis.

The current President, Stephen Hodder, was our host, and he led the way in providing some reflections on Rod’s work in this interview.

The book is published in the Routledge Revivals series, which last year republished the 1987 Community Architecture book by Nick Wates and Charles Knevitt. I reported that RIBA launch event here, with some explanation of how it chimed with my own interest as a one-time planning correspondent.

Here’s the book blurb from Routledge:

First published in 1990, this title presents the personal reflections of renowned community architect Rod Hackney, who served for many years as President of both the Royal Institute of British Architects and the International Union of Architects. Educated in the Modernist tradition of architecture in Britain and Denmark, Hackney’s return to England in the 1970s changed his outlook completely. Cities like Birmingham and Sheffield had been ruined by ill-conceived planning; whole communities had been torn apart by massive destruction of Victorian terraces, and relocated to grim tower block estates. To those communities that he has rescued from the threat of redevelopment, Rod Hackney is a local hero. Determined to save Britain’s inner cities, he has been a major influence on Prince Charles and a powerful spokesman for the silent majority of the urban poor, who often have no say as to where and how they live.

… and a more personal account from Rod and his partner Tia. They formed Kansara Hackney Ltd in 2008, and it’s clear from the interview that Rod’s enthusiasm and ability to inspire is undimmed.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Routledge Revivals)

A tasty intro to digital – Tea, Toast and T’Internet


Time was when introducing older people to the potential of the online world – in official pursuit of digital inclusion – meant a computer, trainer, and possibly a bit of a struggle with the mouse.

Now we are beginning to see a less formal approach: tea, toast and tablets. I think it is likely to be more successful. Here’s why.

I was recently delighted, and intrigued, to be copied into an email from Myra Newman thanking people for their support for a London event run at the Central & Cecil Sheltered Housing scheme, together with Primrose Hill Neighbours Help (PHNH).

The note was backed up with photos by Lee Christopher-Coles, showing residents clearly having a lot of fun trying out tablets … many for the first time. Lee wrote:

Some of the residents were amazed you could use an app to find out the next bus, or book tickets to the ballet. And even Skype. The impact it can have using a tablet, instead of a computer – that seems pretty daunting and locked away in another room, is far greater.

Among Myra’s thank-you’s was this reference:

At the `Wealth of the Web’ conference in January, David Wilcox and Professor Leela Damodaran offered encouragement to run a digital inclusion event. Without them, the `Tea, Toast and T’Internet’ session might not have happened.

Myra was referring to the workshop Drew Mackie and I ran in January with Age UK London, where some 50 people invented a set of fictitious characters, told their life stories, and played through in groups how the online world could help them meet life challenges they faced, and explore new opportunities.

There wasn’t a screen in sight, because we were making the point that the best way to engage people was to start with their interests, not with the technology, and have some fun. I may have mentioned the idea of iPad tea parties.

Since then I’ve been making rather slow progress in gaining official support for further events … but meanwhile Myra and friends have just gone ahead and done something more interesting. I rang Myra to find out how … and discovered the importance of long-standing relationships, volunteers with professional skills, combined with personal determination.

Here’s the story, with some additions from PHNH and others at the event

Primrose Hill Neighbourhood Help manages a volunteer befriending service for isolated older women and men, and also runs information sessions at a Central & Cecil Sheltered Housing Scheme. Digital Inclusion Officer Nathaniel Spagni recently installed WIFI in the lounge. There are computer drop-in sessions at the centre.

Lee, a social media champion from Age UK London ably assisted PHNH with an eye-catching flyer, `Tea, Toast and T’internet’ and helped on the day of the event. The flyer was posted on the main noticeboard at the Centre and residents signed up. Tea and refreshments were prepared and served by a public-spirited resident who took charge.

Myra was for 32 years a Camden librarian, and is well connected with many local groups and networks. With support from Richard Higgins, C&C Centre Manager and confident of the interest of a few residents in having a tablet demo, she made a call to Breezie, who are working with Age UK to market customised Samsung tablets. Breezie provide a service that makes it really easy to set up the tablet, and add more apps as people’s confidence grows.

Myra wrote:

I was bowled over by the number of residents who voluntarily joined us for a cuppa and a piece of toast to find out more about using the internet. The Breezie team guided residents through the steps and along with a cuppa, the `hands-on’ experience was a positive one. For many, the wonders of this new phenomenon was a light-bulb moment.

Quotes from residents:

I was never interested in learning about computers and always thought I’d stick with pen and paper but the demo of tablets has changed my mind. I’m now hooked on the idea of having a tablet.

I was impressed with the enthusiastic people who guided us on a 1-1 basis on how to use tablets.

Sounds like making a fresh, new start as I don’t get on well with my computer.

I’m particularly interested in being on the internet and encouraged by the fact that Email will already be set up on Breezie and that unlimited support is offered for 12 months.

That Device Company, who are behind the project, aim to donate £50,000 to Age UK during 2014 through promotion and sales.

On the day Breezie CEO Jeh Kazimi turned up with a team of volunteers, and six tablets. These run on the Android system, which out-of-the box can be more difficult than Apple iPads – but the virtue of the Breezie is that it provides a simplified set-up that can be tailored to individual use. I think it would be really interesting to arrange a session with iPads for comparison. My hunch is there will be pros and cons on each.

Jeh has written about how Breezie was born from the challenge of helping his mother, on a visit to London, to use Skype to connect with her husband in India.

My wife and I helped her by sticking post-it notes all over the computer screen. Sounds odd but, for mum, it meant that she paid attention only to the parts of the screen she needed to, and ignored any extraneous information and clutter.

From this, an idea formed: why can’t technology become more human, rather than humans having to adapt? The need for apps that can be used by those with little or no technological nous – and there are still more than 6 million UK adults aged 55+ who’ve never used the internet before – and the need to deliver it without patronising or limiting them, was clear.

Tablets are key to solving the problem of digital isolation. While most of us can use a mouse as easily as we can put our shoes and socks on, it’s not that easy for everyone. It’s very difficult for the rest of us to imagine but desktop computers can seem intimidating to those alien to technology. Tablets, however, are portable, unobtrusive and the touchscreen designed to be intuitive – a good starting point for those who’ve never used technology. The next hurdle was to work out how to deliver this to the digitally isolated.

The Breezie approach clearly worked well at Tea, Toast and T’Internet

Laura Wigzell, Coordinator of Community Time Camden wrote:

It was a fabulous event. Having spent some time helping older people on laptops and desktop computers before, I was quite astounded at how quickly some of them picked up using a touchscreen tablet in comparison. It was pretty impressive really! So well done you and the other PHNHers for all your amazing effort in pulling the afternoon together – otherwise those folks would never have had a chance to have a go on such technology and would have remained intimidated by it. Now many of them are intrigued and excited by it and have begun to think how it might be useful to them, which is a much more positive place to be. The tea and cake certainly helped too – a lovely vibe in the lounge that afternoon. Looking forward to the next one!

Laura then blogged a piece with the promise of a further event.

Richard Cotton, Prospective Labour Candidate for Camden Town with Primrose Hill Ward, said:

Congratulations to Myra Newman, Primrose Hill Neighbourhood Help Information Desk and everybody involved in making the afternoon such a success. It was an honour to be there and great to be able to help in a practical way. I think many older people wish to embrace new technology for the way in which it can tackle isolation. For example, my late Mother lived abroad but was able to keep in contact with her wider family through email and skype. Others are able to use the internet for shopping, watching films, social networking or just browsing. It’s important to ensure that older people are including in the digital revolution, which is transforming all of our lives.

And added:

I hope we can find a way of sourcing some kit to extend this. It really is a great idea, which will help tackle isolation amongst older people living alone.

Danny Elliott, Age UK London Communications and Campaigns Officer, sent me this story of the value of showing people what’s possible on the day:

As part of my role at Age UK London I work with older people on a variety of digital skills through our Fit 4 Purpose workshops. At Jacqueline House I spent around half an hour with James Nelson, one of the residents. James had a desktop PC that a friend helped him use due to poor eyesight. He’d never used a tablet before.

At Age UK London we believe that anything can be used as a motivator to get online. James and I looked at a supermarket website and I showed him how you can order groceries online – he was interested in that, but it wasn’t enough. I then asked him who he supported. “Chelsea.” I asked, “What’s your favourite Chelsea moment?” Without hesitation James told me it was the 1970 FA Cup Final replay at Old Trafford. He was there, and saw his team lift the trophy. Within seconds I was on YouTube and James was reliving that day… and he really was reliving it! When Leeds scored he told me, “They went 1-0 up, but they don’t win.” James cheered when Chelsea scored and told me he thought it was ‘amazing’. James had seen the endless possibilities of being online… football is a great motivator!

At Age UK London we want all older people to have the skills and opportunity to be online and to use that access to fuel the passions they already have.”

I sent a draft of the post to Professor Leela Damodaran, who helped inspire the tea party, and who has led extensive research in the digital inclusion field. Leela responded on the challenge of maintaining support, if participants are able to acquire a tablet in the longer term:

Lots of important messages are expressed in a compelling way in your report. One additional critical point that needs to be highlighted is the importance of the on-going support that follows after the experience of Tea, Toast and T’internet is over and the new ‘convert’ finds him/herself alone with the device. In other words, a technological device alone – whether a tablet or anything else – cannot by itself solve digital and social exclusion. The value of 12 months unlimited support offered with Breezie should not be underestimated for the confidence and sense of security it promotes – especially among new users. (Clarification from Age UK and ‘That Device’ on how users’ interests will be safeguarded and their support needs met once the 12 months has passed should be sought as a matter of some urgency before widespread promotion of the Breezie proceeds).

It is also the case that the leadership and commitment of Myra and her colleagues, the support from local government, from a member of parliament and from a community such as Primrose Hill Neighbours Help (PHNH) were crucial achieving such an empowering experience for the older participants involved. All these factors working in combination are crucial to the promotion of successful digital participation of older people. It will be important that documented reports of the process make very clear that far more is involved than simply handing out technological devices!

Picking up my perspective on the story …

I’ve added rather more quotes than I usually might to a post because it seems to me the secret of success on this sort of occasion is the connections between people in the area who may not have technology as their main passion, but who see the potential and will support someone like Myra with an experiment. They are the real champions … who may become digital champions and provide support in the longer term.

I should add that the party idea isn’t new: Age UK, and Age UK London have run Techy Tea parties, some of them supported by EE. Digital Unite, who organise the annual Spring Online programme, are also promoting the idea, and I should think we’ll see lots more next year. (see update below).

What seems particularly promising is the combination of local volunteer action with a consumer product to complement the more traditional digital inclusion programmes.

Pictured with residents and a group from PHNH information desk are:

  • Age UK London Communications and Campaigns Officer, Danny Elliott
  • Central & Cecil Digital Inclusion Officer, Nathaniel Spagni
  • Camden Councillor, Patricia Callaghan, Deputy Leader, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health
  • CEO of Breezie, Jeh Kazimi
  • PHNH/Age UK Social Media Champion, Lee Christopher-Coles
  • Primrose Hill Community Library Volunteer/Labour Candidate, Richard Cotton
  • Resident of the Oldfield Estate sheltered housing scheme and resident Board member, Sally de Sousa
  • Kay, resident and provider of tea and refreshments

The C&C-PHNH event was supported by:

  • C&C Centre Manager, Richard Higgins
  • Coordinator Community TIME Camden, Laura Wigzell

Update: as I was finalising this post, I spotted that the mobile network operator and Internet Service Provider EE have won a Big Society Award for running 68 Techy Tea Parties during 2013, with over 565 staff voluteers. David Cameron is quoted as saying: “Whether it’s creating an email account to connect with friends and family, or learning how to use an iPad, EE’s ‘Techy Tea Parties’ are demystifying technology and giving people the skills to get online”.

Olaf Swantee, EE CEO, says they will bring Techy Tea Parties to every store, office and contact centre across the UK this year – so maybe there’s scope for more local partnerships.

The big question, of course, is whether people will buy – or be able to afford to buy – a tablet and mobile Internet connection after the party. I’ll follow up on that in a later post. Meanwhile, cheers all round.



My idea for digital inclusion – the minimal technology assessment kit

Provocation: instead of promoting an over-rich mix of technology to people who are resistant or not interested, offer a way to understand how the world is changing and then assess how little tech they might need for their needs and interests.

My immediate thought after our successful workshop on digital technology for older people was to develop a DIY version where people could profile the potential user, their needs and interests, offer a rich menu of sites, programmes and apps, then choose an appropriate device. This might be a smartphone, tablet, smart TV, desktop computer or laptop. Or – with the kit – they could do that for themselves using the a kit of cards and other resources, perhaps ending up with a hands-on demo if there were someone to help.

I also drafted an article, copied below, which is in AGEnda- Newsletter of the English Forums on Ageing, thanks to editor Tony Watts. This floated the DIY kit idea, and also reflected on how we should just see technology as part of the mix of communications and services any individual needs. I wrote:

… a lot of older people don’t see the need to get online, find the idea scary, computers intimidating and costly. Is it really so important – unless essential for communication with distant family, or accessing public information? If the latter, are there intermediaries who could help? Although I’m focussed here on older people, there’s an any-age issue too. I’m a technophile … but I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of everyone must be online.

so … reframe the problem. Instead of planning how we get more people into/onto the Internet (digital inclusion), accept many won’t go there, and think in more detail about the networks of information and relationships we each inhabit, served by lots of different media. Then work through how to improve that experience in different cases (social inclusion).

From that social ecology perspective, the challenge is how to help people build the blend of newspapers, magazines, phone calls, visits, relationships and maybe online activities that is right for them.

The difficulty with the “choose your tech” kit is that it can make tech the solution without enough analysis of the problem.

Tomorrow I’m making a small contribution to an online discussion among members of the Digital Inclusion Group of the Age Action Alliance, on the theme of what can we do in practice to move things forward. The temptation is to offer ideas on how we can do more to get more people online, and so “included” in the world of technology.

But isn’t the real challenge how to help people create or expand the world they want, bringing in technology where appropriate?

But how to help re-frame the discussion, and give us a nudge to change our minds about some aspects of the digital inclusion agenda?

Here’s one idea I might fly. Let’s create a kit that helps individuals – or those supporting them – to profile their needs and interests, their networks, and the various ways that they communicate and get services. What’s working, and what isn’t. How interested are they in exploring new opportunities.

Then how little technology might they need to make a difference, if any at all. If none at present, but the need arises, can someone act as an intermediary to get information, fill in a form, order something. If the minimal tech in insufficient, would it be easy to extend. I’m sure that there are lots of assessment methods from social care that we might build on. The exploration could be done within the Living Lab Drew Mackie and I are developing.

The kit should include explanations of how the world is technology pervasive and dependant, so avoidance may be challenging … but the focus should be on helping people, friends, families and supporters, make choices about how they wish to live in that world.

As technology become more personal, and the world more complex, the importance of understanding and being able reshape context become more not less important. So as well as looking at how to develop digital adoption and skills, look at building social ecologies.

It might be not awesome, but it could be useful.

Here’s the article I wrote, published in AGEnda- Newsletter of the English Forums on Ageing

With huge numbers of older people still not using the Internet, David Wilcox argues that it’s time for a rethink on the way we promote and enable digital inclusion.

The recent Age UK London report on the Wealth of the Web did a really useful job of scoping the challenge of encouraging, persuading and supporting older people into using computers and so engaging with the online world.

The report noted that 78% of Londoners aged over 75 are not online and a total of 661,000 people over the age of 55 in London have never used the internet – and then went on to recommend action by pretty much anyone who could help. These included government, voluntary organisations, private companies and older people themselves, acting as digital champions.

Drew Mackie and I ran a workshop session at the launch event, where some 50 people played through how fictitious but realistic characters could follow their interests and enthusiasms using smartphones, tablets, smart TVs or games consoles as well as computers.

Lots of buzz on the day, but since then I’ve been pondering how Age UK London – and anyone with similar concerns around the country – might move from research and discussion into large scale action. My hunch is that the game has changed, and try harder isn’t going to work. Here’s why.

First of all, as the report showed, a lot of older people don’t see the need to get online, find the idea scary, computers intimidating and costly. Is it really so important – unless essential for communication with distant family, or accessing public information? If the latter, are there intermediaries who could help? Although I’m focussed here on older people, there’s an any-age issue too. I’m a technophile … but I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of everyone must be online.

Secondly it has, in the past, proven really difficult to co-ordinate large-scale action, by multiple agencies, on the lines set out in the report … not least because senior decision-makers in relevant organisations are frequently less than passionate about technology themselves. They know how tough it can be to make tech work, and can sense there won’t be easy wins.

Thirdly, the report – and most programmes – are still focussed on computers, when a lot of consumer-led uptake is through smartphones and tablets. I suspect that older people with a potential interest in the online world are more likely to be enthused by a grandchild with an iPad than a computer in a community centre.

So even if you could get all the agencies together to talk about a computer-based digital inclusion programme they would be on the wrong track. And if someone were to suggest (as I might) that they should focus instead on tablets and smartphones, I doubt if they would have the experience as organisations to move forward. Individuals within organisations might well be using tablets at home – but the organisations would generally not be mobile-literate.

It’s good to see Age UK nationally promoting the uptake of tablets through a deal under which people can buy a customised Android-based Breezie Samsung tablet and get a year of phone support in the package.

However, this still focusses on the technology (albeit more usable tech) and I suggest, additionally, a rethink on two fronts.

First of all, reframe the problem. Instead of planning how we get more people into/onto the Internet (digital inclusion), accept many won’t go there, and think in more detail about the networks of information and relationships we each inhabit, served by lots of different media. Then work through how to improve that experience in different cases (social inclusion). Many, many organisations are of course doing an enormous amount on that front, so …

… focus on these intermediaries. Help organisations and carers enhance their digital literacies in ways designed directly to help those they serve, often using mobile technologies. Map who connects with who in the networks, and use technology and other means to enhance those connections and relationships. Age UK London and Positive Ageing in London – and other regional organisations – are well placed to do that with the many organisations in the field … so start at home. Develop mobile digital literacy in key organisations, and build outwards.

I would, however, go with the suggestion in the report about helping older people (or anyone for that matter) help each other. Recruit a core of volunteers who are enthusiastic about using iPads and other tablets like the Breezie and the Tesco Hudls, run some sessions to develop mentoring skills, and build a learning network so people can share experience. Ask organisations to host iPad/Android parties, building on the success of techy tea parties supported by EE, with bring-your-own tech. We could develop a DIY version of our workshop game so sessions don’t have to start with a screen, but with people’s interests.

Of course there will be continuing demand for more traditional computer-based learning. Libraries and centres are invaluable in providing access, support and sociability. I just don’t think they are any longer the ground on which to mount a campaign.