I was delighted to be at a terrific event this weekend – Connected Care Camp – which brought together a exciting group of “social care provocateurs” (the name I coined for organiser, and my friend and Disruptive Social Care Podcast co-host Shirley Ayres)!
Connected Care Camp was an event I was particularly interested in as in advance of the day Ben Matthews from FutureGov posted a list of challenges facing the care sector that run particularly true for Mindings:
- How can health and care services support people who are lonely and isolated?
- How can we support more connected communities?
- How could doctors, nurses, social workers and support staff better coordinate care planning?
- How can we support people with disabilities to live more independent and fulfilling lives?
- How can digital technologies can give people more control of their care and support?
- How can digital technology help to support carers & care networks?
Another reason for my interest is that Connected Care Camp is part of the Public Service Launchpad, a programme that will help turn early stage ideas into successful projects, by giving innovators access to the support they need to get their ideas off the ground. What makes this endeavour different, though is their support for both very early-stage ideas (like Mindings!), and also supporting “intrepreneurs” – people with entrepreneurial skills who working in large organisations.
In an afternoon session the audience were asked if, inspired by the morning’s activities, they had suggestions for a breakout discussion. My suggestion surprised a few people… Although I’m a “geek”, and although I’m the creator of what is on the surface a technology device or service, I posed the following question:
Particularly due our experience on our clinical trial I’m realising that Mindings is not a solution in its own right, just a powerful tool. I wanted the audience – at a technology-focussed event – to stop for a moment and think if we too often jump to a technology solution where a more personal or social solution would be better. The example I gave was quoted by an attendee (note their reaction!):
So, we broke in to groups and we discussed the subject. Our group consisted of a great mix of people, including David Floyd, Michael Gray, Ryan Lang, Catherine McLaughlin, Sofie Nottingham and Tom Phillips (all good Tweeters worth following!).
We came to an interesting conclusion that I thought worth sharing:
A technology solution is nice and clean. It results in the deployment of a physical “thing”, on an achievable date, within a defined budget, and before-and-after metrics can be generated. A complex problem has been turned into a do-able logistics exercise. Outcomes can be defined, and a successful result is possible.
Messy is hard, though. Problems such as homelessness, illiteracy and loneliness are complex, subjective and pretty conceptual. Announcing that you’ll fix one of those ‘moonshot” problems will be seen as at best unachievable and at worst naive.
Hence why government misters recently suggested giving pensioners iPads to stop them feeling lonely. With a budget, a deadline and delivery company that is indeed achievable, and a good likelihood of pats on the back for a successfully deployment. However teaching those people how to use an iPad is a different matter, with few people currently suggesting how the required digital literacy skills could be taught.
The ministers said that “technology can help social inclusion by providing a real-time, easy-to-use, low-cost link to the outside world”. Of the thirty people on our current Mindings clinical trial – whom their local authority has classified as “socially isolated or lonely” – all of them have telephones “a real-time, easy-to-use, low-cost link to the outside world” (and at least eight have mobiles).
People who are socially isolated or lonely don’t need a new device. They need a friend. So offering to give every pensioner a pet would likely be more effective than giving them an iPad. (And given a budget, a deadline and a delivery company some politician could be onto a winner).
So what is my takeaway from the Connected Care Camp? Well, we have been exploring a concept we call “Virtual Befriending”. First discussed at a Kent social care event in March it’s developing into a model that we hope to trial in the New Year where we create a group of friends around a socially isolated and technology-shy individual, and use Mindings as a digital social hub.
It may be that developing Mindings to overcome social isolation isn’t our business after all – but finding people friends and keeping them connected is.