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.
hile 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.