We know that social relationships are really important for a good later life, and that technology, together with other methods, can help build connections. We also know that what's needed is a combination of personal and community-level action. We have a host of top-level reports, and hundreds of organisations in the field. But does all the research, and the how-to packs, make enough difference when it comes to planning a local project? Can we better connect the expertise in the national ageing and digital inclusion industries with grass roots projects - and use methods like social network mapping and analysis to join up both resources and people?
This is the first of a series of articles to explore those issues. It is in draft at this stage, because I want to check in with people I mention in order to develop ideas more fully … but I hope it shows the way. Here's the opening narrative, with links at the end as well as in the text. David Wilcox
As mentioned in this post I'm doing some work with the Centre for Ageing Better on how digital technology can help us enjoy a good later life - building on earlier work with Drew Mackie and the Age Action Alliance. While technology can offer many direct personal benefits, there are additional benefits if we think about the way that tech, together with other communication method, can help us maintain and build relationships. Those relationships may be with friends and family, with services and activities in our community, or anywhere in the world if we are using the Internet. The Net is about networks. There’s certainly no doubt about the importance of relationships and connections, or lack of them. The launch report for the Centre, from IpsosMORI, says that social relationships are as important as money and health for a good later life. The Campaign for Loneliness says that lacking social relationships is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. A report on Ageing in the UK for the Big Lottery Fund highlights the role of technology, blended with other methods, in combating loneliness and recommends BLF should take advantage, wherever possible, to integrate technology into projects that support older people. We have http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/campaigns/end-loneliness-in/Abouta wealth of ideas from the Campaign on Loneliness and Age UK on addressing loneliness, and from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on local action to build connections . The Local Government Association Ageing Well programme detailed how to make the most of local assets. How networking mapping can help However, what's generally missing from reports and how-guides are practical ways to explore and understand the nature of personal and community connections. That involves thinking about networks - as this set of slides from my colleague Drew Mackie shows. He writes in this much longer article about networks: > Networks are a way of looking at things. They are a useful perspective for understanding and influencing how organisations and individuals interact. The process of ageing can be viewed in terms of changing network patterns as we move through life. The growth or loss of connections depends on many factors - health, employment, mobility, education, recreation, procreation and so on. Connections are formed and broken as we age and the patterns at different life stages influence our opportunities. > The diagrams that follow indicate the process. Of course, a real individual will display different patterns based on family circumstance, local context, economic status and culture. Real life’s patterns will be more complex and varied. The patterns shown indicate the principle.
> Figure 1 above shows the networks that might surround a child of pre-school age - parents, various relatives, friends at a nursery and various health professionals. In Figure 2, the child is going to primary school and is developing friends and interests there. The number of immediate connections and further network connections is expanding.
> Figures 3 and 4 show the expansion of contacts and links as the the subject moves to secondary school and then into early adulthood. Some of the original contacts and links disappear through death (grandparents), become weaker as people move away (Aunts Uncles / Cousins) but generally the pattern changes through the relationship with a partner and the birth of children. Work becomes a focus of interest and friendship
> In Figure 5 some connections disappear through death or the drifting away that happens in any family. However, grandchildren appear and new relationships are forged with the family of a partner. Interests will change as some of the early enthusiasms for active sport that requires fitness (running, football?) become difficult to maintain and more leisurely pursuits emerge (yoga, walking?). > In Figure 6, many of the earlier relationships have disappeared and those that remain become weakened (dotted lines). The collapse of one relationship - going to a club, say because of lack of mobility - leads to weakening relationships with friends which in turn can affect interactions with other interests. at this stage in life, forming new friendships and interests becomes more difficult anyway (deafness?) and the tendency may be to replace these with passive interests (TV?). This analysis could be deepened through reference to the work by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation on Transitions in Later Life. Apart from their own insightful research and workshops, there's a really useful resource section on the blog. We've outlined a model, in Building Communities Using Maps, Apps and Storytelling, for thinking about local communities as social ecosystems, and looked for ways to put that in practice. There is an increasing interest in using network mapping and analysis in the evaluation of projects and programmes. Where increased connectivity is a goal or where we need to plot the shifting clusters of support groups and agencies, social network analysis (SNA) can provide quantitative and visual indicators of change. See this Guide to Network Evaluation for examples. Insights from Croydon Work that Drew and I have been doing with Croydon Voluntary Action, and Croydon Council, has given us further insights into ways that we could add social network mapping and the use of fictitious personas, to ideas for local action on loneliness, and developing personal networks. Our work there started by building on geographic mapping of local resources undertaken by Superhighways as part of the CVA Asset Based Community Development work.
The geographic maps show where local assets are located, together with information on what they offer. Working with local community builders, we then turned the information they were collecting - with more researched online - into maps showing relationships between asset-holding organisations. (The map is illustrative only at this stage, and does not necessarily reflect the full range and nature of local connections - that's why I've made it fuzzy).
We then explored the idea of asset mapping with the team working on Croydon's Best Start, an innovative programme to improve support for parents of under-fives. The aim is to integrate all services needed by parents, and develop improved pathways to advice, support and local activities. We introduced the idea of using fictitious personas, and network maps, to characterise families and show their local relationships.
At a series of workshops with parents and professionals we developed the personas, their networks, and then looked at how family maps could connect with local asset maps. That opens the way to trace the pathways to improved use of services.
During the workshop we asked people to show how the family's need for connections would change during early childhood. We could use exactly the same approach to explore, in workshops, how people's needs change during their later life, and how those needs might be met in part by stronger links to local resources. We developed some older personas in this session with Age UK London. I know that some at least of the local programmes being supported by the Big Lottery Fund in its £70 million programme Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better are undertaking local asset mapping. Here’s Bristol’s recruitment of volunteer community researchers and a workshop planned in Hackney shortly. Asset mapping is also in the plan for Ageing Better in Camden. I think that adding network mapping to asset mapping should help achieve the outcomes specified by BLF in a 2013 briefing document:
But why bother with the fictitious personas, you might ask? Why not just map assets and their connections, and then perhaps discuss in focus groups? The answer, in my mind, is that without understanding in detail the potential needs and interests of a wide range of older people - as detailed in the IpsosMORI report - you can’t design the mapping process. To do that properly you would need to profile the local population to understand who lives there, do some personas workshops, and involve older people in the design of the process. I'm going to call around some contacts to see if there is any interest in adding network mapping - not least because my colleague Drew Mackie is on the official support team for the BLF programme, and so well placed to help. Developing a pilot If we can get interest from an area that is already doing some mapping - whether part of the BLF programme or not - I think we could help develop a project that involved: Reviewing knowledge of older people in the area. How many people over, say, 55 and with what characteristics Running workshops using fictitious personas to gain insights into the issues that face older people. We could perhaps use as a basis the pen portraits developed by IpsosMORI, reflecting six clusters identified in their research * thriving boomers who are doing well on most fronts * downbeat boomers who are doing well but feel they have missed opportunities or could have done things differently * can do and connected who are less well off, face challenges, but have a positive attitude and good connections * worried and disconnected who face health and other challenges and don’t have connections to support them * squeezed middle aged who are typically in good health, and in work, but squeezed for time through caring for children and ageing parents * struggling and alone who are the worst off, with poor health and low incomes Offering a demonstration of Kumu.io - the network mapping software that we are using. After an initial demonstration a number of people have gone away and enthusiastically drawn their own maps. It is free to use if your map is public, or $9 a month for private maps . There are now a group of Kumu User Buddies in Croydon. Reviewing any existing local maps or directories to see what range of assets could be relevant to the personas - and their real counterparts. Adding network mapping to the local resource mapping, and then working through in more detail how a blend of tech and non-tech methods could help build relationships between people, organisations and activities. Connecting with national resources In working with local groups - and with national organisations - it has struck me how little grassroots people know about research, innovations and resources developed nationally … and how little national organisations know about great work being done locally. The symposium organised a year ago by SEEFA highlighted the issues. As well as thinking about how to release and connect local resources, and nurture the local ecosystem,we need to think about how we can do more to grow connections nationally, and in the national to local ecosystem. Fortunately the Age Action Alliance, with a membership of some 850 organisations, is interested in how to achieve that. Drew and I have worked with the two most relevant Alliance groups, digital inclusion and social isolation and loneliness. The groups and group leaders Nigel Lewis and Shelagh Marshall - together with staff from the Department for Work and Pensions - made an enormous contribution to our work in Living Well in the Digital Age. We ran a joint workshop with them and the Department for Communities and Local Government to confirm the value of our approach. The groups are interested in network mapping, and we did some simple demonstrations at meetings last year. If we develop the outline of a local pilot we could map the enormous range of expertise and assets within the Alliance to see where we could build supportive connections to local groups. One way to bridge national and local would be to identify the challenges facing people and projects, and map ideas for action as we demonstrated here. We could then look at who was interested in which ideas, and what resources they might offer. This could help locally, and also develop cooperation within the Alliance. I’ll develop these in more detail in further articles. The ideas here are just my own and Drew's at this stage, although I hope they may appeal to the Centre, the Alliance, and others. Contact us here