Inventing some representative characters, and telling stories about their lives, together with software to map social networks, can help address the challenges of social isolation in later life. Work on the social and professional connections needed by young families offers a model that can be adapted to work with older people, and contribute to outcomes for local ageing better programmes. David Wilcox
Recently Drew Mackie and I have been helping volunteers and professionals in Croydon to co-design an ambitious Best Start system that will provide integrated support to families with young children. I believe the approach has much wider application.
In Croydon, we've run workshops to invent pen portraits of parents, and tell the story of what support and services they will need in the first five years of a child. As part of that, participants drew maps of the social and professional connections families would need
We’ve also used information collected by community builders and connectors, working on asset-based community development with Croydon Voluntary Action, to build network maps of local organisations and agencies, using Kumu mapping software. The maps show who works with who, and what expertise and other assets they have. Then we’ve looked at how to connect family networks and support networks.
As I mentioned here, I’ve also been working with the Centre for Ageing Better ** on how digital technology and network building can help ensure a good later life.
It’s now time for some inter-generation cross-fertilisation. The issues are similar at both ends of the age scale.
At a personal level, parents and older people are faced with major changes in their lives … some sudden, some spread over years. Parents need to build new relationships with professionals, strengthen those with family, share experience with other parents. Older people need to cope with the loss of friends and family, through death or other circumstances, discover new interests, ensure they have social and professional support.
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.
At a policy level, there’s pressure on public services to do more with less - and so make the most of the local assets we have. That’s why there’s increased interest in mapping local organisations, activities and other resources.
Croydon Voluntary Action and Croydon Council recognise that creating a directory of assets, or geographic maps showing organisations and assets, isn’t enough. What's also important is how organisations connect and work with each other to serve citizens, and how citizens connect with each other, and with services. We need to look at the system, and how the parts connect - or don’t.
From work I’ve done with Drew, and the Age Action Alliance, on Living Well in the Digital Age, I’m convinced that the lessons from Croydon can be applied to projects that are mapping local assets for older people. We’ve developed a model for Building Communities Using Maps, Apps and Storytelling, and run a number of workshops to test it, including one with both the Alliance and Department for Communities and Local Government.
The most obvious testbeds for these ideas would be local programmes, supported by the Big Lottery Fund in its £70 million programme Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better, that are already undertaking local asset mapping. Here, for example, is 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 invented 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 persona 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 if local projects request that.
I’ve developed the mapping ideas in more detail here with lots of links. At this stage these are just my own and Drew’s ideas - although I’m hopeful they will interest staff and trustees at the Centre for Ageing Better, which is also supported by the Big Lottery Fund.
A report last year on Ageing in the UK for the 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 - so there may be scope for joining up there too.