Digital technology and care – how do we promote more connected thinking?

The care my parents received in later life was important to me, my family and our friends.I know how much they would have enjoyed finding out about and using digital technology!

I was reminded of this when reading over 65 papers produced by more than 30 organisations exploring ageing, innovation, digital technology and access to information and resources. There is so much potential for digital technology to enable people to make new connections, contribute to person-centred support, develop community networks and new models of care so an obvious question is what is stopping more widespread adoption?

There is no shortage of innovations in digital technology and millions of pounds are being spent supporting further developments. It is less clear about the application, impact and usage of these innovations. One problem is the limited awareness in the sector and amongst the public about what is available and it’s value. I believe that a big deficit is the lack of a strategic approach to embedding digital technology in the range of options to support people to live more fulfilling lives. Most days I am answering questions about suitable technology products and services.(Sadly this is  not a service I am funded to provide so inevitably help is limited by my availability). A major reason why I produced the Click Guide to Digital Technology for Adult Social Care is to forge connections across a seemingly disparate sector which ranges from entrepreneurs, practitioners,  commissioners and self funding customers.

I welcome the Ageing and Innovation programme being developed by Nesta with a focus on innovating across our social institutions. The Living Map of Ageing Innovations highlights many interesting innovations.  #5hrsaday

Sharpening the Care Diamond by Matthew Taylor Chief Executive of the RSA  explores society’s capacity for providing care which comprises the market, the state, close family and the wider community.

David Wilcox and his team have been asking challenging questions in the Nominet Trust exploration  into using technology later in life “We know lots about innovation, digital tech & #socialcare now who will make it useful?” #dtlater

I recommend reading the inspiring approach developed by the Asset Based Community Development  Institute which focus on developing new ideas and strategies which are not needs based and funding-led, but instead use assets more effectively and promote citizen led initiatives. A recent discussion with Cormac Russell a faculty member of the ABCD Institute confirmed the importance of supporting  communities to actively engage in a democratic and inclusive way in co-producing stronger, safer and healthier neighbourhoods.

It is definitely worth following the Kings Fund Time to Think Differently programme aimed at stimulating debate about the changes needed for the NHS and social care to meet the challenges of the future. Excellent infographics and an analysis of future trends. #kfthink

These and many other initiatives are ensuring that technology acts as an enabler; exploring how community support can be developed;  promoting the user perspective in developing technologies and enabling people to live well with long term conditions. But I am most aware that there is a real need to encourage more strategic thinking which promotes collaboration and connected strategies. It is also essential that we can provide evidence of impact and outcomes in the use of digital technology. There are a lot of sceptics to be convinced! Individuals and organisations  need to have confidence in the products and services being provided by digital technology. Whilst many health technologies are possibly over evaluated much of the digital technology being developed for care is under evaluated.

I am concerned about potential duplication with the number of age and innovation projects currently underway. There does seem to be a lack of collaboration amongst organisations, researchers and innovators. How can we encourage the sharing of resources in ways that are discoverable for people requiring care and support, their family and friends and service commissioners?

There are a number of challenges. The care sector is complex and fragmented with a seemingly narrow focus on residential and home care. For me wellbeing comprises all of the services which make each of us feel safe, secure and supported in our community whatever our age or personal circumstances. I really hope the Health and Wellbeing Boards will be a catalyst for connecting key players in local communities  which includes  social services, health, housing, education, leisure services, the police, economic regeneration, charities and social enterprises , private providers and of course the purchasers and recipients of services.

We need to think differently  about how care is provided and there is a critical role for community development in  identifying and supporting  community builders and connectors  who may not be involved with any of the organisations represented on the Health and Wellbeing Boards.

In my paper for the Nominet Trust “Can online innovations enhance social care?” I suggest we explore the potential for developing a Community Wellbeing and Social Technology Innovation Hub. There are many organisations thinking about how care can be delivered more effectively with a focus on the needs and aspirations of the individual requiring support. I believe we need to develop a coherent and independent voice which will facilitate connections and challenge silo thinking amongst the hundreds of potentially competing stakeholders with an interest in this area. Mapping networks and community hubs would be a good start. We also urgently need to create a better shared understanding of technology innovations, the benefits and the limitations.

Just imagine if there was one trusted source where you could access the latest information about care and support innovations, get advice about selecting hardware and choosing apps, find support to get and stay online and understand which organisations are funding, researching and promoting digital technology across the wider care sector.

The way forward?

Convene a roundtable for all the funders of digital technology to explore   collaboration, sharing practice and a common approach to evaluating and promoting the outcomes and impacts of their investment.

Provide signposts which enable care recipients, their families and carers to find out what technology products and services are available, both through statutory services or to purchase independently.

Create, promote and participate in events that showcase innovations in care which could be adopted by local authorities, the NHS and housing providers.

Map all of the digital community hubs (however defined) which are available to ensure that people have access to local resources.  This would also identify areas where there is currently no support available.

Benchmark levels of awareness about technology innovations across the care sector and work with key players to promote and share the benefits of innovation.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas here or through Twitter @shirleyayres using the hashtag #deukcare


12 responses to “Digital technology and care – how do we promote more connected thinking?

  1. Richard Haynes

    Shirley, the analogy I often use in my presentations and discussions with organisations trying to convince sceptics is the story about the Walkman and the shopping trolley. People thought both of those inventions were crazy and would never take off including the media.

    In both cases the I put the csf down to both inventors had paid ‘actors’ in malls to use these new wacky products: personal music players and shopping trolleys.

    Shopping trolley: “The public didn’t readily take to this invention, however, so Goldman, in a move that may have been even more ingenious than the invention itself, hired fake shoppers to walk around using the carts. The publicity paid off, and by 1940, Goldman’s patented basket carrier was a popular item in grocery stores from coast to coast.”

    I am working on a ‘disruptive’ project along these lines if you would like to discuss?

    • Richard, I think you have hit on something really important here. That is the “visibility” of new technology use. One of the things I think the Our Digital Planet ( project has done is “normalise” internet use by putting it right in the eyeline of lots of people who don’t normally use it. We actually had people who came into the Internet Station just to look at people using computers, because they had never seen it before. I have used my laptop and iPad in places, including supermarket cafes, country pubs and parks, where people obviously don’t usually see people doing such things, and have attracted attention as a result.

      People need to see other people like them using new technologies before they will accept it is possible for them.

  2. Thanks Shirley for the mention, and helping move things forward with an outline plan. I do hope we can find a convenor.
    I think we need action at two ends … or parts of the social ecology. More joining up at the level you indicate, and then also the visibility and usefulness that John highlights.
    Getting agencies and organisations who may be competing for funding and recognition is notoriously difficult, so it will be a big help if we can drive things from the user/consumer end too.

  3. Excellent blog! Really timely too!

  4. Pingback: Link roundup | Kind of Digital

  5. Shirley

    Thanks for the blog, and I would offer some thoughts

    a) An assets based approach means individuals must acquire a digital identity. If they are to be at the centre, individuals need to be able to prove who they are, and to have the means to be trusted participants on the net.

    b) The second step is then to move our data, currently locked away in the NHS and the Local Authority, and the Charity and many other places and give it back to the individual to keep and use. Then individuals have the means to share personal information with multiple service providers + vendors, and the individual becomes the instrument of health & social care integration.

    Without an identity, and without data, individuals cannot operate equally. User led communities are presently denied equal participation. The data is all on the wrong side e.g. locked away in the GP’s computer.

    So the individual is alienated, and less likely to take part in their healthcare, or their well-being.

    Visibility, usefulness and devices can coalesce around the data, and the flows if we all work on this. Has John ever used his tablet in a GP surgery ?


  6. Pingback: How to organise ideas about digital tech in later life: invent some characters and tell their stories | socialreporters

  7. Paul Taylor

    Great post and superb resources as usual Shirley. The comment from @alexstobart has above articulated brilliantly the shift that needs to be made – I agree completely. I fully support your thoughts on the way forward. The idea of an Innovation Showcase which makes it easy for providers to mainstream digital innovations is an important suggestion.

  8. I’ve posted further thoughts on how to develop a people-centred approach to integration, that I think chimes with other comments: invent some characters, tell some stories, map the innovations onto the challenges that arise.

  9. Shirley,

    Thought provoking blog!

    One of the most frustrating things that I have found is that a lot of dismissive talk appears when digital and certain age groups are mentioned in the same sentence. I was at a meeting the other when FB was being discussed (as an information spreading mechanism) and it was dismissed out of hand by an older member of the group as that’s ‘something the young can get on with not the old’.

    I think more work has to be done on the ground to make ‘digital’ less scary and less hip so that the ‘old’ can engage with it too.

    Better signposting for apps, more apps freely available on a trial basis might help too.

    Perhaps this is an area where the information professionals (ie librarians) can get in on the act too – be able to source and access information about apps / equipment etc.

  10. Ways to work around this thought that it is all too much for people?

    Terminology – don’t talk about technology or technicalities when introducing a tool to someone. Personally, I hate using the terms IT / ICT / even digital is beginning to irritate now. I view them as words that don’t really describe what people are doing – they’re communicating, recording, writing, creating art etcetra etcetera. Technology seems harsh, complicated, modern…

    If people feel they have to understand what is happening behind the screen as it were then they will be stumped. An analogy from my own learning experience: I did a Diploma in GP practice Management and part of that was simple book keeping / accounting. The tutor taught us this formula (can’t even remember what it was it was calculating) for one of the calculations. A few people on the course (me included) wrote it down and started to apply it – it was the tool that was required to do the job. The rest of the group looked stumped and wrinkled up their faces and said eh? How does that work? For the rest of the session the tutor tried to get over that it was how the math worked and they’d need a degree to understand it, while the few that understood that it was just a tool sat back after completing our work on that module for the day.

    I have friends who can talk for ever and a day about the differences between Vista, & XP and now windows 8 – all I want to know is which icon do I click to get tweetdeck up and running…

    Work on demystifying these tools, make them seem ordinary and straightforward and part of everyday life. Visible. Convince people they can’t blow a computer by switching them on. Make sure there is free or very cheap, readily accessible community support packages. Make sure there is a critical mass of people using it around the locality and that the tool dovetails neatly into apps used by others.

    Hope that sets off a debate!

  11. Reblogged this on MOBILE SOCIAL WORK and commented:
    Join Shirley Ayres – seasoned social care advocate and media maven – and her ideas on digital technology and care as she imagines “…if there was one trusted source where you could access the latest information about care and support innovations, get advice about selecting hardware and choosing apps, find support to get and stay online and understand which organisations are funding, researching and promoting digital technology across the wider care sector.”

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