Four principles to enable social connection
29th June, 2021
We’ve been spending some time recently reflecting on range of initiatives that we’ve heard about through Community Makers. There seem to be four common factors which combine to make a successful service, regardless of its type, size or location.
Introducing the four Community Makers principles:
These are not hard and fast rules, but we hope these principles act as a guide to help community organisers and group leads build tech-enabled services which truly support people affected by dementia to connect with their communities.
Establishing trust between a user and supporter is essential to persuade people to engage in new digital products and services. This might be through a formalised outreach programme or informally through friends and neighbours. This is particularly important within minority communities built around a shared culture. Often, these relationships will begin offline.
For example, Chinese Wellbeing in Liverpool were able to draw on their long-time trusted position within the Chinese community to support older people to get online in order to prevent social isolation. Their community volunteers were able to remove potential language barriers and work with sensitivity to account for the stigma around mental health and illnesses which still exists.
Read more about how Chinese wellbeing supported people through coronavirus here.
People who are not familiar with, or afraid of, technology need a strong and clear reason to overcome their perceived barriers. Not everyone will want to join a singing group, for instance. This purpose is personal and unique to the individual. There is a role here for drawing on trusted relationships to establish what motivates each person.
For example, one member of Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Voice group explained how he was hesitant to use Zoom, but found a purpose in sharing his personal experience of dementia to drive change. Through joining the Zoom groups he made friends from across the UK who he wouldn’t have met otherwise.
“I was part of local dementia group with 3 other people. I have now been able to meet 100 people through Zoom groups”(person living with dementia)
Similarly, the Three Nations Dementia Working Group have been meeting regularly on Zoom for both professional and social meet-ups. Read more about their experiences here.
Technology needs to suit the individual in terms of flexibility, usability and alignment with their purpose. This should be considered for both hardware and software. Simply giving someone a device may not be enough, they need to enabled to use it physically and functionally. For example, we heard of a service user who had bad arthritis and could not operate the tablet until they were given a stylus to use with the touchscreen.
In one of our monthly meet-ups we heard from Alive Activities, who realised video calls are not for everyone, and so has been running groups using accessible teleconferencing software.
You can find out more about different tech options in our guides.
Once the technology is in place, and the person has been motivated and enabled to use it they can start to connect with others, helping them to feel less socially isolated and part of a community. This might involve re-connecting with people they fell out of touch with or joining entirely new groups. This sense of belonging motivates them to stay engaged, fostering new relationships, and deepening existing ones.
During lockdown Dementia Matters Here(fordshire) set up online Meeting Points based on the ethos of Meeting Centres for people affected by dementia. The charity started with a group for people with dementia and carers on a Wednesday afternoon and then swiftly expanded with a carers’ session on a Tuesday evening. New members were able to join the online groups and since restrictions have become more relaxed people they have started to meet face to face.
It is important to remember that as people try technology and gain new experiences, their perception of the opportunity will develop. For example, they may feel that they couldn’t cope with a group chat, only to find that they love listening to the conversation. Alternatively, a digital connection may open up a new hobby or interest shared with an old friend in another part of the world.
And so the cycle continues…
Four principles for a person-centred approach
We believe these four principles provide a useful way to think about how digital technologies can be made to fit the needs of the individual, rather than trying to fit the individual to the needs of the technology. Anyone developing a community, outreach programme, or even extending an arm to a neighbour should ensure they understand how all four principles apply to each individual in order to best support a person to set up a meaningful connection.