#DigitalParticipation… it all comes down to community building in the end!

Just returned from the fantastic Tinder Foundation event to celebrate the first year of the NHS Digital Participation programme and launch the findings report which has its own micro site http://nhs.tinderfoundation.org/

They achieved some astounding results in a very short period of time, contracted in September 2013 they have exceeded all their targets of reaching 100,000 people, training 50,000 people to use online resources and supporting 1,000 volunteers with 80% of people trained being socially excluded.

This work is set against the backdrop of 11 million people in the uk ‘lacking in digital skills’, 6.7 million of which have never used the internet.

The problem, as (NHS Programme Director for Widening Digital Participation) Bob Gann said today, is that the people who are most digitally excluded are also likely to have the lowest health literacy, a double whammy.

This is a world where there is a rapidly evolving and growing industry forming around digital health: self trackers, community platforms, electronic health records and 97,000 health apps, not to mention that it is estimated that it costs £560 more a year when you do not shop/pay bills online (21st century challenges)

Without collective and concentrated effort digital health will significantly increase health inequalities with the ‘have nots’, not having the same information, access to like-minded communities, ‘say’ in how services are running, or choice of goods and services.

This is a really important health and well-being agenda from the obvious information perspective but also potentially the tackling the social determinants of health of social capital and poverty.

What I really appreciated about the approach the Tinder Foundation have taken is that they reached out and collaborated with community organisations, e.g. Heeley Development Trust and the Bromley by Bow Centre. This to me is the essence of the success and the future sustainability for a number of reasons.

Firstly, these community organisations already have existing relationships with their communities and often the local health infrastructure. They are experienced in connecting, developing and supporting citizens and communities to take individual and collective action to improve their quality of life. They understand the local nuances, speak the languages and are trusted.

Secondly, ‘digital participation’ might help the system in terms of increasing efficiency, reducing costs and I believe it also helps people in terms of helping improve our knowledge, connections and confidence to take control of our health, we need to consider the potential unintended consequences. It might also serve to break down connections, fragment and dis-empower individuals and communities. We could enhance loneliness and isolation which we all know from recent published evidence has a devastating impact on our health see http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/ for more info on that)

Finally, it occurred to me today that we used language of deficit, ‘hard to reach’, socially excluded, most deprived. John McKnight from http://www.abcdinstitute.org/ has something to say on this. After many studies, he and colleagues concluded that this deficit model of viewing communities distorted the truth, in fact there were also many assets, hidden treasures and great resilience within these negatively labelled communities. What asset based community development does in essence is help us to understand why and how we can connect citizens and communities to once again become producers not consumers of the development of thriving communities.

So my takeaway from this event was that we need to ensure that offline community building is inextricably linked to efforts to increase digital participation. Taking this a step further, I was left wondering how might digital participation and asset based community development work together to reach further into communities and facilitate the unleashing of the incredible potential and assets we already have in our communities!

So congratulations Tinder Foundation and all your fabulous community partners, you have laid the foundations for something really important and special. Good luck for the year ahead!


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