Creating a village – digitally?
I was in lovely town Pitlochry recently and needed my watch strap adjusted. I assumed I would need a ‘jeweller’ to do that and so popped into the only jewellers in the high street. I was disappointed to hear that they couldn’t help, however, they did tell me that the person in the leather shop round the corner would probably do it for me!! Within 10 mins, my watch strap was sorted – FREE of charge!
Could it be possible to recreate the village mentality across a large Local Authority, where those who connect with people needing help can say, ‘ I can’t do it, but Jim down the road can’.
Let me give you an example. Isolation is a killer! We will not resolve the ‘social costs’ of isolation through service provision and so we need to build people into community. Not always, but in more ways than we sometimes realise, community is happening all around us, but because there is no ‘village square’ and connection can be hard to find. The carer who supports Jasbir, an isolated older person, with personal care, but also connects her to the volunteers who visit or take her out for a coffee, brings community to Jasbir’s door. Jasbir chooses how much/little she wants to engage – but she has the opportunity to connect!
That’s the goal of CommunityConnect. Creating a village square – digitally. Ensuring anyone who connects with someone in need can say, ‘I can’t, but I know who can’. For those who can get to ‘the village square’ – they just need to tell us what’s going on and we can direct them to relevant support for their situation, even if they don’t know what help is available – bit like my watch strap experience!
The day of joined up services, may happen, but in the meantime I’m on a crusade! In this exciting and radical digital age – we can join up information making sure we all know how to get the support we need. The village square in a large City is becoming a reality.
Don’t Map Your Local Providers!!
What? I can hear the cries “How can we join up our services, provide good signposts, establish better partnership and understand our communities, if we don’t map the good work that is happening?”
The mapping of service provision has become a standard activity in local authorities. Audits done by 2nd tier organisations across the voluntary & faith sector have contributed greatly, uncovering important activity largely unknown to Local Authority officers.
But such mapping exercises take a lot of time and effort. The output is a snapshot of endeavour and somewhat short of a useful tool. In addition, provision is varied, some aren’t open daily, some don’t answer the phone and others don’t satisfy safeguarding procedures.
Following more than 20 years of community development experience we at CommunityConnect, are taking a different approach. Our drive is to ensure that people needing help can get it easily using our online process. It informs people about what type of help is available to them and what organisations locally can support them. If they can’t get hold of those organisations easily – then we’ve just developed another gap. So………….
We don’t try to map every single service or activity that is being offered in the local authority.
We invest time understanding the local area, find the key providers and build a connection with those organisations. We then validate their service information and keep the essential details accurate through our monthly update phone calls. We are not attempting to list the 500 VCS organisations who are registered in an area, we focus on the core 150ish providers who have an administrative base and can answer the phone to us! If you can’t answer the phone to us, you won’t answer it to a vulnerable person.
If an organisation doesn’t answer the phone 3 times in a row – we draft the listing until we can make contact. If we can’t – we remove them from the list. New providers contact us or we find them through our connection with listed providers and we quickly get them on the system.
We recognise that other activities and support provided by smaller organisations is also vital, especially groups and networks. We make sure we ‘plug in’ information available, where possible, through other sources about these activities so people can access those too.
The difference we make. Local Authorities don’t have to spend many months mapping and recording information of highly variable quality that goes out of date. We take the pain out of mapping and our flexible, dynamic system means we can add, remove and improve our information on an ongoing basis.
Reducing the gaps is our goal – cross sector up-to-date information is now possible!
Pursuit of the Holy Grail
What ‘Holy Grail’? Well for anyone working in communities it’s ‘joined up provision’.
We long to see it, we moan it’s not there, we cajole one another for change, we develop databases (spending lots of money). We even try talking to one another!
Yet for the 20 something years I have been working in communities, we never seem to quite achieve what’s needed. Well, not for long anyway.
Maybe because it’s no-one’s actual world, more a series of interconnecting circles that we are all part of but none of us own. Maybe it’s just human nature that we work in silos, only looking over the wall when we need to and so we’re not committed to the time it takes to keeping the connections. Maybe we’re all just too busy and under-resourced!
Could it be that this Holy Grail is unattainable or are we all just a bit scared that we might have to accept that we’re not the only support around? I’m sure that couldn’t be true, yet every time I have set up a new programme or service, it has quickly developed into a more ‘rounded’ provision. ‘People need more than one thing,’ I cry. ‘People come to us cos they feel safe, they might not go elsewhere’. So the ESOL trainer, starts to help people with housing issues, welfare benefits etc.
Could it be we actually quite enjoy our growing knowledge that we can share and help people with? Are we willing to recognise the expertise and knowledge in another organisation might be better than ours?!
Yet – what if, there was a tool that enabled people to genuinely find out the answers themselves, maybe with assistance initially and in the ‘digital by design’ world, it became easier to get to the right person for the right service.
That’s the road we’ve taken – a journey of mapping services, building pathways, overcoming technical disasters and changing behaviours to see if we can be the first to truly discover the Holy Grail. Follow us on our pursuit….[and start with the short animation on this page]