This blog by Alice Casey, Senior Development Manager at Nesta, was originally published on the Nesta blog and is republished here under a CC 4.0 License.
Throughout life everyone experiences ups and downs. There are moments where your life is full of good things - friends, family, good health, rewarding work and a stable loving home. When one aspect of this system is weakened or pressurised, you can gain support from the other areas. When two or more aspects go wrong at once, such as health issues leading to isolation or loss of confidence, then things can get far more difficult to manage and one problem may well lead to another.
In today’s complex world, families and friends are often dispersed - many live far away from loved ones or are working long hours and have caring commitments or money worries. If you are in this position then you will know that it is essential to find alternative ways of accessing and drawing on support and resources at difficult times and to do this quickly and easily before one issue impacts on other areas of your life.
Collaborative web platforms like Airbnb or Deliveroo have shown how the web can help people get access to things quickly and easily but many of these commercial platforms are focused on life’s optional extras, a holiday or a meal. We’re currently working with eight projects through the Nesta ShareLab Fund, backing people with ideas to take some of the thinking behind collaborative commercial platforms and apply them to social issues; aiming to help people find support and resources quickly and easily; and taking into account responsible business practices.
It is not as straightforward as picking up a commercial model and applying it directly to tackle a social issue without making any adjustments. We are already learning a great deal from the early stages of the ShareLab Fund in respect to this idea of transferable models. For example, Liftshare is currently looking at how the many and varied community transport providers in Norfolk can operate together more effectively to meet community needs and reduce social isolation, a major and growing issue as our population ages. Through user research they have already found that community transport users are looking for something more than simply getting from A to B quickly.
For example, some people enjoy the social aspects of the community-based service itself; it provides a way to be in touch with others on regular journeys each week and a volunteer community driver who has time for a chat and a laugh. It is important to ensure social benefits are preserved when trying to bring transport resources together for easier, more joined-up booking. However, there are also lessons to learn from commercial service platforms, for example, the ability to better control timings of the community services rather than just receive them as timetabled, the convenience of mobile access or being able to plan ahead by seeing online when certain services are running rather than calling up a central volunteer office during limited opening hours.
Not being able to get to places without relying on your loved ones to take you there is a big deal. If your family is far away or very busy with work and childcare or perhaps you’re in poor health and making lots of trips to hospital and GPs let alone social trips, then this matters even more to your connectedness, wellbeing and sense of independence. Improved community transport is a great example of how a very specific intervention in one seemingly small aspect of a person’s life can provide a helping hand that can take some of the pressure off an individual and their extended family.
Other ShareLab Fund projects that use a collaborative platform to help manage social or health issues include TrustonTap, which gives older people and their families more control over organising home care - directly linking carers with families. Another ShareLab project focused on a different pressure point in life is the Milk Donor App, which sources donor breastmilk from mothers in the community to nourish sick or premature babies in hospitals.
Platforms like these provide more than efficiency and they will need to factor in less tangible aspects such as motivation to volunteer, sense of community and social interaction that people value, as well as having the tech-enabled benefits of rapid and transparent access to resources for free or lower cost than traditional models. It is not a matter of naively transporting one model into another environment and switching it on.
At Nesta we want to learn more and to see more ideas for projects like these that help to support people in ways that work to help pressured families and dispersed support networks. They are certainly not the answer on their own but rather form parts of an evolving system of digital support that can help people manage during the tough times so they can enjoy more of the better times.