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Community 2.0 Web Hero ends isolation for elderly

I have been working closely with Kingston City Council since last year, assisting them in implementing Web
2.0, social media and mobile technologies to improve collaboration internally,
to cut costs and to engage and communicate more clearly with residents and
local businesses.

It is through this program that I met Belinda McDaid.

Belinda McDaid manages the Chelsea Community Renewal project. She also participates in the social media working group at Kingston. However Belinda
saw the potential of Web2.0 before we began our formal social media project. In
early 2010 she launched a programme called Access IT Seniors Project. Twenty
willing but nervous seniors from the Chelsea/Bonbeach area began their
transformation from “computer duffs” to “computer buffs”.

The program is a partnership with AccessCare Southern, Age & Disability Services, Kingston Libraries &
the Brotherhood of St Laurence and provides computer training and support for
isolated senior members of the community. Along with learning how to use
Skype, how to email, shop and pay bills online, these humble seniors have
become an online support crew for each other, and have even spoken to groups of
doubtful seniors about the benefits of being computer savvy! The program has
been hugely successful with the use of Skype in particular having a
huge impact on reducing the sense of isolation of this group of seniors.

Highlights have included:

  • Case management being done via Skype
  • One participant being a “virtual guest” at her niece’s wedding in Sussex,
  • Another catching up with a daughter and grandchildren who are travelling around Australia,
  • A participant using online design tutorials to create beautiful wooden furniture
  • And an 88 year old addressing meetings via skye.

It has been a wonderful achievement for a group of people who had a major challenge to find the “on” button less
than a year ago. We spoke to Belinda to find out more about the program. Please view the Youtube video and read the seperate text interview.

Hi Belinda, Give us a little background on yourself, your day to day work and tell us, are you technical?

I’ve worked in the community sector for over twenty years, mainly in homelessness with a
particular focus on people with complex needs. I’ve coordinated street outreach
programs in London & Australia. I returned to Australia
in 2007 after working in Ireland
on an EU Social Inclusion Initiative. This is an area of work I have always
been very passionate about and love to look at multiple avenues to reduce
social isolation.

My day to day role involves overseeing the Chelsea Community Renewal Local Action Plan,
this three year plan outlines the communities aspirations for the area. As
Manager, my role involved looking at ways to support project groups to achieve
their goals.

Incidentally we use the Zing electronic meeting system to consult with the community.

Am I technical? Definitely not but would love to say I am…I am however very interested in using
technology to make make my life easier.

How did you come up with the idea for this program and how did you get started?

Initially, we organised a community forum to invite people to give us their thoughts on
what they wanted for the area. However, I was particularly interested in
connecting to people in the community who couldn’t attend due to health or
transport issues.

So really the most obvious question was what if we tried to do something different, how
could IT assist?

I first met with Shona Callum from AccessCare
Southern, their service provides a range of case management serves for people
with care, and health issues. We began to write up a project model and later
invited the Brotherhood of St Laurence to participate as their client group
also fitted the profile.

Who supported the idea and funded the project?

I presented this model to the Project
Manager, Community Participation Programs at the Department of Planning and Community Development. We worked
together for over 12 month to ensure the model met everyones needs. We secured
the project funding as well as funding to have an external evaluation.

What were the challenges you had to overcome to get the program started?

The project was outside of most teams core work so this created some barriers, maybe there
was a feeling that it was just too hard and not realistic.

What was the initial reaction from the seniors community? Was it easy to get 20 people willing to be “guinea-pigs”?!

The partnership group decided to target 12 key clients from within their own
programs, the remaining 8 were selected from the Chelsea community renewal
area, a low key approach was taken to advertising the program, a poster was
placed at the Chelsea library, Kingston’s Age and Disability Service placed a
flyer in their newsletter. We really expected very few responses. However, we received just over 200! So we developed a rating system to select the
final 20, with higher points allocated to age, health issues, isolation and
location, this ensured we targeted the most vulnerable for the program.

Tell us what the major benefits you have seen for the residents aside from the ones mentioned above?

The major benefits and impact on residents was making social connections, the ability to
maintain connections with family and friends, and to see their grandchildren
using skype.

Participates really stepped up to the learning challenge and found the program really
stimulated their brains. The were using skills that hadn’t been used in years;
For example, a number of participants were typists in previous careers. Participants
also talked about getting a new level of respect from their family for
embracing IT. It was wonderful to see these people gain confidence and self

A lot of participants found some of the more practical functions of the computer really
useful, for example the calendar function, this really assisted those with memory

What are the major benefits for the council?

First and foremost I feel this is an area where we can be a leader.

Benefits include a face to face link to the community. Chelsea Community Renewal now has regular contact via skype
with participants. This will ensure that this group participate in the upcoming
community consultation in March. And of course the Skype option is free and
easy for the community to use.

This approach also offers an alternative to case management. There is
also the potential to change/ adapt current case management services to
facilitate clients shopping, bill paying and banking online.

The technology provides the ability to offer supervision and peer support to offsite staff and
offsite staff can participate remotely in meetings using Skype.

There are many training opportunities also, using Skype we can access overseas expertise.

In your opinion why don’t we see more initiatives like this around Australia?

I think it’s just about the timing and getting some initiatives up to highlight the potential benefits. As other communities
hear about our initiative they will adapt these technologies themselves.

What advice would you have for people working in local government who have ideas on how to use web technologies to
deliver a better service?

Don’t give up and keep talking to potential partners, internally and externally. Sometimes
it takes a number of attempts. However lots
of people are really keen and interested
in these new and innovative approached so find those people and you can start
to make things happen.

And finally, how do you see the program developing over the coming year?

We are currently working on a model which would look at training 300 seniors to support their e-learning and transition
into participating in the digital world. However, this time we are looking to
incorporate the business community. We have identified significant areas where
IT skills are an issue.

So if there’s any potential funds, partners of any description out there we’d welcome a chat.

Thanks Belinda and Good luck with the new model!

*The word HERO has been used in association with web 2.0 for a few years now. I first came across it as the title of Bradley L. Jones’ book “Web 2.0 Heros: Interviews with 20 Web 2.0 Influencers” More recently Josh Bernoff has used it in his book “Empowered” where HEROs are “High Empowered Resourceful Operatives”. I tend to favour Bernoff’s approach which veers towards how non-technical people use web 2.0 technology.

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