The RSA’s Social Mirror project was featured on BBC points west yesterday. Footage will be available online until 7pm tonight, and our slot starts around the 18 minute and 50 sec mark.
Social Mirror is a way of operationalising network analysis and wellbeing science to make tangible differences to peoples’ lives. In the Social Mirror: Community Prescriptions project, people waiting to see GPs in Knowle West, Bristol, are asked to complete a short questionnaire via an app on a tablet computer and are then given a ‘social prescription’. This directs them to community activities or groups such as coffee mornings, sports classes or local history clubs – instead of being prescribed drugs or other health interventions. It’s essentially a bit like an automatic magazine quiz: you answer questions and, if you need it, Social Mirror can issue you with local ‘community prescriptions’ based on your interest: from a walking group to a photography class.
In the BBC Points West video I explain why Social Mirror is important, and why our human and community-based approach to health and social care demand management is so necessary and timely.
“We know that social isolation can be as bad for you as smoking, with effects ranging from depression to cardiovascular disease. It’s often very small changes that make big differences in our lives; and Social Mirror is that first step from being alone or feeling that you are not doing great things in your life, to feeling part of your community”
From small acorns, great oaks. What has been described by Radio 4’s Giles Fraser as a ‘small local project’ is one participants have claimed has made their ‘life is worth living’. One participant who was given a prescription for a walking group has never looked back. He says:
“It has changed my life. I would recommend it to anyone. I wasn’t doing anything; I’d been a recluse and for three days a week I wouldn’t go out of the flat and the weight was piling on. I’ve now lost a stone and I can talk to people quite freely which I couldn’t before.”
The benefits are also being felt by local activities. Mary Hall runs a lip-reading group at Knowle West Health Park for those with hearing loss. She has had referrals from Social Mirror and says her group really benefits those who attend. She explains:
“They come and meet other people like themselves and compare notes to their heart’s content – it’s much less isolating for them. I reckon I keep people out of doctors’ surgeries because of depression. They come once a week and we are like a family here.”
As I have said elsewhere, my hope is that one day Social Mirror and other community approaches that change social relations to transform economic and community potential will be available for all. For now, fingers crossed!
Filed under: Arts and Society, Design and Society, Social Economy
The first ever unMonastery launched this month in the city of Matera, in Southern Italy. Doing something new is messy. The path is unclear, doubt is a killer, and it’s somehow never easier to quit than when you are on the verge of something real.
2014 could be the year of unMonastery, and my mission, gladly accepted, is to help shape evaluation models and metrics that help us understand what it is and if it is working.
UnMonastery is place-based social innovation that throws a group of people into one place – currently Matera – and sees what happens. It takes issues facing the whole of Europe – youth unemployment, mismatched skills, brain drain to major cities, under-utilised buildings, depleted public resources –and offers up a secular, 21st century version of the monastery. People with skills and projects to offer are housed, fed and work out of a building that would be otherwise left empty.
Best suited to areas suffering brain drain and a lack of home-grown opportunities, the ‘unMonasterians’ are tasked with working with people from the local area to develop locally specific projects that respond to local needs and assets. For me the key question will be measuring whether the project is one that both preserves the sanity of its protagonists, and can be mapped to really engage with and become embedded in its local area. Without the wellbeing of those working in it, it becomes a workhouse, without local embeddedness it becomes a fun working holiday for some super-skilled Europeans.
The Matera unMonastery is situated in the ‘Sassi’ of Matera, a ridiculously picturesque setting in the labyrinthine ancient part of the city, where, since the troglodyte era, houses have been built into the local ‘tufo’,a calcarenitic rock that comes from marine sediments. Whilst fantastic, this setting will actually prove to be one of the first challenges for the unMonastery: Matera, the people, is not Matera, the beautiful and touristy Sassi.
The Matera unMonasterians were selected through an international open call in which people were encouraged to apply for residencies in Matera with projects that responded to local needs and interests, as had been set out following a series of co-production workshops. The final team comprises of projects that take us from building functional solar-panel trackers with local young people, to setting up water-filtering systems for urban farming. The skill-set of the unMonasterians spans coders, graphic designers, illustrators, engineers, social scientists, artists. Over the next four months their projects will focus both on Matera, and on unMonastery as a venture in its own right. UnMonastery favours total, brutal, transparency: you will able to follow its progress, with everything from project plan updates to budgets available online. If at all curious, you can meet the team and ask many questions today (!) from 10am UK-time, by following the hasthtag #unmon on twitter.
Progress so far?
Due to the iterative nature of building unMonastery, it was always hard to know what it would end up being. Born as an idea in the first EdgeRyders conference in Strasbourg, it only became real when Matera – currently a candidate for European City of Culture 2019 – stepped up as a host and funder. First Materans shaped unMonstery in their understanding of what Matera’s assets, resources and needs were; then the unMonastery applicants shaped unMonasery through the projects they proposed. And now, Matera and unMonasterians – sometimes the same thing – will shape each other.
So, how will we know if it is working?
Without the wellbeing of those working in it, #unMonastery becomes a workhouse; without local embeddedness it becomes a fun working holiday for some super-skilled Europeans
The job of the unMonasterians is now to work hard and be nice to each other – not too light a request when living and working in the same space as up to ten people for up to four months.
Using metrics developed in the RSA’s Connected Communities work, I am helping them develop ways of measuring how things are going, inside and out.
1. How are you? Social change is messy, and burn-out is often the cost. The unMonasterians will be asked to measure their levels of wellbeing, and make sure they have routines that allow for some version of the five ways to wellbeing and proper sleep.
2. Do you feel part of a community? RSA Connected Communities work has really highlighted the importance of feeling part of a community, of feeling accepted where you are.
3. Do you feel supported? It is important to know that you can go to others when you need, and our social connections are often the first thing to suffer when we move around. Even for those who live in Matera full-time, their new focus could disrupt those social connections that currently help them feel well.
4. How are you and your project linking in to the local area? This is the big mama of the questions. Even if our unMonasterians are happy, bright eyed and bushy tailed, without real local engagement unMonastery is a spring-break, not a new way of working. Using social network analysis, and possibly linking to unMonasterian Lucia‘s walking ethnographies, we will be tracking who the unMonasterians are working with, how this changes, and if this goes beyond the existing contacts of our contacts. Everywhere is a bubble: a key question will be whether we can burst ours.
2014 could be the year of the unMonastery, and unMonastery could be the start of something really excellant. Please do follow unMonastery on twitter, keep up to date with what they are doing here, and join them for an online twitterstorm at 10am today!
— Edgeryders (@edgeryders) February 8, 2014
Gaia Marcus is a Senior Researcher on the RSA Connected Communities project.
You can find her on twitter: @la_gaia
The fabulous poster images are all by Anthony Burrill.
“It’s almost as if there is this magic bullet that we all know about but [that is hard to] implement in public policy … the people around you completely condition how well you do in life, what you end up doing and how well you are feeling”
On Saturday I was invited to speak to BBC Radio Bristol’s Dr Phil Hammond about the Social Mirror project we are currently piloting in Knowle West, Bristol, with our local partner, the Knowle west Media Centre. Social Mirror is a project in which people waiting in their GP’s surgery are invited to carry out a short survey on a tablet computer that ‘diagnoses’ their levels of wellbeing and personal connectivity, and that can suggest local community prescriptions if there is a need. These community prescriptions can be anything from walking groups to Tai Chi to Woodworking.
Not for the first time, I was asked why the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce would “be doing good work like this” quite so close to the coal face, and quite so practically. It is easy to think that hyper-local projects might be too ‘small’ to be of interest to an organisation with such international reach, but it is only through trialling out our innovations in the real world that we can allow them to take real roots.
As Adam Lent – the RSA’s Action and Research Centre Director – laid out yesterday, the RSA has hoisted a new flag: the power to Create. Adding a new ending to the French enlightenment refrain - Liberté, Fraternité! Egalité! Créativité! – our interest in the power to create helps explain why an organisation such as the RSA might be interested in connecting isolated people in Bristol to activities in their area. As I explained to Doctor Hammond, social connections – who we know, who we rely on, who we get our information from – are almost the magic bullet; a friendly elephant in the room that no-one quite knows how to operate.
The truth is that who you know massively influences who end up being, just as you influence all those around you. In our research with 3000 people in deprived areas in England, we found that people‘s social connections affected their life satisfaction and sense that what did they did in life was worthwhile. Indeed, those people who did not have people they felt close to or who did not have people that might give them small-scale, practical help or that did not have any connections in the local area, had both life satisfaction and feelings of life being worthwhile that were lower in statistically significant ways, independently of other factors. For groups that might generally be at a wellbeing risk, for example older people or single parents, we often found that social support seemed a determining factor in their subjective wellbeing being either very positive or very negative.
If we are to open up the power to create – the ability to ‘act in ways that are unique to [your] own capacities or vision’ [in a] unique, pro-active and self-determined nature’ – then we need to start paying serious consideration to the effect of an individual’s social context on their understanding of their own capacities or vision. Like Sir Young’s originally satirical understanding of the term ‘meritocracy’, the power to create is not a phrase that we can accept uncritically, even as we welcome it into the arsenal of tools that we can use when seeking to help create the world we would like to live in.
The perception of owning this power to create – the power to be an actor in your life and not merely a participant – is not as widely distributed as the ability to create is. People often need a push, a spark, a catalyst. The act of doing, of interacting, of creating implies some level of believing that you are worth it. By connecting people to others and activities in their local area, by helping them open that front door and get out there, we ultimately might be that spark.
“I can’t say enough about [the social mirror project] because it has changed my life… if I hadn’t done it I wouldn’t have known about these walking groups. After I retired I felt like a recluse, three days a week I didn’t go out of the flat. I’ve now lost a stone in weight, I can talk to people quite freely which I didn’t before… I’ve stopped drinking alcohol -I don’t need it to help me sleep as the walks tire me out.”
Social Mirror Project Participant
Gaia Marcus is a Senior Researcher on the RSA Connected Communities project, and leads the Social Mirror project.
You can find her on twitter: @la_gaia
Filed under: Design and Society, Innovation, Social Economy
This post has been re-blogged from the Nominet Trust Website
One of my favourite things is a picture of my Italian grandmother, my Nonna, when she was 20 years old. The war is over, and she is celebrating in a pleated skirt she had sown herself, whilst brandishing a sub-machine gun. Born in 1925 in a tiny hill-top hamlet north of Venice, her lifecycle takes us from the fallout from WWI, the rise of fascism as a political force, the extreme changes that faced Italy post WWII – from latrine outhouses to more cars than children in under 50 years – and the political jokers that we find ourselves with today.
The internet is some sort of magic… but it feels a very prosaic type of magic when you are 60 minutes into a trans-European phonecall trying to explain how to re-plug a router!
My nonna has worn many hats. Her dreams of being a teacher or accountant were scuppered at the tender age of 10 when her father died – malaria handing him over to pneumonia in the end. This daughter of petty bourgeoisie sharecroppers became a scullery maid then seamstress then resistance fighters’ runner then market trader. Despite being very tech-savvy for a woman of her time – good on a typewriter, she had cycled hundreds of kilometres at a time during the war and had learnt to drive very early on as one of the minority of women working after it – the computer and the internet had largely passed her by. Until now.
Now I’m networking my almost ninety-year-old Nonna up to noughties. It’s hard work. She distrusts and finds joy in the internet in equal measure. Each day is a new battle; reminding her where the skype button is, ruefully laughing each time she delightedly exclaims “I can see your face! How funny….” The internet is some sort of magic, granted, but it feels a very prosaic type of magic when you are 60 minutes into a trans-European phonecall trying to explain how to re-plug a router!
London to Milan is a very long way when it is your route to grandma. Whilst I know that she has family, friends and neighbours that support her those 782 miles away, there is always that feeling of guilt when I get up to leave. Beyond my nonna, we all know that more should be done to combat loneliness and social isolation, especially in older people. Scientists have found that feeling lonely over long periods of time can kill you: being emotionally isolated can be as fatal as smoking, and common illnesses that are made worse by loneliness include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, and cardio-vascular diseases.
We try to do our little bit to help out in the Social Mirror project: Social Mirror is a way of linking local people to local activities and groups, using local knowledge. Social Mirror is a bit like an automatic magazine quiz: you answer questions and, if you need it, social mirror can issue you with local ‘community prescriptions’ based on your interests; anything from a walking group, to a photography class and much in-between!
My nonna is something of an inspiration for the Social Mirror project. Working with the wonderful Sue at the Knowle West Media Centre we have been using the magic of the internet to ‘plug’ mainly elderly isolated people into the magic that is local community. With developer delays and all the usual jazz the project has suffered from some ups and downs, however we all agree that the initial feedback coming in makes it all worthwhile.
One elderly gentleman has even gone from being largely alone to going to multiple walking groups a week. He has been so enthusiastic about the project that he agreed to speak to the Rev Giles Fraser about it for his upcoming series – Communities through Thick and Thin. Be sure to listen out for us on the 15th December, and do tell us what you think!
Original post here
The image has been taken from this Italian history timeline.
“There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”
Just a week ago I was here at my desk, struggling to put my thoughts into words about the 40th anniversary of the Chilean coup. And now here I am again. Heart raw against chest, soul heavy, struggling to find words that are fitting; struggling to remember with lightness; struggling to keep something of the past present.
The news that my friend, colleague and confidante Emma Lindley left us over the weekend is something that I am struggling to accept. The inner child in me is stamping its foot and demanding that the clocks be turned back. And all the adult in me can do is to trust in time. There will always be time, and it will always be too long and nowhere near enough.
In these occasions I feel there is a tendency to try and leave no word unsaid and no stone unturned and no achievement un-feted and no praise unsung. And actually, beyond remembering a person who was excellent, a person who was brilliant, a person who touched so many… I want to remember someone who is – and who will always remain – a friend.
Because Emma was a smile. Emma is a smile… And when we have made our toasts, and said our words, and cried our sorrows. When we as players have strutted on our sorry stage what remains is projects left undone, conversations left unfinished and things left unsaid. For the past does not package itself up neatly, ends tied up like the wrapping on a gift. That task is left to us here in the present.
I am proud to say that the RSA will soon be announcing its Emma Lindley prize. The prize, the exact content of which is still being decided in consultation with Emma’s parents, will seek to advance innovation in the field of mental health. The prize will seek to keep Emma and her interests in some way present.
We will update as soon as we know more. But for now… there is just time.
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea
To the dead, we did it, we wrote out your wrongs It was said, they admit it, we sang out your songs.
To the dead, we did it, we wrote out your wrongs
It was said, they admit it, we sang out your songs.
There are many September the 11ths. Today – the 11th September 2013 – is the 40th anniversary of the 1973 military coup that saw in Chile’s 17 years of dictatorship under General Pinochet.
This morning I cycled down to the Chilean embassy to put my body where my heart is, and to pay my respects. Over the course of the day people – children, parents, victims, survivors, activists, sympathisers – read out the names of the disappeared and dead and laid a flower for every single one of them.
As each name was called out, all those present shouted “presente!”
This presente! proclaims: I am here, the disappeared are here, we are present. The act of being present, of making the past present, of making those who a state attempted to disappear present chimes to the very heart of why memory and past are essential to any lived now.
This presente proclaims: I am here, the disappeared are here, we are present
In the 17 years of Pinochet’s rule at least 2,000 were disappeared and at least 30,000 were tortured in ways that attempted to annihilate their humanity, dignity and essence of being. The history of torture in Chile is one of a map of secret detention centres and camps that criss-crossed Chile’s entire 4000 km of length. It was not until after its 2004 Commission on Torture that the mainstream press would even recognise that the torture was real; that the victims were real; that the centres existed.
Chile is still divided between those who would disappear the past, those for whom Pinochet was maybe ‘not good but necessary’, and those for whom the past is still now. These scars, replicated in all societies where the past has no real reconciliation, explode every now and then: from the violent clashes that marked this year’s 11th September protests, to the news that finally the alleged killer of the symbolic Victor Jara may be being brought to justice.
There is much to say on Chile; much to say on the role of justice and memory in repairing society. But that is for another day. For now, I am here, I am present, and I bore witness.
I am here, I am present, and I bore witness.
Gaia Marcus is a Senior Researcher on the RSA’s Connected Communities team.
Earlier today an invite to a conference entitled ‘The Right to Truth, Justice and Reparation in Latin America’ popped up in my inbox. Quite a long time ago – a previous life it seems – I was a Latin-Americanist, with a specialisation in Chilean memory politics.
In my work studying the effects of Chile’s 2004 Truth Commission about Torture I highlighted the way in which the Truth Commission had changed popular understanding of the facts: whether or not torture had actually happened; but did not affect the more generalised narratives of the dictatorship: the stories people told about the past, and the ways in which they situated themselves in those stories.
I came to this distinction between fact and narrative through my reading of all available mainstream newspapers before, during and after the torture commission, as well as through in-depth interviewing of relevant actors. I found that the establishment-sanctioned understanding of torture had gone, to paraphrase, from ‘a couple of communists beating each other up’ to ‘a systematic attempt on the part of the state to annihilate the human dignity and identity’ of at least 30.000 victims.
What had not changed, however, was the understanding of the 1973 coup as being ‘not good but necessary’: Pinochet and the repression and austerity he imposed were seen as having been necessary for the economic development of the country. Torture as a historical fact had changed, but the wider narratives that these episodes of torture slotted into had not changed.
It strikes me that this distinction of fact vs. narratives is quite useful when thinking about austerity politics in Europe and the UK today: it feels that we are seeing far more of the latter, with scant attention paid to the former. This is a pity, as it is well understood that people tend to really change their minds not due to facts, but due to stories, human-interest tearjerkers winning over stats every time.
We are in the paradoxical situation where George Osborne’s good housekeeping argument – if your household were in debt you would not spend more – and Ian Duncan Smith’s seemingly fictional families where “three generations […] have never worked” have more political currency than, say, the news that Reinhart and Rogoff’s academic justification for austerity has been completely discredited, even by the authors themselves. Even though Reinhart and Rogoff have personally corrected their error, Osborne today told ‘The Today Programme’:
“We need more time to dispute your complete dismissal of the work of Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. They made a very substantial contribution to our understanding of the impact of banking crises on economies”
Last week, the RSA played host to two very interesting talks about Austerity, each emphasising how their facts ran counter to the political narratives used to uphold the unprecedented levels of austerity that we are seeing in the UK today.
Mark Blyth spoke of the historical intoxication with the idea of Austerity from Locke onwards, which was widely accelerated throughout the 1980s with the rise of ‘absurdly mathematical economics,’ which hinged on mathematical models that ‘collapse under the slightest pressure’. He argued that leaders such as Osborne and Merkel were now ‘boxed in’ by austerity politics: having argued this far, this hard, Blyth holds that Osborne probably knows austerity ‘is pants’ but he cannot turn around and say ‘sorry guys, my bad’: it would be political suicide.
Smythe: Osborne probably knows that austerity ‘is pants’. Problem is that the coalition is politically boxed in. #RSAausterity
— Gaia Marcus (@la_gaia) May 23, 2013
David Stuckler argued – pithily – that austerity kills, and that the supposed benefits of austerity have not materialised. To cite the hard case, in Greece we have seen a 200% rise in HIV infections, the return of previously eradicated diseases such as malaria, and a 60% increase in suicides; the UK has also seen a rise in ‘economic suicides’ and increased TB, and we are yet to see the full impact of cuts.
— Dawn Foster (@DawnHFoster) May 22, 2013
Beyond country by country examples, Stuckler pointed to how the IMF held that they had “underestimated the negative effect of austerity on job losses and the economy”.
— Mairi Ryan (@Mairi) May 22, 2013
So having given you all my facts, I turn full circle. If the facts point in the opposite direction of the accepted narratives, what can be done? We can now hold that the fear of political suicide is leading to actual real economic suicides; we can hold that a scantly evidenced, ideologically based attack on the nature of the state is having dire effects on its citizens. But this is my reading of some available facts, and you will agree or disagree depending on your personal stance on the economy and the state: other people’s data is easy to discredit.
In my work in Chile I found that the only time that people’s narratives had changed around the dictatorship was when they themselves had been personally affected. Does this mean that we all have to suffer job losses or health deterioration; will we all have to have a nasty brush with ATOS or suffer the ill-effected of half-baked privatisation first-hand?
Both Stuckler and Blyth have a suggested rule in common: first do no harm. When I was studying my memory politics the damage had already been done. Austerity politics is being streamed live, and the facts are stacking up. What stories can we start telling in order to make ‘doing no harm’ the politically expedient option?
Happy New Year from the RSA Action and Research HQ everyone, and please join me in wishing a slightly belated Happy First Birthday to the Social Mirror project! It’s just over a year ago that Nathan Matias and I brainstormed the idea of Social Mirror in the RSA’s London offices. Last year focused on ideas and prototypes. This year, we will be testing our ideas and sharing the software more broadly.
Social Mirror is a tablet application that you can use to measure, visualise, and see the potential for change in online and offline networks. It’ll be like having a portable version of me that you can carry around in your pocket, and we hope it will make it easier for all to examine and change the connections that shape their day-to-day lives. We are now exploring its practical use in public services, starting with a pilot in Knowle West, Bristol.
Nominet Trust Funding
This August, Social Mirror received funding from the Nominet Trust to take Social Mirror from a prototype to tested software. The funds are supporting a community-based health project in Knowle West, Bristol that will be testing out Social Mirror from March, 2013, through to August 2013. We will be blogging as we go at http://www.thersa.org/action-research-centre/public-services-arts-social-change/connected-communities/social-mirror and socialmirror.org.uk, and expect to share our results in the last quarter of 2013.
Laurian Gridinoc has joined the team to take our software from a prototype to community-tested . Laurian is a semantic web, data visualisation, and user experience expert, who joins us after a year working at the BBC for the Mozilla Foundation as an Open News Fellow. Laurian will be working with us and our community partners over the next few months to create a robust, usable technology for network surveys and social prescribing.
Social Prescribing in Knowle West
Our new Nominet Trust funded project is testing how Social Mirror might make social prescribing more effective and locally embedded. Social prescribing is when GPs and other health practitioners ‘prescribe’ local activities and/or community resources instead of drugs or more traditionally medical interventions.
By testing the app’s effectiveness in different contexts – such as among GPs or other health practitioners – the RSA will evaluate the impact of social prescriptions on people’s mental wellbeing, their sense of attachment to and participation in the local community, and their use of public services.
We will be releasing our very first publically available prototype this month! It will have a focus on social prescribing for the time being, but should be fun to have a play with. Check out our video for the time being, maybe follow us on twitter, sign up for the newsletter, and we will be back in touch very soon!
It is an exciting time in the RSA’s Connected Communities team. Alongside our academic partners UCLAN and LSE, we are approaching an interesting milestone in our seven-site, five year Connected Communities programme that seeks to understand how community and social connections affect people’s well-being, and how to use this information to best plan local projects.
Having analysed the links between well-being and social/community connections for thousands of people across seven sites (as shown in the map above) we are now getting to the stage where we can take stock of emergent findings, and start planning how to use these findings to help fund-raise for and support evidence-based project in each of the local sites.
We are now finishing up the community playback of findings in each site (click here to see what happened when we went to Mersey to playback findings and discuss new potential interventions) and just held an annual partner’s event to playback overall findings and plan next steps. If you ever wondered what a travellign wellbeign and connectiosn road-show looked like, have a look-see at this here storify to see what happened, tweet by tweet.
So far, so complex, but I am trying to help shed light on the complicated links between well-being and connections by putting together the beginnings of a connectedness toolkit?
Essentially, context matters; each area is different, but similarly so. Key themes emerging are the need for social support, the relative nature of social vulnerability, the importance of how people’s aspirations link to their area and context, the importance of feeling part of something, and the importance of being able to effect change and to see change being effected. Click here for the colourful storified version, and Watch This Space for further updates!
The best things about this job are the wonderful people I work with, and the inspiring projects that they are involved with. This week I went up to Merseyside to playback some of our research findings, and to find out what the local community wants to do with them….
Find out more, by clicking this here Storify link!