Conversation: Help to Help Yourself (Somerset County Council, Somerset CCG/Fit For My Future)

I was recently invited to briefly introduce Socially Enterprising to Somerset County Council.

The conversation was oriented around building knowledge for the planning of ‘Help to Help Yourself’ which is looking at how information is provided to the public so that they can discover and access local help and support.

Help to Help Yourself is connected to the local Health and Wellbeing agenda and there are a number of different Help to Help Yourself programmes being implemented around the UK.

To explain the situation, there is an incredible array of organisations and support available for people to access.

  • You might need to organise Home Help for a relative.
  • Maybe family circumstances have changed and you’re looking for friendship or activities nearby.
  • You might have gained a few pounds after the last year and are looking for a sport to enjoy or some local walks.
  • Someone may have told you about Social Prescribing and you’d like to know more about what could be available near you.

Health and Wellbeing covers a lot of ground so forgive me for keeping the list above unfairly brief.

I’ve always thought of local authorities as providing a sort of life-support system for people, organisations and place and I think you can see this come through quite strongly in work such as this.

The historical approach to providing information has been to collate all of this information into directories (printed and online) and to then keep these updated.

So you can go into your local council offices and read through the Adult Social Care Directory or pick up the Social Prescribing Directory at your local GP. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Anyway, this early stage of Help to Help Yourself is an opportunity for the team to look around, talk to local partners and people, and get a good view of what everyone’s doing and ask whether any of it can be done better.

I’m not going to talk about the content of the conversation or the problems being experienced as I feel the detail is unnecessary.

What I will provide here is the document I’d pre-prepared for the meeting and which was sent in follow up to the conversation.

Socially — Community; Building, Development, Engagement and Activation

There was a time when communities were very close knit.

You were born locally, lived locally, schooled locally, and worked locally.

Most people joined local companies or organisations and some of these employed substantial workforces. There were subsidised canteens and sports clubs where people could socialise after work.

Church attendance was high.

Membership of service organisations was common.

The local press were well resourced and well read.

All of these elements played a role in connecting communities to themselves and facilitated a flow of locally relevant information and knowledge.

If you wanted to get the word out, get something done or find the right person to talk to then it wasn’t difficult to do.

Times have changed.

One of the things that amazed me when I became a councillor was how much actually goes on in a town.

Community groups, volunteering, local projects, residents’ groups, and community events are happening all of the time.

I often thought of it as discovering a ‘secret garden’. Some amazing thing that you would walk past every day without any knowledge of its existence, until by chance you look over the top of a wooden gate and this wonderful place appeared into view.

That’s what the experience was like.

You couldn’t see it in the local paper.

It wasn’t on the town or council website.

In fact, as I spoke to people around the town it became very apparent that although some people did have good awareness, the average citizen had very little.

The communities of old were ‘socially connected’ and because of this knew what was going on.

The communities of today have become ‘socially disconnected’ and miss a substantial understanding of where they live and what it offers.

Over time we have lost a form of connective tissue and stored knowledge.

At the same time, the way in which organisations work is beginning to change.

Modern communications tools mean that it has become much easier to work with local people, organisations and communities and there is recognition that working in collaboration with others is smarter and delivers better results.

Entire services and organisations are being redesigned and reconfigured.

Monolithic service delivery has been contracted out to smaller organisations, charities and community organisations.

If it was once easier to understand how professional service land worked, operated and who did what and who to talk to. Today it has become a much more complicated picture.

Just as communities have become fragmented and disconnected so too has everything else.

It would be useful to have a way of connecting it all together in some way.

If not for professionals, then certainly for ordinary people.

It may never again be as simple to understand how all of the services and all of the organisations all fit together to do what they do. But there should be absolutely no reason why citizens should find it difficult to navigate or engage with.

That is what we all want after all.

Aspects of this situation are recognised professionally.

The community connector roles are part of this. Health Connectors, Community Connectors and Community Champions all work to extend organisations or services out into communities.

At the same time, they also fill gaps in local knowledge and link people to help, support, community contacts or social opportunities which may be beneficial.

I hope that I’m making sense here.

The point I’m trying to make is that these two pictures of the PROFESSIONAL WORLD and the COMMUNITY WORLD are actually very close to each other.

Some of the problems that they are both facing are shared.

Both sides have become increasingly fragmented and this then causes new problems to appear.

The Connector roles operate in this fragmented space and help to piece it together.

What I will attempt to explain next is that it’s possible to go much further on how we connect it all together into something which is navigable, understandable, and adaptable to local needs and potential.

Socially is a platform for place. It combines local media with social networking and collaborative tools to create something new.

We repurpose the concept of local media to support; active lives, civic engagement, health and wellbeing, personal development and community development.

Through partnerships with community media organisations the real story of communities is made visible and people can see the full range of organisations, activities and events that they can get involved with and the work that they do.

Our strategy is able to engage with and activate people and places.

Socially connects communities to themselves and puts them at the centre of their own story.

Socially is not domain specific. Instead, it cuts across domains, concerns and needs which include health and wellbeing, active lives, employment and skills, climate and community resilience, and local economic development.

Traditional local news concerns itself with reporting what’s happened.

Socially looks at local activity, community, events and work by local organisations in a way which facilitates connections and the flow of beneficial knowledge and information.

  • We want people to be happy, healthy and connected.
  • We want communities to be vibrant, confident, involved and successful.
  • We want people and communities to be empowered, informed and able to take positive action to improve local conditions and lives.

To do this requires a certain strategy and approach and using real stories of people and place allows us to make a personal connection with communities.

  • We can zoom into the work of community connectors and local organisations and the effect they have on local people’s lives.
  • We can show how joining local clubs, groups and activities has positive results all round.
  • We can connect people to each other and to their communities.
  • We can help facilitate the connection between local services and people.

Socially is able to provide the connective tissue and store of knowledge that is missing within communities and between communities and professional services today.

Socially makes use of social networking to help facilitate easy connections and quick communication between people and organisations.

In this way the local stories begin to operate as part of the connective tissue.

People and organisations are able to use the stories to learn of each other and then connect to each other through the platform. This works for people-to-people, people-to-organisations, and organisations-to-organisations.

We are not a Facebook or an Instagram. We take social networking’s ability to facilitate easy connections and we use it to help perform a role which is of direct benefit to communities and society. We are not a platform for ‘social media posts’ but for ‘social connectivity’.

Socially also provides basic group functionality and collaborative tools.

  • You can create a presence for local Peer Support groups.
  • You can create Community Health groups where people can ask questions and connect easily with community connectors and organisations.
  • You can create Community Project groups where people can work together to achieve something for their community with support from local organisations.
  • You can create a Climate Action group which brings citizens, businesses and local authorities together in a way in which they work together and not against each other.
  • Quite simply, you can take all of the amazing work and organisations that exist in or around communities and you can give them an easily discoverable and reachable public presence.

Through our local media strategy, we can then also tell the story of what they are all doing. This helps improve local awareness and increase local engagement and activation.

We take all of those things which have become disconnected in COMMUNITY WORLD and PROFESSIONAL WORLD and we provide a way to connect it all back together.

The way we in which we do this means that it all becomes mutually supportive and collectively intelligent.

The benefits of being in the same place and on the same platform just keep adding up.

Socially and Socially Enterprising are not dedicated solutions that meet specific needs. Instead, as interconnected platforms they are able to connect much larger and varied society and community sized ecosystems and enable different ways of connecting them into functionally useful collaborative systems as well as providing far easier ways of interacting with them.

In the diagram above you should see that ‘Healthy Households’ and ‘Healthy Neighbourhoods’ are ‘in alignment with’ the social and community objectives of Socially.

To be clear, I’m not a solutions provider or software consultancy and I don’t have a specific solution for ‘Help to Help Yourself’.

What I do have is an interesting and unique platform proposition which aligns with multiple trends and needs within local authorities, public bodies and local organisations who work with communities.

I feel that the ‘Help to Help Yourself’ project and any the organisations which are part of discussions around its design and delivery would find it of great benefit and use.

Socially Enterprising is a social enterprise.

We make a profit to fund our social purposes.

By creating a comprehensive strategy that creates strategic alignments across multiple domains and agendas and then also providing collaborative functionality on top of this turns Socially Enterprising into a strategically relevant system.

This enables us to create a compelling justification for state and civil society organisations to become paying members of the platform.

We are then able to utilise these funds to; deliver the local media strategy, continue to develop the platform, and further empower communities and individuals.

The full potential of the platform is larger than has been outlined here.

I’m one person with a social business idea that pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with modern platform technology and network strategy.

The platform is developed and working but to move the idea forward requires thoughtful piloting and suitable partners, stakeholders and investors on board.

Gaining interest from local authorities or public bodies would be useful to me as it would help me in being taken seriously by organisations such as Innovate UK, Nesta or the RSA who are all a good fit with the larger Socially Enterprising platform and organisational strategy.

There is a fairly explanatory ‘Overview Document’ available here — https://drive.google.com/file/d/13wEDgPJO1us2oMu2uT6xDRuPkYm4VNEH/view

I also write on Medium where I more creatively explore and elaborate on the possibilities and potential of Socially Enterprising and how everything fits together. It’s an entirely new form of network organisation, an entirely new type of platform, and it could even be an entirely new way of doing things in the future — https://weshinckes.medium.com/

Here is a post which may be relevant to your work as a local authority — Fit for Purpose: Networks and Health Checks

Founder of Socially Enterprising / Commoner / Mostly Unemployed.