Framework for Human Connection

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This framework was developed with support from  the Catalyst .

Small, meaningful moments of connection have a huge impact upon our mental and physical wellbeing, as well the way we perform at work and the way we behave towards each other. At Deepr, our work is to understand the composition of these moments, so that we can design and embed them in services and organisations.

 

From research and development with 60+ organisations as part of Catalyst, we’ve defined Five Conditions, Principles and Methods that help to create human connection in digital services. Now we’re sharing them with you.

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The resources are still in ‘alpha’, which means there’s lots more to learn about how each works best. For example, many of the methods are most clearly applied to services delivered over phone and video calls, but there is plenty for those designing more static web tools too.

 

For those of you who would like to follow our design process, you can get started with our Simple Steps to Design Human Connection into Digital Services.

Get in touch

Whether your experience is good or there’s room for improvement, we’d love to know how you get on with applying these tools. Please drop us a line and we’ll share some more human connection goodies as a ‘thank you’.

 

The Five Conditions

Having researched and tested with 60+ organisations, we’ve found the ingredients for human connection fall into these Five Conditions. When we design solutions that foster these between people, services work better, more gets done and people feel good.

01   Presence

So that people are engaged and attentive

So much of how we interact is automatic — but automatic behaviours don’t foster connection.

Maintaining people’s attention when there’s an opportunity for connection is essential.


One way is to explore ways to keep interactions fresh and new.

02   Equality

So that people experience minimal power imbalance

Building and acknowledging equality creates an even footing for connection.

 

That might mean using inclusive language or weaving reciprocity into the ways we interact with people who use our web tools.

 

In order to achieve this, we must also acknowledge differences between us.

03   Accountability

So that people feel invested in our relationship

Connection is a two-way street.

 

We should design our services so that there is much to gain for people in taking care of the relationship between us.

 

We can do that by using real names and photos online, or building in two-way feedback into our processes.

04   Autonomy

So that people have agency and choice

We must engage people to think, decide and act for themselves in terms of ‘what’ we
do together and ‘how’ we do it.

 

A way to achieve this is to hand over responsibility of an aspect of the service to members of your community.

05   Whole self

So that people can be safe in fully expressing who they are

The more we’re able to bring our vulnerable whole selves to digital interactions (as both provider and receiver), the more likely we are to build trust, then connection, then relational wellbeing.

 

The safest, most clearly boundaried way to do this is what we call a ‘whole person check in’ at the beginnings of interactions.

 
 

Principles

Before jumping in with The Five Conditions and our Methods for human connection take a minute to read through the principles that guide us in this work. We’ve developed these through research and experience. Let them guide you too.

1. Reduce separation

Reducing separation between us is the gateway to human connection.

 

Human connection leads to relational wellbeing. This principle governs all others. It can act as shorthand for you as you work to develop digital services with high opportunities for human connection. When considering each element of your service ask, ‘Will this bring us closer together or further apart?’.

2. Design for the Five Conditions

Our research has shown there are Five Conditions that are conducive to human connection: Presence, Equality, Autonomy, Accountability and Whole Self. When a balance of these conditions is present in a service, they support and reinforce each other, acting as a dynamo for human connection.

 

The Five Conditions are two-way. They are less about anyone ‘levelling up’ and more about everyone ‘levelling out’. Sprinkle them liberally across your service, rather than concentrating on one large point of connection e.g. bring your whole selves into your communications, equality into your triage, presence into your home page.

3. Meet people where they are

Be mindful not to make assumptions as to when/where/which people will be open to particular opportunities for connection. Involve your community as much as you can in your initial research and ongoing design work.

 

Then, take baby steps by introducing the smallest possible version of your solution. This both tests your idea and provides a gentle runway to engagement for your community. Design for those most and least open to connection.

4. Go fast - Go slow

Go fast: There may well be ways to weave the Five Conditions into every layer of your service from beginning to end. However, some points will be easier than others.

 

Where connection seems a struggle, design your service experience to be fast, requiring as little energy from people as possible. In other words, aim to make it ‘friction free’. This will enable you to preserve people’s attentional energy for human connection elsewhere in the service (and their lives).

 

Go slow: When there is a clear opportunity for human connection within the service, slow down, engage people’s attention and give space and opportunity for human connection. In other words, create more ‘friendly friction’.

 

There is considerable neurological evidence to suggest that slowing down for positive experiences, or ‘staying with the good’, is a way to make them sticky, achieving the positive effects on wellbeing you’re working towards.

5. Be intentional and open

Beginning by sharing with your community a clear intention to develop deeper human connection is a valuable practice that will help you to achieve it. Whenever we talk openly about working in a way that connects us more fundamentally as human beings we, and those we’re communicating with, are likely to have heightened presence and our connection ‘receptors’ will be switched on. Knowing that someone else is keen to connect with us on a deeper level can be a wonderful experience in itself. 

 

Even high-connection organisations can increase their impact by codifying their best practice and making it explicit.

6. Be invitational

Being consistently clear that the power and choice lies with people you’re working with can enable the most introverted amongst them to become more open to new practices.

7. 'Be' human connection as you 'do' human connection

Be mindful not to make assumptions as to when/where/which people will be open to particular opportunities for connection. Involve your community as much as you can in your initial research and ongoing design work.

 

Then, take baby steps by introducing the smallest possible version of your solution. This both tests your idea and provides a gentle runway to engagement for your community. Design for those most and least open to connection.

8. Embrace new rituals of human connection

Offline communication contains many non-verbal cues – subtle facial expressions, hand gestures and physical contact, as well as spontaneous moments of connection, like chatting whilst waiting for the kettle to boil.

 

Because digital interactions tend to be more structured and time bound, they require a new language of communication and space to achieve the same level of understanding, connection and the resulting relational wellbeing. Don’t be fearful of trying out new behaviours with your community. They are necessary.

9. Stay safe

Human connection hinges on a paradox: in order to experience it, we must open up and expose some vulnerability. The appropriate level of vulnerability will differ from service to service and person to person.

 

You’ll want to explore this and make decisions at every stage of the design process based upon conclusions you come to. A brilliant resource to help with this is DigiSafe.

10. Let the magic happen

Connection between people is one of the most natural things for us to do as a species. And the Five Conditions for human connection are not rocket science. Hold the whole process lightly and be ready to spot the warm fuzzy moments happening between people.

Methods

Here are 40 methods for achieving the Five Conditions in your service or working culture. Use them as they are or use them as inspiration. How can you weave more human connection into what you do?

Getting started

This short guide is a version of our own design process that will enable you to build
more opportunities for human connection into digital services.

We've broken our approach down into 6 simple steps, and included some useful, practical tools, to make it really easy for you to follow.

Copy of Simple steps to design human con
 

With thanks

We developed this Framework as part of The Catalyst and in collaboration with Hospice Hope, Grapevine and  The Children’s Society .