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Designing Human Connection into Digital Services

Download a suite of free tools for designing for human connection here, developed with over 60 UK charities.

Small moments of connection between us have a huge impact upon our mental and physical wellbeing. They have a direct correlation with life expectancy and loneliness which, in turn, is now viewed as a greater threat to public health than obesity and smoking.

It’s also generally accepted that compared like for like, face-face interaction trumps digital every time. As our lives become more digitally focussed (especially since Covid-19), we need to look more closely at our interactions online and how they might be affecting our health. Yet the big commercial players show little real interest in doing so. And researching with digital startups we’ve found that, with justification, designing for human connection was not something they thought they should necessarily be doing. We couldn’t find anyone looking into human connection in digital. If you have please let us know.

“Before Covid-19 we didn’t see it as our role to design for human connection — that was covered by in-person interaction; the pandemic has changed that” Jo Sayers, Director LearnJam

On the other hand, the social sector ‘does’ human connection better than any other. We live and breathe it. It’s who we are and what we care about. It is in the services we deliver and it’s in the shared ‘moments inbetween’*, with smiles and small kindnesses, and often over tea. Along with this expertise, Covid, and the rapid development of techforgood services that followed, have given us the opportunity and the motivation to address human connection in digital.

At Deepr, we’ve been working since 2016 to understand how optimising for human connection brings commercial and social benefits in businesses like Airbnb. This year, supported by Catalyst, we went deep into the academic literature and have spent three months working with more than 60 charities to explore how they achieve human connection to increase wellbeing.

We’ve come to understand there are Five Conditions that support human connection in digital services. A blend of these Conditions in services foster richer experiences for those involved with greater opportunities for human connection that lead to improved relational wellbeing. Interestingly, they also appear to lead to better quality outputs from teams when applied to internal cultures in organisations.

With charities in mind, we’ve identified and developed 40 methods

used for developing human connection that you can get started with tomorrow. And a short guide to help do that.

We’ve stress-tested the methods within charities’ services and we’re now sharing them with you. They’re still in ‘alpha’, which means there’s lots more to learn about which work best and under what circumstances. Many of the methods are most clearly applied to services delivered over phone and video calls (as that’s where we found most immediate need) but there is plenty for those designing more static web tools too.

We’ve also identified some headline ‘dos and don’ts’ along the way. We’ve refined those into ten Principles.

These resources are free to download — so please do. Let us know how they’re working for you and what you’d like to add or change.

We’re continuing to appply this methodology with organisations to improve new and exising digital services with greater human connection. We’re doing this principally as part of Catalyst’s Digital Teams work, where we can continue to learning from charities about what they do best. If you’d like to get in touch or find out more, please click here.

And now with interest from big business, Government and commercial digital — it looks like all it needed was the social sector to step up and get this ball rolling.

Credits: This work was informed by many people in many ways. We’d like to give credit to the beautiful people at Hospice Hope, Grapevine, The Children’s Society for co-creating it with us, along with all the other charities we worked with. We did important work with Dan Burgess, Ben Gibbs, Katie Slee, Ellie Hale and Siddharth Bannerjee at NetsquaredLondon, Jo Sayers at LearnJam, and Joe Roberson. The team at Catalyst went way beyond the call at every stage to support us to do this work.

And what the hell, our small team deserves a shout out too: Holly May Mahoney, Rebecca Birch, Sarah Adefehinti, Zahra Davidson, Stephanie Hall and Ellie Osborne. You guys— you’re the best. 🙌

*Props to Laura Williams for coining this during a Deepr workshop. It’s spot on.


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