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Online Services: How Can We Avoid Feeding the Loneliness Epidemic?

As charities rapidly launch new online services, how can we avoid feeding the loneliness epidemic?

Just a week into lockdown and, for the lucky ones amongst us, that means remote working and most likely, Zoom. I thought a year of remote working would make this a breeze but having just co-hosted a weekend ‘residential’ online as part of the Deepr / Enrol Yourself Learning Marathon, maintaining real human connection was a huge challenge, despite the wonderful people there on screen.

In terms of our relational wellbeing, if we needed further evidence that digital doesn’t yet cut it as a replacement for real life social interaction, we probably all now have it. But Zoom is better than nothing and, as polyvagal theorist Stephen Porges puts it, in these difficult times we have an even greater need to co-regulate.

Going beyond this relatively minor inconvenience, I’m left considering the impact the lockdown is having on people whose social interaction was already limited to a few words and a smile at the job centre, the doctors or at any one of the thousands of charities in the UK — charities that directly support people with their wellbeing and those who do so indirectly with small shared kindnesses, above and beyond the provision of a particular service.

Imagine for a minute how much collective wellbeing the chit chat, cups of tea and smiles shared in these places must be generate every day in this country. And consider the work of Dr Susan Pinker, which pinpoints this kind of interaction as the highest indicator of those set to live long lives. This kind of empathic interaction is essential for us both physically and mentally. And we’ve just turned the tap off.

Earlier this month, Deepr began work on a six month project as part of Catalyst. The project includes the development of a set of solutions for charities seeking to bake more empathic interaction into their digital services. As charities everywhere are rapidly launching online services, in response to the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown, our work has just become a whole lot more urgent.

We’re now pulling all resources forward into a deep dive into this one strand of work between now and 12th June. We’re focused on gathering collective intelligence of how we’re already support people’s relational wellbeing and bringing this to new digital spaces, optimising them for meaningful social contact.

Because, as we create what will be in many ways, a new normal, it’s vital that we give space for meaningful social contact in every service, at every opportunity. In services that help people navigate the legal system and the care system; services that offer practical advice and support to people with varied and complex needs; services that catch the people that fall through the net. We do so well at micro-dosing relational wellbeing across the sector. We now urgently need to take it online.

We’re hosting regular meetups to share what we learn, as we learn it, so that charities and designers working with them can take what they like and use it however they choose. They’re also an opportunity for us to sense check and learn more about the needs in the sector so we know where we need to put our focus.

The next is online on Wednesday 22nd April at 6pm. Please come. Sign up here.

We’ll be:

  • designing in public

  • sharing our learning as it emerges

  • working with charities on live solutions as soon as possible

You could be one of those charities. If you work for a charity and are about to develop a digital service that could benefit from this work, get in touch.

If you are a digital designer or agency and have an interest in being part of this work, get in touch.

If you have an understanding of the levers of relational wellbeing either on or offline, please get in touch.

Special shout out to Joe Roberson for his help on this.


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