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On the way to identifying first Digital Companions

We’ve been developing the Digital Companions initiative for a number of months now, in partnership with other organisations, and as a Bevan Exemplar project, supported by the Bevan Commission.

Marc Davies, Digital Communities Wales Project Manager, has been at the forefront of this initiative, working up the original idea. This month, we’re looking at examples of how digital inclusion can enable community cohesion – bringing people together for positive reasons.  

Marc has provided this update, to cover recent progress on Digital Companions:

We had our first co-production training event in early January, with staff and volunteers from Aneurin Bevan Health Board – Ffrind I Mi programme. The focus of this was to run through our training session and get a feel and feedback for how the Digital Companions can understand the approach and what elements of the intervention may be of concern to them?

This was extremely productive, with some of the trainee Companions expressing slight worry around supporting individuals to do complex activities, such as internet banking. We assured the Companions that complex activities were a distant goal for someone who has never been online.

The main elements and entry level support a Companion would offer would be, sharing and showing web pages, showing images and short video clips that are relevant to the person being supported. The aim of the Companion would be to demonstrate and share, aiming for an enjoyable experience of using the web and getting a taste of what the web can offer.

This conversation prompted us to draw up an analogy of a ‘ladder’ with each step of the ladder being steps or progress of the Companions sharing the web with others. This will be shared in my next update.

The training team and I are happy with progress to date. We will continue to undertake a couple more co-production sessions to hone the concept or model even further, before translation and public release. I am confident that by the spring of 2019 we will have a training package and accompanying support links that will be fit for purpose. We will also regularly review and look for continual improvement.

The Companions work is all about giving individuals an opportunity to explore how the web can offer them a positive and practical aspect that can support their health and wellbeing. Companion support is reaching out to the 15% of adults in Wales that are offline. The statistics inform us that the majority of these (15%) are over the age of 65. As we all know, age brings added health complexities. The focus of the Companion support is to ensure that as many of the 15% are given the opportunity or chance to engage in an ever modernised health service. There is no other mainstream support mechanism out there for this cohort to fit into and access many transformed public services (as well as a plethora of mainstream digital health devices). We are calling on the good will of the 85% that are online in Wales to lend a hand to those that have most to gain through exploiting technology for health and wellbeing purposes.

We have to be pragmatic about those that Companions seek to support. I continually say we have to walk in the shoe of those that are offline. Cast your own minds back to the day when you first sat behind a computer, unable to access the web or send an email or visit a website. While people can learn quickly, we need to be sympathetic and allow these people the time to learn and gain confidence. A cohesive community is one where no one is left out or can not participate. Having the skills and confidence to use technology is one element of many which can help build a connected community.

As we have previously mentioned, the aim is draw on the people of Wales’ goodwill to be a Digital Companion. There is no pressure to become a full-time volunteer or to do challenging technical interventions. It is ok if you help one person that you know, a friend, family member, neighbour or colleague to explore what the web has to offer.

We must always remember that:
“Those that are furthest away from having the skills and confidence to use the internet are those that have the most to gain”.

If you enjoy using the internet, I am confident that if you follow the approach we are developing, you would be an ideal Digital Companion. Get in touch with us – please, to help make Wales a truly Digital Nation.