On Monday 24th October, in collaboration with Contact Theatre, FutureEverything ran the first of CityVerve’s Intervention Workshops. The aim of the workshop was to look at social isolation in Manchester, what we can do together to help tackle it and the role technology could play moving forward.

What were we doing?

Following on directly from the CityVerve Community Forum, this workshop was the beginning of assessing the community created Health and Social Care goal (or in project management terms – Key Performance Indicator) for CityVerve:

Goal (what do we hope CityVerve will achieve): Decrease social isolation along the Oxford Road Corridor.

Indicator (how will we measure this achievement): Uptake of activities in the area.

The session was designed by Kyle Walker and further developed by FutureEverything, to provide a space for the community to voice problems they hold dear about social isolation. We wanted to try and see how Manchester’s community define social isolation and how people  could be encouraged to participate in different activities along Oxford Road. In a broad sense, the workshop aimed to look at whether social isolation was an important issue for Manchester residents and to further embed the Community KPIs into CityVerve.

We held the workshop at MACC, the home of Manchester’s voluntary sector – a great  place to develop  a deeper understanding social isolation. Attendees spent the first half of the workshop thinking about what Manchester means to them, unpicking both their understanding of social isolation and an overview of CityVerve. They were then asked if they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “There’s a divide between older and younger people in Manchester” and “As people get older, they socialise less” and so on. Attendees explained their decisions through a group discussion.

The second half of the workshop looked at solutions to social isolation and how the issue could be tackled. Attendees collaboratively ideated solutions to how people could work together to organise different inclusive events and activities. They were then invited to have a discussion about what Manchester could do to as a city to support socially isolated people.

How does this fit into CityVerve?

The community KPIs are a way of measuring the success of the CityVerve project in terms generated by the people who live, work and play in Manchester. This workshop was the first step in assessing, understanding and measuring CityVerve’s Community KPIs. The facilitated workshop enabled us to gain qualitative insights into how CityVerve is seen in different communities and tangible things the project can do to help make people’s lives in Manchester better.

The Community Forums and Intervention Workshops that will be taking place over the next 2 years are crucial to CityVerve’s success. They’re a way for the community to be involved in influencing how Manchester can become a Smart City and to ensure that the needs of Manchester’s residents are represented throughout the initiative.

What were the outcomes?

In essence, the workshop sought to challenge assumptions about social isolation and, more importantly, to ensure that CityVerve partners understand what social isolation is from the perspective of people who deal with the issue on a daily basis. The workshop represented  the incredible communities in Manchester, with inspiring conversations, discussions and debates filling the room. Attendees were clearly motivated to incite change in the city and came together to create innovative solutions to tackle social isolation.

One of the most interesting insights was that more needs to be done to change how people see social isolation. There was agreement  that social isolation is too frequently seen from the point of view of older sufferers. However, there is no age restriction on being socially isolated, and society as a whole needs to consider  how we can support each other to be more inclusive and integrated. Additionally, it was noted that emerging technology can often contribute to social isolation rather than helping to address it, and that there needs to be better education about understanding what social isolation looks like in order to help people to help themselves.

Furthermore, it became clear throughout the workshop, that a Smart City might not be the only solution to social isolation. The Internet of Things needs to work alongside other initiatives that already exist in Manchester, to create an interconnected network of support. It was insightful to see that many the solutions that people came up with focussed on low-tech solutions to social isolation, and that CityVerve’s role could help to amplify these solutions.

Finally, a great debate took place, looking at who should be responsible for addressing social isolation, and making people happier in their everyday life. Attendees made the point that GPs and councillors, as authority figures, should do more to support people, to help people understand their own social isolation, and to promote activities that are available to help alleviate the problem. The conversation then led to the suggestion that we all need to take personal responsibility to look out for one another, to help each connect both online and offline.

The insights and research gathered and harnessed in the workshop will be fed directly to CityVerve’s partners, to influence and nudge the design and development of technologies – ensuring that the Manchester community is represented and has a voice in the project.

How can I be involved?

We would love to hear your thoughts on what Manchester should be doing to support social isolation and on our findings! Please feel free to tweet or email us.

We’re also hosting a whole range of CityVerve community forums over the coming months. The next one is on 30th November and we’d love for you to be there.