Wuthering Bytes – Tommorrow’s People Today

Wuth-Bytes-GraphicLast week I headed up to Hebden Bridge to speak at the Wuthering Bytes Tomorrow’s People Day. I was speaking on ‘Digital Tools for Dementia’, to an audience of public sector, private sector, digital and non-digital service commisioners/providers/creators.

Some great perspectives on our new smart cities world, stories of innovation and new initiatives were shared, showing an aspiration to really make digital work to help solve problems and enable us in our daily lives, whoever we are.

Tim Griggs from Arup started us off with the keynote piece – ‘good design is democratic’ quoting Ove Arup whose vision still shines today. Raising the importance of getting citizens involved in ‘smart city design’ – political, economic and social aspects and less focus on technology – we need ‘smart’ outcomes.

Tim went on to share how it can be difficult to get balanced citizen engagement with most volunteers being retirees, someone who may lose out or someone with a cause. I guess that is the art of citizen engagement is to get to know and engage more fully with your community, but that is not always possible. Tim showed how technology can help and by making digital channels open to citizens we can open a wider gateway to finding out what citizens want and need – he showed us the example of CollabMap

Elaine James from Calderdale Council shared the results of the Hack the Home event September 2014, where working with Enabled by Design, FutureGov, University of Leeds local people with disabilities/special needs, local innovators/designers and local disability support services, a day of person centred design was enabled. Getting all those elements together was no small task and the day was a great example of how collaboration, coproduction and people centred design can create completely new ideas/thinking/solutions to problems that seemed too difficult to solve.

Stuart Turner was not able to attend in person, but by the power of technology delivered his talk on screen over WiFi. His view of the world showed how much can be done, when you have open networks, open platforms, open thinking, open design, the right skills, know how and insights into what is really needed. As a quadriplegic he has broken boundaries over and over again… he made us all rethink how we design and even think about what can and can’t be done with technology. He challenged people’s lack of expectation of people who happen to have a disability and what people think they can/cannot do – ‘this needs to change’.

Erica Purvis then shared the story of ‘Open Source Circular Economy’ and OSCE Days another form of collaboration bringing people together from all over the world to work on projects together or alongside each other. The global view she shared showed how we don’t have to rely on the skills in our local neighbourhoods/networks, we can open our thinking and conversations far wider than in previous generations using social media and digital collaboration platforms.

Paul Butcher from Calderdale Council shared the real need for innovation in local communities, needing to address the problems and challenges of isolation, especially for older people – loneliness and social isolation. He gave examples like Casserole Club where technology and people centred design/thinking are used to bring people together – people who can cook with people who need a meal in the local area. The result is not just practical in that people get a meal who need it, but they also get social interaction too, which helps with feelings of well being for everyone.

Other speakers Damon Hart Davis, Imran Ali,  Esko Reinikainen and others broadened the view still further and the common goal of the day seemed to be how we can make technology more human and how we can use technology more effectively to help with our everyday lives – meeting our needs.

So when I got up to speak it was quite a different audience than I’d previously been used to – far more diverse and potentially challenging. It’s tricky to wear two hats at the same time – Service Design and Dementia, people are used to wearing just one. Seeing dementia through a ‘digital technology’ perspective helps normalise quite a challenging subject… ‘Aah! I’d never thought of using Skype or YouTube like that’. Applying very familiar and well used technology to the older people or dementia care environment has a great almost disproportionate effect on users/person being cared for. It’s not the technology that people are particularly wowed by, but the connection to something that is meaningful to them, that they thought they had lost eg. old favourite music/films/photographs/maps of meaningful places where you’ve spent your life. Technology can reconnect people and enable a sense of well being. This can effect the person with dementia but also the carer too as they get a glimpse of the person they know well, that had become hidden.

I found that a number of people at the event came up to me after my talk. A number were quite personally effected and could say ‘my Gran…’ or ‘my Grandad…’ or ‘my Mum… has dementia or has just been diagnosed’. It seemed like a line was crossed to bring this ‘home challenge’ that people had very personal experience of, into the world of  ‘tech’ and ‘innovation’. By having this talk in the middle of other talks with wider technology thinking helped build awareness – and interestingly proceeding speakers were able to add a little older person/dementia care thought into their presentations proving the value of such a diverse day.

The aim of Calderdale Council and it’s health and well being/digital champions CEO Merran McRae, Michelle Veasey, Elaine James and Paul Butcher was to use digital technology and people centred design interventions to solve real problems in their local area… a challenge all local councils across the UK share. The Wuthering Bytes Tomorrow’s People part of the event (part of Calderdale Council’s Tech Future programme) certainly delivered on that aim… we all came away from the event with new connections, more informed and very inspired.

A special thank you to Michelle Veasey for being so inclusive, welcoming and understanding. It was great to take part in such a great future facing event.


If you attended the talk/read this blog and would appreciate some support, the Carers Trust or the Alzheimer’s Society is a good place to start to find your local support network in the UK. Dementia Friends does a great job of building understanding and awareness if you’d like to know more.





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