Welfare Technology Can Tackle the Dangers of Loneliness
Welfare policy, Welfare Technology
Loneliness are health hazards. They are comparable to poor life-style habits in that they increase the risk of an individual developing cardiovascular disease or dementia or suffering a stroke. They also increase the risk of mental health issues. Welfare technology can be used to tackle loneliness.
Studies have demonstrated that loneliness is twice as dangerous as obesity and just as dangerous to health as alcoholism or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Digital services can break isolation
There is no doubt that social isolation and involuntary solitude cause major problems. For many people, welfare technology may be the solution. Many regions and municipalities throughout the Nordic region offer various activities in the form of different types of digital services to assist people in breaking their social isolation.
There do however appear to be difficulties associated with establishing these services, among other things due to a lack of clarity regarding responsibility. Who is responsible for breaking someone’s social isolation?
During 2019, the Nordic Think Tank for Welfare Technology conducted two workshops on social isolation and welfare technology. The Think Tank identified a number of challenges and obstacles and subsequently prepared recommendations on how welfare technology can be used successfully to break social isolation at both a Nordic and national level. The recommendations also include guidelines on what public authorities, municipalities, the private sector and individuals need to do in order make this work.
Recommendations for breaking social isolation
Challenge: Utilising welfare technology and digitisation.
Knowledge is low within the target group of socially isolated individuals regarding how technology and digitisation can be used to support the break of social isolation.
Recommendation: All national, regional and municipal organisations should develop a vision for how digital tools and platforms can be utilised. Good examples include the Scottish Government’s programme A Connected Scotland: our strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections. One recommendation specifically to municipal organisations is to work with digital meeting places that offer and support activities that bring people together, see the examples presented at the Nordic Welfare Centre Masterclass 2019.
Challenge: Even among professionals in the municipal sector, the level of competence is generally low.
Recommendation: National, regional and municipal organisations should invest in training staff in how welfare technology and digitisation can be successfully used to tackle social isolation, see examples from Kunskapsguiden Sverige (Knowledge Guide Sweden). In regional and municipal environments, it is recommended that staff and citizens are afforded opportunities to see and test the technology in viewing environments, see examples from Aarhus Municipality’s DokkX welfare technology experience space.
Challenge: A lack of knowledge regarding the major consequences of social isolation, both individually and socioeconomically.
Recommendation: Politicians at national, regional and municipal level should place social isolation and its negative consequences high on the political agenda. Once again, the Scottish Government’s strategy provides a good example at national level.
Communication activities: all political levels, as well as the private sector and non-governmental organisations, are recommended to implement activities to get across the message that:
- social isolation has a negative impact on public health;
- social isolation entails significant costs for society;
- welfare technology offers opportunities to break social isolation; and
- whatever the context, it is always cost-effective to invest in welfare technology.
Challenge: Lack of knowledge regarding available best-practice examples of the use of welfare technology.
Recommendation: Communication activities: all political levels, as well as the private sector and non-governmental organisations, should implement activities with examples from regional and local interventions that are:
- farsighted and have demonstrated positive effects;
- documented and communicated via publications or websites; and
- where possible, have been analysed and documented from a research perspective.
Clearing identified obstacles
Obstacle: It is unclear which public authorities or other organisations are responsible for activities that counteract social isolation. There is also a lack of clarity regarding the roles of the individual, relatives and NGOs.
Recommendation: Politicians at national level should shoulder responsibility for clarifying the responsibilities of public authorities and other organisations. This can be achieved through decisions and developing programmes similar to the Scottish Government’s strategy.
Politicians at all levels, as well as the private sector and non-governmental organisations, should map and identify risk groups. Based on this, it would be appropriate to collaborate on preparing local action plans. Those responsible at a local level are advised to examine documented practical examples from Møre og Romsdal in Norway, Helsingborg in Sweden and Aarhus in Denmark.
Obstacle: Traditional organisational structures with a silo mentality create barriers to implementing creative change. Even within and between organisations it is unclear which functions are responsible for soft values, such as tackling social isolation.
Recommendation: Regional and municipal organisations should develop collaborative models in which all stakeholders place the individual at the centre. Based on collaboration on welfare technology and social isolation, the following is recommended:
- User-centred design.
- Innovation partnerships between citizens, healthcare providers, municipalities, technology and service companies, NGOs, etc.
- Procurement of welfare technology services should be based on needs and functions – it must not be product or technology-driven.
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