Want to do good with digital? Here’s how we did it.
Digital technology has transformed so much of our lives, from how we share a photo to how we buy our food. However, as a tool for doing good - for instance, in helping the most vulnerable - we have barely started. If you’re tempted to direct your digital efforts to something socially beneficial, here’s how we did it…
‘Tech for good’ is a phrase that refers to technology that has a social purpose. Countless problems in society could have a technology-based solution, but imaginative innovators are needed to create these solutions. Tech for good has become a community with organisations such as Bethnal Green Ventures, Nesta and Nominet Trust encouraging innovators and startups to develop digital solutions to society’s challenges.
The care of adults in our communities is one such social venture that Mark Howells, CEO and Founder of Konnektis, is intent on solving with technology. Here are his 5 tips for people looking to do good through digital:
1. FIND SOMETHING YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT
Our first piece of advice is self-explanatory: creating tech for good requires commitment and dedication, so you must be passionate about the problem you are trying to solve.
Mark Howells is passionate about improving the quality of care of older adults:
“My tech for good journey began with my Grandad and our family’s experience looking after him. Grandad lived alone and suffered from a range of chronic conditions like dementia and diabetes. He needed extensive care support from professional carers, as well as from family members and other informal carers.”
His experiences caring for his grandfather highlighted the serious lack of effective communication between different parties in the care sector, and how this had detrimental effects on both his grandfather and his family.
“My family found that the network of different carers couldn’t collaborate effectively as communication relied on an ineffective pen-and-paper based system. The paper system couldn’t respond to his needs in real-time as his health declined. This meant that simple, preventable problems like skipping a meal (he had diabetes) or not taking a new medication escalated into GP visits or hospital admission if it wasn’t clear what was wrong. Grandad’s health was affected, and we all lived under a cloud that ‘something’ preventable might go wrong at any moment.”
Mark believes that older people deserve the best possible care, and he is determined to enable more effective communication in care through technology.
“Our solution was Konnektis. We provide a communication platform for carers that runs on a dedicated, secure internet-enabled tablet that stays in the older person’s home and becomes the hub for real-time information. With Konnektis, older people have more information about their care, professional carers have quick access to up-to-date, relevant data about the person, and informal carers and family members receive information in real-time about their loved one’s care.”
2. FOCUS ON THE USER AND HOW TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS
You might have the best intentions, but you will not help the people you are trying to help without collaborating with them and understanding their needs.
At the very start of their journey, Mark realised that this was Konnektis’s biggest mistake. Learning from this led them to co-design their product with carers, older people and family members. The effective collaboration tool that Konnektis is today is thanks to learning this lesson in the early stages of the design process.
“We built our initial prototype by relying too much on our own experiences and assumptions rather than spending time with as many users as possible. We built it quickly but we hadn’t taken enough time to genuinely understand people’s lives and their core needs.”
“We went back to the drawing board and put the user at the centre of everything that we do. We developed Konnektis in partnership with a regional branch of Age UK so that it is co-designed with carers, family members and older people receiving care.”
3. BE PREPARED TO FACE CHALLENGES
Konnektis faced many of the challenges that most startups face. Fundraising is difficult but with the help of the Tech For Good movement it is possible to get your idea off the ground.
“We were helped enormously by the Bethnal Green Ventures accelerator programme and the Nominet Trust grant-funding programme.”
Jessica Stacey, Partner at Bethnal Green Ventures, said:
"Starting any venture is hard, so finding the right support networks and advisors to help you in your journey is really important. You’ll find a lot of support and learn lots of lessons from being around other tech for good ventures. You can do this in an accelerator programme, like the one we run at Bethnal Green Ventures, or by getting out to the growing number of tech for good events like the Tech for Good meetup group we help run."
One of the biggest challenges is engaging with potential customers. How do you get them to take you seriously? When you have no track record, securing that first customer is the hardest thing you will have to do.
Konnektis says that persistence is key. By utilising the support and workshops run by organisations such as Bethnal Green Ventures and Cambridge Social Ventures, engaging with as many people as possible and collaborating with established companies, like Samsung and Microsoft, eventually you will gain recognition.
“Since our successful pilot in Bradford, we are scaling up with a number of Local Authorities in the North of England. It was a challenge getting to this stage, and requires persistence.”
So don’t give up!
4. KEEP AN OPEN MIND
You have to keep an open mind about your idea, and accept and embrace that it is going to evolve and change.
“Our initial prototype was more of an app, but since co-designing it with users, it has evolved into what it is today: an end-to-end platform that runs on a dedicated, secure tablet that stays in the older person’s home. It now also provides a real-time care diary for older people so they know who is coming and when. We know that it will continue to develop: we are now incorporating a signposting tool on the tablet to transform digital engagement and are beginning to use Konnektis as a hub for wearable and IoT technology.”
You should always be on the look-out for collaborators and keep an open mind about what you have to offer each other.
“Since collaborating with Local Authorities and large companies such as Samsung and Microsoft, Konnektis has been shaped and moved in directions that we didn’t expect, but have come to greatly appreciate.”
5. GO FOR IT!
The only thing stopping you is you!
“You have nothing to lose and the positives far outweigh the challenges you face along the way.”