Over the past few weeks (and ongoing in some circles) there has been a bit of a storm about an initiative launched by the charity The Samaritans which in some ways you could tie to building greater individual/community resilience. The initiative was called Samaritans Radar and you can find out a bit more about it here:
Well as it turns out, not that much more given they closed the initiative due to public pressure.
So what was it? The site used the tagline of “turning your social net into a safety net” and it was basically a Twitter app that filtered through the tweets of everyone you follow to look for trigger words/phrases that might indicate early stages of stress/depression/mental ill health. The idea being that if “friends” are alerted at an early stage, they are more likely to get in contact early and prevent escalation of a problem. Real early stage intervention stuff.
Now try googling it for some of the debate and discussion on this. People were not happy. Words like “spying” “unethical” “dangerous” “meddling do-gooders” so on and so forth.
I’m definitely not wise enough to tell you whether it was a good idea or a bad idea, but what struck me through all of the discussion was how neatly it could fit principles of resilience. It:
– encourage social interaction where otherwise it might not take place (not only increasing the likelihood of conversation but also potentially bridging between people suffering from an issue and people who aren’t)
– it levered different resources to combat an issue (non-users of the charity rather than trained volunteers/professionals)
– it diversified the role of the charity (moving from not only a direct provider of support but a potential broker of alternative support)
So what went wrong? If you’re reading this you’ll no doubt have a your own views(!), but I think this is a classic case of trying to catalyse community resilience where it was already happening naturally, and the dangers of over engineering. In reality Samaritans didn’t need to create anything, the radar already existed! It was (and is) called Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In (whatever you use) and they already increase the likelihood of picking up health issues amongst friends in an organic and imperfect way. The Samaritans app, if nothing else, highlighted where relationships DIDN’T exist, and as such scared people that very personal information could be analysed and acted upon by people with no connection to them.
So on reflection, i think the radar failed on the first principle, because while it encouraged interactions to take place, it was too crude to build relationships which is where resilience on such a sensitive topic flourishes.
I think this is really important. As public services look more and more towards ways of unlocking community capacity there’ll be a temptation to piggy back on ways of scaling this capacity as quickly as possible, and in doing so could do a lot more damage than good because they’ll be based on what the public service wants to achieve, not on how people interact with each other. People like helping each other out, but they don’t like being forced to help, or be helped. Creating the conditions for the choice to take place – well that to me seems like the secret ingredient.