Are you well-connected?

  1. A toolkit-in-progress: five ways to thinking about being well-connected. 
  2. It is an exciting time in the RSA’s Connected Communities team. Alongside our academic partners UCLAN and LSE, we are approaching an interesting milestone in our seven-site, five year Connected Communities programme that seeks to understand how community and social connections affect people’s well-being, and how to use this information to best plan local projects.

    These sites are (in a rough South to North zig-zag) the Wick estate in Littlehampton, Arun; SE14 and SE4 in Lewisham, South London; Knowle West in Bristol; Tipton, near Sandlewell; Bretton in Peterborough; the Merseyside L8 area in Liverpool; and Murton, an ex-mining village in County Durham.

    Having analysed the links between well-being and social/community connections for thousands of people across seven sites (as shown in the map above)  we are now getting to the stage where we can take stock of emergent findings, and start planning how to use these findings to help fund-raise for and support evidence-based project in each of the local sites.

    We are now finishing up the community playback of findings in each site (click here to see what happened when we went to Mersey to playback findings and discuss new potential interventions) and have just held an annual partners’ event to playback overall findings and plan next steps. If you ever wondered what a travelling well-being and connections road-show looked like, have a look-see at this here storify to see what happened, tweet by tweet.

    So far, so complex, but I am trying to help shed light on the complicated links between well-being and connections by putting together the beginnings of a  connectedness toolkit. Essentially, context matters; each area is different, but similarly so. Key themes emerging are the need for social support, the relative nature of social vulnerability, the importance of how people’s aspirations link to their area and context, the importance of feeling part of something, and the importance of being able to effect change and to see change being effected. 

    The Tool-Kit!
    Below, here are some of our lessons learnt along the way. This is a work in progress, so all thoughts and comments most appreciated! I unfortunately have discovered no magic formula, but here are some things to keep in mind….
  3. 1. People need a social context and social support. What that support looks like is up to them, but the first thing we must ask of a friend, client, patient is whether they have anyone around that is important to them, who they can rely on. Be that three people, two people, or just the one.

  4. Sometimes the most important measure was feeling close to someone…
  5. … in other cases it was about giving or being given some practical help
  6. 1a. Our lives can be a bit complex, sometimes people need extra support.  
  7. In each of the sites we looked at, we found that there were site-specific at risk groups that particularly benefited from 1. increased connections: for example single parents or those with no qualifications in a ex-mining village near Durham; 2. or for whom having close connections buffered a risk of low wellbeing: such as the long-term ill, those over the age of  65, and the unemployed in New Cross Gate; 3. or for whom having access to practical help was particularly meaningful.
  8. 1b. Vulnerable varies, it might be about being unemployed or precariously employed… (like this street-artist in Venice who told me of his long-lost daughter)
  9. … or being older….
  10. …or looking after children on your own.
  11. 2. Aspirations matter
  12. What are your aspirations and norms like, compared to those of your area? In Blackburn, having higher qualifications was linked to lower wellbeing. In Tipton, the unemployed with high qualifications fared far worse than the unemployed with no qualifications.
  13. 3. Everything is linked in a ‘house-of-cards’ way.  Area satisfaction, neighbourhood stratification, health satisfaction, social support…
  14. … these all tend to bolster each other, and we need to be prepared to ask holistic questions about all of these areas in people’s lives.
  15. 4. Feeling part of something matters..
  16. In Blackburn, the most significant question we asked people was the slightly wish washy feeling.. “How far would you say that you feel part of something that you would call a community”? In our Connected Communities sites we found that knowing people who can get things done locally, or having sources of information locally were often linked to higher well-being.
  17. 4a. Barriers (to community) are harmful!
  18. One of the most stable interactions between network relationships and wellbeing was that between perceiving barriers locally, and having lower life satisfaction.
  19. 5. VOICE and AGENCY matter…
  20. Just knowing people locally that could connect to to authority was not enough, and could even be harmful for those without social support. Agency – feeling that you happen to life, not the other way round – is understood to be important for people’s well-being.
  21. Now comes the hard and fun bit: working with these fuzzy maps…
  22. … and with local people and community partners in each of our sites to try and get projects off the ground.
  23. Watch this space!
  24. *n.b. all images are my own work. They may not be reproduced without my permission.

About gaiamarcus

Hi, Welcome to this little internet slice of me. I do a lot of work around social networks - not the Facebook kind - human rights and what to do to ensure that people can fulfil their full potential. I'm the social networks analysis 'expert' at the RSA, and tend to have a couple of pet projects on the side: currently Social Mirror and Edgeryders. I cook real good, sing real loud, and frequently contemplate when on earth I shall bite the bullet and return to my beloved trapeze.

One comment

  1. Marcus Shapiro

    Hi Gaia – Read your Are you well connected post.

    I am well connected as I am your third cousin, am in London, and we don’t know of each other’s existence! My first name (Marcus) is entirely coincidental.

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