From online social networks to codesign in digital health

From online social networks to codesign in digital health

I set this blog up just over four years ago in January 2012 both to record my online ethnographic PhD research and with the hope of having conversations that would help inform my thinking and enable me to share my learning along the way. After four years of working full time, compressing five days into four and doing research on the extra day I’d squeezed out of the week, I finally had my viva on Friday. I passed the assessors’ grilling with four minor corrections and am basking in a profound sense of relief and delight in equal measure. My research was about online social networks and mental health with a heavy focus on the now departed The World of Mentalists blog and ecosystem around it. I have many people to be grateful to for in helping me think about this topic over the last four years. In particular I’d like to thank all my interviewees for sharing their time and expertise (you know who you are) and to everyone who welcomed me into the madosphere. I’d also like to thank Phil, Mark, Sue, James and Kat for many a Skype, phone call, meet up and often conference podium where we shared our thinking about mental health and online social networks with various audiences. During those four years  my interests have developed beyond online social networks to digital technologies in health, with a particular focus on co-design and ethics. I’ve clocked up 133 posts on this blog and recently changed its title  to reflect those broader interests. A few years ago I set up mHabitat which comprises an ever...
Is digital technology a technical or adaptive problem in health?

Is digital technology a technical or adaptive problem in health?

Around three years ago I was invited to speak at a consultant psychiatrists committee meeting about social media and digital technology. I was mid way through my PhD and steeped in online ethnographic research about how people accessing mental health services and practitioners were making use of social networks. I had an inkling that I would have a mixed audience and I knew that not everyone would share my (then*) enthusiasm. As such I spent time preparing a range of compelling examples of digital technologies and social media practices, determined as I was to win over any detractors. I arrived a little early and so listened in to the tail end of an exasperated discussion about the various grinding limitations, obstacles and shortcomings of the in-house electronic patient record (EPR). If my audience’s primary experience of technology in health was such a bad one, then this did not bode well for my presentation – I quickly realised I was going to have to recalibrate. How could I be so naive as to think a conversation about the future potential of digital technologies would be welcomed, when the basics of reliable and effective electronic patient records seemed like a pipe dream? This experience came back to me whilst reading The Digital Doctor – Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age (Wachter, 2015) which is dominated by an expansive analysis of the shortcomings of contemporary electronic patient records. Wachter argues that EPRs have brought many a physician ‘to their knees’ with their clunky, confusing and complex systems (73). It is salutary to note that three years on...
How can we keep the digital revolution social? #mindtech15

How can we keep the digital revolution social? #mindtech15

How can we keep the digital revolution social? On Wednesday 2 December mHabitat is hosting a social debate in partnership with The Mental Elf and MindTech on the eve of the latter’s Harnessing the Digital Revolution annual symposium. The title of the debate is ‘can research really tell you how to make a good mental health app?’. We’ll be using the hashtag  #mindtech15 as well as streaming the discussion live on Periscope. The debate is all about keeping the digital revolution open, social and exploratory – challenging ourselves to think critically about digital in mental health through public deliberation. We hope it will be stimulating, fun and informal. I have previously blogged about my lack of love for the traditional conference format, often characterised by experts on the podium transmitting knowledge to a largely passive audience. Not only do such events miss a trick in harnessing audience expertise within the audience but also often fail to be engaging. I’m a big advocate of participant led events, as exemplified by the People Driven Digital which a few of us organised earlier this year – we put a lot of effort into making this as sociable an event as possible. The symposium itself is a mix of presentations, debates, a rapid fire technology showcase, an exhibition and lots of opportunity for networking. You can book here – I recommend it. Theories of learning styles are contested, but if we recognise that people learn differently, then it makes sense to organise an event in ways which vary pace and style to keep people engaged.  So it’s been fabulous to collaborate with Mindtech and...
Digital technologies in mental health – opportunities, challenges and unexpected benefits

Digital technologies in mental health – opportunities, challenges and unexpected benefits

In a few weeks time I am speaking at the 2nd Summit New Technologies and Mental Health: Future Possibilities in Barcelona. In my presentation I will share opportunities, challenges and unexpected benefits arising from the first year and a half of our mHabitat programme – supporting digital innovation in the sphere of mental health and beyond. People first – technology second The first insight I will share is a simple one – the fundamental importance of putting people first and technology second. It seems obvious that people should be at the heart of any innovation in mental health, but we have learnt that it is often missed. It is too easy for the allure of new technology to outshine more mundane but crucial considerations of understanding what people actually want and need. Why is it so important to put people first? Creating or licensing a digital technology will only add real value if we deeply understand the preferences, motivations and capabilities of the people they are intended for. Fortunately there are established methodologies, such as user centred design and service design for co-designing digital technologies that add value to a user’s journey through a service. In the health service there is the added dimension that digital technologies need to be underpinned by sound theories of behaviour change and/or clinical guidance as well as meeting regulatory requirements. Generating evidence so we know what works and what doesn’t is also an important consideration. Putting people at the centre is the first step to developing digital technologies that will really make a difference to people’s lives. Putting people first means recognising that...
Eight characteristics of sociable professionals & organisations

Eight characteristics of sociable professionals & organisations

What are the key characteristics of professionals and organisations who understand online social networks and participate in them in ways which are welcomed by their publics? My PhD thesis has sought to understand how relationships between people accessing and providing mental health services are being disrupted in online social networks. Whilst my ethnographic research focused on the sadly departed The World of Mentalists and its ecosystem of blogs fondly referred to as the madosphere, I am finishing my final chapter with some general insights about how professionals and organisations can be sociable in online spaces. Whilst my focus is on mental health, I think these insights have application beyond the mental health sphere. Below are my (very draft) eight characteristics of sociable professionals and eight characteristics of sociable organisations. I’d be massively grateful for your comments – please feel free to question, challenge and rip them to pieces! Eight characteristics of the sociable professional The sociable professional appreciates the affordances of online social networks for people to bolster their wellbeing through seeking information and producing their own content The sociable professional understands the benefits of peer support in online social networks to engender mental wellbeing, validation, resilience and self esteem The sociable professional facilitates digital inclusion to ensure people they support do not get left behind The sociable professional supports people in their blended offline and online lives where this is welcomed – navigating the perils and the possibilities The sociable professional respects and is an ally to people living with mental health difficulties who exploit online social networks to challenge stigma and discrimination The sociable professional mediates their...
Social media & backstage performance – part I

Social media & backstage performance – part I

In his seminal sociological work The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) Erving Goffman employs a theatrical metaphor to shed light on everyday social interactions – we endeavour to manage the impression we give of ourselves to others through our front stage performance; our back stage performance is where we can set aside our public selves, step out of character, adjust our flaws and construct our public selves. We use any number of props to manage our front stage performance. In contemporary life, the press release is a typical institutional prop for impression management. However, online social networks are also props which enable the audience (AKA ordinary people) to question, challenge and even undermine those attempts at maintaining a coherent front stage – they demand that the curtains are pulled back and they demand access to the back stage area. But how often are institutions willing to give this sort of access? Last week saw a storm of protest on Twitter in response to a BBC News film in which the use of prosthetic masks to teach mental health nursing students was promoted. It is easy to see why the press release got picked up by mainstream media – it made a good front stage headline as can be seen in their press release: Hollywood silicone masks bring interactive nursing to life at RGU; the University got positive modest mainstream media coverage as a result. However, Twitter didn’t receive the story with quite the same uncritical enthusiasm. I won’t go into the detail here, but you can check out the Twitter hashtag #MHMasks to find out more. Firstly...