The impact of loneliness on people’s physical and mental wellbeing is significant. Recent studies have linked loneliness with - amongst other outcomes - increased likelihood of mortality, coronary heart disease, progression of frailty, and cognitive decline amongst older people.
Social isolation is likely to be exacerbated in rural areas where, typically, support networks and infrastructure are more thinly distributed. How might we identify those geographical areas where demand and supply of social support is most mismatched, and how might we re-imagine a model of care which addresses this gap?
The mission of The Tribe Project (Tribe) is to address geographical inequality of social support and care. Tribe offers two inter-related solutions.
The first is a mapping of care “dark patches” within a region, which identifies the types of unmet need and the skills required within communities to address these needs. The second is a digital marketplace for social needs and support, which offers an alternative model of provision based on signposting, matching, capacity-building and micro-commissioning. This model could be particularly effective in dark patches.
Tribe uses the geospatial mapping capabilities developed by its parent company, Bronze Labs, to identify community support needs across a geographical area and compare those with support being supplied. Analysed datasets include:
adult social care data
information from the Tribe marketplace itself
AI-powered modelling produces a current and future picture of the demand that is going unmet. This is used to generate a matrix that identifies where there are and will be skill gaps and lack of support within a community. In turn, this generates a set of local recommendations about training requirements.
This is valuable for local authority commissioners, as well as for voluntary organisations, individual volunteers and prospective micro-providers of care. To date, Tribe has been active across Shropshire, Dorset, Essex, Suffolk and North Yorkshire.
Tribe’s digital marketplace connects people who need support and care with those who are offering it. It’s a versatile platform which can signpost to community services, recruit volunteers and match support givers with recipients.
During COVID-19, local authorities have principally used Tribe for using volunteers at pace and scale. It’s the responsibility of authorities using the platform to ensure that their recruitment and management of volunteers complies with safeguarding best practice. Between Tribe’s launch in March and June 2020, 3,222 volunteers registered on the platform. Councils matched volunteers with 1,776 community support tasks, ranging from welfare check-in phone calls to food shopping to newspaper deliveries. Many of these tasks were for socially isolated older people.
Prior to COVID-19, Tribe had run a small number of proofs of concept - in partnership with local authorities in Shropshire and Dorset - to incubate micro-providers of care. The marketplace offers an opportunity for local individuals to set up micro-enterprises and respond nimbly to support needs identified in the marketplace. Through the mechanism of direct payments, this offers local authorities and self-funding individuals with a potential alternative to commissioning care from established agencies. The rationale for this model is that it’s more flexible, reduces transaction costs (Tribe charges a small fee of 3% to providers) and builds greater economic independence in neighbourhoods by empowering local people to provide paid support work.
To sign up local people as micro-providers and check their DBS profile, Tribe uses mobile application and voice interface technologies. Tribe partners with Community Catalysts to support micro-providers with an operating framework for starting up and growing their enterprise in a sustainable way.
In collaboration with Skills for Care and Helpforce, the Tribe platform uses adaptive training technology for people to undertake validated digital training and build a skills profile. With the peak of COVID-19 emergency planning over, the plan is to re-start this work with micro-providers and scale it up.
Feedback to date
Kirsty O’Callaghan, Head of Strengthening Communities at Essex County Council commented:
Tribe is not just a tool that allows us to match people with need in both a paid and volunteering capacity; it allows us to predict and understand future needs both across the county and at a hyper-local level. It is an intuitive and transparent commissioning tool, as well as a tool that creates connection and belonging. It enables us as a local authority to get out of the way - we are offering it to all of our voluntary sector partners, rolling it out with parish and district councils, libraries, Citizens Advice. It is integral to us delivering community-owned volunteering programmes and revolutionising how we support micro-volunteering. We love it.
Andy Cuthbertson, Communities and VCS Lead at Suffolk County Council remarked:
We see Tribe as a really valuable tool for engaging with communities and volunteers to tackle a number of challenges, issues and inequalities in our county. We have primarily used the expertise of the team to help us with our community response to COVID. However, going forward we now have a resource to look at how we work with communities and volunteers to tackle health and social care challenges. We have already begun using it to bring volunteers into the support services of our integrated neighbourhood teams, and are now exploring how it could help us to overcome care supply challenges in remote rural areas.
Whilst Tribe was set up to match supply of social support with unmet demand, some councils have struggled to fully use their supply base of volunteers. This is unsurprising in the context of COVID-19 where implementation of a system at speed was key and where the volunteer response was overwhelming. But in the long-term, this is something for organisations to consider to ensure a good experience for their volunteers.
In its early days, the Tribe platform was subject to a classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation related to scale. Individuals looking for support would be persuaded of the platform’s value once sufficient numbers of suppliers were featured, and likewise suppliers were inclined to delay registering until they identified sufficient demand. This issue is being continually addressed as Tribe attracts more users. In addition, Tribe is offering additional free features to prospective micro-providers - such as scheduling and client management software - to encourage take-up.
As with many commissioning and volunteer management initiatives, the value chain to the end user can be a long one featuring many different people. To be successful, Tribe needs to ensure that everyone involved with arranging and providing support is comfortable about their touchpoints with the platform.