The Tech to Connect Challenge: Origin and Design

Blog post co-written by Constance Agyeman, Head of International Development and Communities at Nesta Challenges and Maliha Asad, Policy Advisor, Digital Skills and Tech for Good at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Loneliness and social isolation are interconnected, often experienced, but rarely talked about. In DCMS’s Civil Society and Loneliness strategies, we committed to considering the role of technology in tackling social issues such as social isolation. The first step was to really recognise that this is a human issue and that technology had the potential to be used as a tool to enhance human interactions and bring people together both online and offline. Looking back, we can see now, more than ever, the potential for technology to enable closer social support for our communities as much of the nation continues to self isolate due to COVID-19.  

When we embarked on our research around the issue, we wanted to ensure we went beyond simply gathering data sets because social isolation and loneliness are very much human issues. We knew there simply was not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. We made sure our research interviews were developed in accordance with organisations and people who have lived experience of social isolation in different settings as we all know isolation cuts across so many different areas, populations and ages. Ultimately we acknowledged that civil society best understood the experiences of those they served. 

In the age of social media, there has never been more technology that connects us with one another. Yet it is clear that there is space for technology to do even more to tackle social isolation specifically. In cultivating a variety of new ideas in this field, Tech to Connect also wanted to contribute to the evidence base around technology-centered interventions. It looked to be a vehicle for demonstrating the benefits of using technology throughout civil society, both internally and externally.

Design

The Tech To Connect Challenge was launched in the summer of 2019, in order to help civil society in England develop their early stage ideas for technology that enables more or better interactions between people. The challenge looked for the most innovative ideas, helping them turn these ideas into prototypes that have the potential for real change either in the way civil society interacts with people, or how people interact with each other. 

The assessment criteria for the Tech To Connect Challenge were as follows:

Impact

  • Does the idea contribute to reducing social isolation in England?
  • Can the impact of the idea be measured and evaluated?

Innovation: 

  • Is the idea new, or adapted or re-purposed for its intended use?
  • Does the idea more effectively address user needs compared to what already exists?

Scalability:

  • Is there potential for the idea to grow or be replicated across England?
  • Can this scale or replication be done in a financially sustainable way?

Feasibility:

  • Is the idea technologically and operationally effective?
  • Is the idea affordable and accessible to its target users?

An expert Judging Panel was assigned, bringing together insight from civil society and the tech sector, in order to independently assess entries. The Panel included:

  • Carrie Deacon, Director Government Innovation People Power, Nesta
  • Cansu Deniz Bayrak, Senior Partner, Bethnal Green Ventures
  • Ed Evans, CEO, Social Tech Trust 
  • Kate Shurety, Executive Director, Campaign to End Loneliness 
  • Sebastien Krier, Policy Adviser, UK Government’s Office for Artificial Intelligence

The Judges selected 10 Finalists in September 2019, who each received cash grants of £25,000 to use in the development of their prototypes. We were delighted that through the design of the challenge we were able to fuse together multiple perspectives to enable digital transformation in the social sector, and were thrilled that user centred design was at the very heart of this process as the 10 Finalists of the challenge have gone on an iterative learning journey over the last 6 months. 

In February 2020 the 10 Finalists reported on their developments, and the Judging Panel met again to assess the projects. In March 2020 the Winner of the challenge will be announced and awarded £100,000 prize money. 2 Runners Up will also be awarded £75,000 respectively. 

The Tech to Connect Challenge was launched to help civil society in England develop their early stage ideas for projects that combat social isolation by utilising technology to foster more or better interactions between people. The Challenge was funded by DCMS and delivered by Nesta Challenges with support from the Developer Society and Forster Communications. 10 finalists have each received a £25,000 grant to use in the development of their prototypes.

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