Ami is being developed by Oxford Computer Consultants (OCC) in partnership with a number of local and national volunteer organisations. Another of OCC’s projects is a European Commission Horizon 2020 project called OPERANDO, which is funding some of Ami’s software development and testing.

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The OPERANDO project aims to create and field-test an innovative new “privacy enforcement” platform that businesses and organisations can use to enhance their data protection and privacy as well as improving how users can understand and control how their personal data are used by the providers of services they use online.

Let’s illustrate the concept with an example. If we imagine a user of a social network called Hello World:

  • Terms of Use. When they sign up to the service they agree to some terms of use, they may or may not read these and they may or may not be aware of what the agreement means with regard to how their data might be used by Hello World.
  • Privacy. At some point they might configure their privacy settings. These might be hard to find and often even harder to understand.
  • Valuable data. Over time the user will enter all sorts of valuable and even sensitive information into Hello World and that data can be used by Hello World in a wide variety of ways, some of which might be unexpected due to a hard to understand or unread terms of use. Most likely Hello World will try to make money from the user’s data through advertising or selling access to their information to parties that might find it interesting. This can introduce ethical or even regulatory issues.
  • Removing access. The user might decide that they wanted to change their mind and remove some of their data from Hello World or even delete their account. How can they be sure their data is not going to continue to be used or sold?

OPERANDO helps by putting the user in control of their data and helping them understand how it will be used by service providers like Hello World. OPERANDO lets the user choose which of their data is shared and with whom. They can remove access to their data at any time and trust that it will remain secure. They can make clear choices about how their data might be used or analysed.

Who uses OPERANDO?

The OPERANDO platform will benefit a number of groups:

  • Online Service Providers – These are organisations needing to record or use the sensitive data belonging to an individual. Hello World was one example, needing to record, access and share sensitive data about individuals. These organisations will gain the ability to show explicit consent from users, cost-effectively comply with privacy regulations and increase the trust of users.
  • Privacy Service Providers – These are the organisations that will run the OPERANDO platforms offering privacy services to the public and access to that data to the Online Service Providers. they gain the ability to deploy a secure, standard and compliant platform on which to base their operations.
  • Users – Can manage their online privacy issues with an intuitive web application. They can also trust that their chosen privacy settings will be enforced on all Online Service Providers using their data.
  • Privacy Regulators – OPERANDO will allow regulators to automatically audit the privacy policies of Online Service Providers to ensure they comply with the relevant privacy regulations.

How does Ami fit in?

Ami will be a case study for OPERANDO. Acting as an Online Service Provider, Ami will show how OPERANDO can be used to manage the privacy of its users’ data. Ami deals with sensitive data about volunteers and vulnerable people so trust is paramount. OPERANDO will help users and/or voluntary organisations working on their behalf, to understand how to control their information. It gives Ami the benefit of that trust as well as a clear way to comply with data regulations.

Ami Workshop – Volunteer Organisations’ first thoughts on Ami

We invited several organisations who run Volunteer Befriending or Good Neighbour Schemes to come and visit us in Oxford at the end of February.  We hoped they would learn more about Ami and we would hear their feedback on our ideas.  There were representatives from RVSAge UK , Oxford County Council, Volunteer Link Up  Abingdon Good Neighbour Scheme and Community Christmas  

As part of the presentation we showed some examples of the sort of screen a new volunteer would be able to see on Ami.  It would include details about the people who are looking for help, but not enough to identify them or where they live.  It could show their age, gender, interests and an icon to indicate what kind of help they require.  The short profile would also show which volunteer agency had assessed their needs.

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After a presentation (you can download our slides) we asked everyone to tell us what the benefits of a system like Ami might be for their organisation.  The top three benefits were:

  1. Better Matching – being able to match volunteers with clients by location or interests
  2. Better Referrals – a single point of referrals for GPs, relatives and other agencies
  3. Attract more volunteers – by showing local need, offering micro-volunteering and making the process easier

All agreed it could be a really useful tool for their organisations.  Some imagined an Ami App where a pre-registered volunteer could find out what help was needed in their local area this weekend when they had some free time.  Other benefits discussed included gathering national data including live data and activity reporting.

workshop 9

The top concerns of those attending the workshop were

  1. Cost, Sustainability – What would it cost to use and can Ami be financially sustainable
  2. Cooperation – Can the volunteer organisations work together, sharing volunteers & data
  3. Safeguarding – Risks of data on-line for vulnerable older people

These are all concerns that we expected and we believe we can begin to show how we will address them during our first pilot which is planned for this summer.  We’re still looking for different types of organisations to work with including Churches, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Housing Associations, so do get in touch if you might be interested.  A huge thank you to everyone who gave us their time.  We hope the day was useful and that you’ll continue to work with us.

How Ami could work with voluntary organisations to benefit befriending services

The Ami project has been running for just over 2 months now and we have come a long way in a short time. We’ve interviewed people who have older parents living far away, met lots of amazing people who run befriending networks and made contact with national organisations who offer befriending services. We’ve learnt a lot about how befriending works, the benefits it brings and the importance of making a good match.

Our focus has changed, away from the original driver which came from OCC’s experience in social care and towards the issue of loneliness. We’ve quickly realised that the best way forward is to work closely with the voluntary organisations who have a wealth of experience in running befriending services.

We think that Ami could add huge benefits to befriending services by using IT to do the sorts of things it does so well, whilst working with trained volunteers and professionals to do the parts that humans do so well. The benefits we believe Ami could bring include:

  • Enabling voluntary organisations to make quicker matches between clients and volunteer befrienders
  • Enabling all existing befriending services and charities to work together to map services across the UK and ensure more efficient use of resources.
  • Creating easier processes for relatives, GPs and other agencies to refer lonely people to befriending services
  • Providing easier secure record keeping for voluntary organisations and real time information about visits.
  • Creating secure lists of isolated people within neighbourhoods, useful for Local Authorities, Emergency Services and many other agencies.
  • Motivating more people (especially younger people) to volunteer as befrienders, by making the signing up process more immediate and highlighting the level of need in their local community.

So we’ve invited some of the people we’ve made contact with so far to come and meet Oxford Computer Consultants towards the end of February and find out more about Ami and how we might be able to work together. We’re really looking forward to it.

How Social Impact Bonds can be used to reduce Loneliness

At the inspirational Learning Network Conference run by the Campaign to End Loneliness last week, Lisi Bouchard of Social Finance told us that each lonely person leads to an increased service usage of £12,000 pa.  So it’s clear why we need more ideas to reduce loneliness, like Ami.  Social Impact Bonds are a way of funding projects which would save money for the public purse by preventing conditions, such as loneliness.

What’s a Social Impact Bond

In 2010, Social Finance pioneered a model that separates the payment for the delivery of an intervention from the payment for the success of that intervention. This is the Social Impact Bond (SIB). Working with a number of partners, we realised that we needed to understand not only the financial costs of a social issue but the value to interested parties, primarily government, of preventing an escalation of the same social issue. Once we had agreed the financial value of preventing or improving a social issue, we assessed the level of investment needed that would cover the costs of the delivery of the interventions and the risks to the investors if the interventions were not successful. The first SIB was launched in September 2010 at Peterborough Prison. It funds rehabilitation services for short-sentence prisoners released from the prison, with the aim of reducing reoffending post-release. To date, a total of 14 SIBs have been launched in the UK, ranging from supporting young people to find work to helping rough sleepers off the streets.  Introduction to Social Impact Bonds

Has anyone tried using Social Impact Bonds to reduce loneliness?

NESTA has funded a programme called Rebuilding Connections that reduces loneliness and improves well-being in older age.  The programme, run by Age UK Herefordshire & Worcestershire and a range of public and community care and support services will identify lonely individuals, then match them with trained volunteers to help reconnect people with their communities, as well as facilitating a range of other peer support and social activities. The service is funded using a social impact bond, where payments from commissioners are only made when actual reductions in loneliness are achieved (measured through an accredited loneliness scale).   The pilot programme currently has 75 volunteers supporting 150 older people but aims to support 3,000 older people over the next three years, as well as developing open-source tools to help replicate this innovative approach in new areas.

We’d love to learn more about this project and find out if our IT expertise could help in any way.

Ending Loneliness

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are addressing loneliness rather than issues around social care.  Our original idea came out of the work Oxford Computer Consultants has done with Social Care teams for Local Authorities.   We had envisaged a system to help people access additional support for their elderly relatives with help from volunteers.  The Local Authority might fund help for an older person getting up in the morning but not provide someone to chat with, or help with the shopping.

As we do more research, speaking to voluntary organisations about befriending networks and Good Neighbour Schemes, we realise that our narrative is wrong.  We are not trying to design something to help in the field of social care.  We are designing something to help reduce loneliness.

Loneliness is becoming increasingly common and it’s affecting our health.  It’s an issue for people of all ages, not just the elderly.  There has been a great deal of interest in the subject recently and many of you will already be aware of the John Lewis Christmas advert or the excellent BBC documentary The Age of Loneliness

So to continue our research, we’re off to Cardiff tomorrow to attend a conference run by the  Campaign to End Loneliness.  We’re looking forward to attending the workshops on Using Technology to Reduce Loneliness, Social Finance and Identifying Older People Experiencing, or at Risk of, Loneliness, finding out what’s out there already and meeting people working in the same field.