Answer Cancer is providing grants of £1,000 or £2,000 to voluntary and community organisations across Greater Manchester. The intended purpose of these grants was to support groups in working with their communities to improve cancer screening rates amongst underrepresented groups. Coronavirus has since had a dramatic impact on our lives and the ways we’re able to connect with each other. In response to this crisis Answer Cancer have updated the scope of our grants. We’re now interested to hear from voluntary and community groups with any ideas for how they can keep their communities happy and connected throughout this period, while also sharing health and wellbeing advice including information on cancer.
A lot has changed over a very short space of time recently, and adopting new ways of working can be a challenge. To help get you started, we’ve put together some ideas on how you could keep your communities connected and how to spread health advice while we remain socially distant.
Broadcast approaches share information widely from a single point or organisation to many people. Generally, channels of communication in these approaches are one way and don’t effectively support dialogue. That said, they’re useful because they can reach a potentially large number of people with a single action. There any number of different broadcast approaches through which you could reach out to your communities, with publishing content on social media, uploading resources to your website, running email campaigns using tools like MailChimp, sharing information via WhatsApp broadcast lists, producing radio shows or podcasts, and even sending things through the post to those who aren’t online all being possibilities. Like all of the approaches discussed through this video these methods can be made more effective by ensuring the things you share speak directly to the needs and concerns of your community in a culturally sensitive way. Try thinking about how you could produce engaging, accessible resources to support your communities. Creating videos is one possibility, translating existing resources into community languages or reproducing them in accessible formats such as EasyRead is another.
Approaches which support interactions
As well as broadcast approaches, there are many different options for connecting your communities in ways that allow a greater amount of interaction both between your organisation and community members and community members with each other. A few options for this are: revising the approach you take to engaging with people via social media, creating and bringing community members into online spaces, hosting online events, and setting up telephone chains.
Social media can be used as a place in initiate dialogue. To achieve this consider posting conversation starters like questions or setting challenges for the day – for example: asking community members to draw or film something around a certain theme and share it. Another social media based approach could be to do livestreams and invite conversation in the comments or encourage those viewing to call, text or message in.
A different way build connectedness online is to create online spaces for your community to engage with one another in. There are many different online platforms you could use to do this – Facebook and WhatsApp groups, Slack and Discord are all popular options. Most of these platforms are based around text based messaging with the option to share other types of media and content too. Discord also supports voice calling over the internet. Each platform has its own set of advantages but it’s worth thinking about which platforms community members are already on, because this will lower the barriers to them engaging. In most cases this is likely to be WhatsApp and Facebook. To be successful with this approach these online spaces will need nurturing and moderating. You’ll need to think about how you can bring community members into these online spaces and ways of initiating and facilitating conversations between those who are on there.
For many, text based messaging and limited voice calling will feel like a poor substitute for face-to-face contact. Hosting online events using group video calling platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts are perhaps the closest we can come to coming together in a group while remaining socially distant. When using this method to reach out and connect the community you might want to consider incorporating an activity into the event. This both helps add structure to a format that can be challenging to facilitate, and also acts as a draw for community members. Some ideas for activities which can work well with this format are: quizzes, cook alongs, exercise classes such as yoga or circuit training, dance classes, karaoke nights, playing party games like charades of Pictionary, playing bingo, hosting film or book clubs, talent shows or DIY fancy dress competitions, and religious services. The possibilities are endless so get creative with it! Any of these activities can be used to share health and wellbeing advice by breaking up the session with announcements. Try hosting these events regularly to help grow your online community. Answer Cancer is able to support your organisation in developing the skills required to host these kinds of events.
Telephone chains are another good way of getting people connected. They offer the opportunity for one-to-one interactions which is useful for engaging those who aren’t confident speaking up in larger groups. They’re also able to reach those without internet access – a group who are likely to face a greater amount of isolation at present and who will have reduced access to health and wellbeing resources which are often online.
Telephone chains are like chain letters but use phone calls for communication. To create a telephone chain call people in your network to check in with them and share some information. During these phone conversations as those you call to pass the phone call forward to several people in their own personal networks and ask them, in turn, to do the same. This way you can cascade information through your communities and support people to stay connected. You can repeat this process at different times with new advice and initiatives.
Reaching new people
Each of these methods to an extent relies on your organisation, or someone in its network, having an existing connection to the people you reach. We’ve come up with a couple of ways of trying to go beyond these horizons.
Social media is one way you can do this. You can reach people via public posts and by working through existing online communities such neighbourhood, community and mutual aid groups – sharing information to their pages.
Socially distant leafleting is another approach you could take. You could produce leaflets with key bits of health advice, signposting to support services, and details on how to get involved in the different initiatives you’re running to keep the community connected. You could organise your staff and volunteers to distribute these to the homes in their immediate area while out on their daily exercise. Anyone doing this should take care to adhere to social distancing and handwashing advice while out.
Answer Cancer is committed to providing support and training to grantees. We’d like to work with groups to adapt so we can continue supporting communities. If you work with any of our five priority groups then please take a look at our grant call at https://www.answercancergm.org.uk/funding-applications/
One final thought is that it’s nice to talk to colleagues at organisations you work alongside about these new ways of connecting with people. Sharing your experiences of what seems to be working effectively can help everyone improve.
Thank you to Dan Moxon of People Dialogue Change whose work provided inspiration for much of this post: http://www.peopledialoguechange.org/2020/04/online-hangout-on-tools-for-working.html