Reaching the right people

When we conduct research that involves input from or sharing information with people affected by dementia, we often have a target audience that we engage with such as people living in a care home, or people who go to a specific group or use a particular service. One issue that we’ve been encountering during the pandemic is how to reach people more generally, especially when we haven’t got a route to access them.

For example, the number of Meeting Centres in Worcestershire has been increasing thanks to the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Community Support Programme, but how can we raise the profile of the new Meeting Centres to let people know that they are open? It’s not just the people affected by dementia who may wish to attend the Meeting Centres but also the professionals who could potentially refer people to the Meeting Centres. While each Meeting Centre can do its own local promotion, it’s useful for us to help provide information about the overall picture in Worcestershire. Letting people know about the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Community Support Programme in the first place has also been a challenge, as we don’t necessarily know who might be interested in applying!

Similarly, for our Worcester Life Stories project we want to capture the experiences of people who have used the two new platforms Know Your Place Worcester and Life Stories Herefordshire & Worcestershire. Unfortunately, we don’t know who is using the platforms, so it’s difficult to know how to reach them and make them aware of our surveys (the links are below just in case we’ve stumbled across you!)

Pre Covid we could have done a lot more work around visiting groups and talking to people, and hopefully as things open up a bit more we can start doing that again. Being able to attend conferences in person also used to be beneficial as not only could we present our research but we could network and make connections that would potentially result in new avenues for reaching people. While online conferences have been great in their own way, as a recent SCI-Dem blog post reflected the ‘bumping into people’ side of things just doesn’t happen as it does when you’re physically at the same event.

In the meantime, we’ve had to rely on remote and online contact with people. However, not all groups or services have been able to translate into online provision or it isn’t necessarily appropriate for us to attend remotely and take up some of their session. Many people’s priorities have also changed during the pandemic, focusing on keeping things going (in whatever form) rather than having time to engage with our work.

So what have we been able to do? Distributing information via email through existing contacts is one option, but there’s always the risk of overloading people if you keep going back to the same individuals each time. Also, even with the best will in the world, emails can be overlooked. We’ve been able to get items into a few newsletters to try and reach particular groups of interest and work with research partners to identify potential routes to explore. Social media is useful, but it can be tricky to get everything across in a short post or tweet. There’s also a balance of posting often enough – at different times – to try and maximise the chances of it being seen without annoying people by posting too often about the same. You’re never really sure who sees what you put on social media or if you’re reaching the right people, as it’s unlikely that some of our target audience will even be on social media. The best we can hope is that ‘someone who knows someone’ spots the information and passes it on.

As mentioned in an earlier blog a launch event for the Know Your Place Worcester and Life Stories Herefordshire & Worcestershire platforms did take place and we were able to attend to advertise our surveys. While the event itself was great, the surveys were one small element of it that could easily be missed or forgotten by attendees. With the Meeting Centres work, one avenue we tried was bringing together the new Meeting Centres in Worcestershire and potential referrers in an online meeting to share information and start connections being made. We reported on this in a previous blog, and hopefully now that we’ve got the ball rolling it will result in new referrals being made in due course. However, the time and effort required to do this can mean that it’s fine for one-off events rather than a regular occurrence on different projects. Attendance at online events more generally can also be an issue at times, as it’s easy to forget about it or for something else to come up that takes priority. There’s also less commitment to attend if you’re not presenting or if you don’t physically have to travel to a venue, especially if it’s an event that ‘may be of interest’ rather than ‘vital for your role’.

We’re not making excuses or blaming anyone for some of the difficulties we’ve encountered, just being realistic about how much work can be involved in something that initially sounds quite simple. It can also be frustrating when you know that being able to capture information from people will help build evidence in support of an intervention, and sharing information could make a difference to the lives of many people affected by dementia.

With this in mind, here is a shameless plug for a few things that you may have missed recently, some aimed at the general public and some more aimed at professionals. Please have a look if they are of interest to you, or share the information with others who you feel may benefit:

  • Know Your Place Worcester and Life Stories Herefordshire & Worcestershire surveys for people who have used either of these new platforms. Yes we’ve already mentioned them above, but it never hurts to give the survey links again
  • There are multiple Meeting Centres across Worcestershire with more opening soon. They are welcoming new members and people can either contact a Meeting Centre directly or be referred to it. The contact details for these Meeting Centres can be found here.
  • For people interested in opening a Meeting Centre, if you’re in Worcestershire keep an eye on the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Community Support Programme page of our website, but more widely our online training course is available for Meeting Centre staff and volunteers.
  • The DemECH project has launched three surveys aimed at people living with dementia living in extra care housing, family carers of people living with dementia living in extra care housing and commissioners of adult social care in England. Links to the surveys can be found in last week’s blog.
  • Last year we reviewed and updated the suite of environmental assessment tools we host, helping people to self-assess whether their care home, health centre, housing, hospital or ward are dementia-friendly. More recently, we’ve expanded the suite by developing a new tool for gardens and outdoor spaces, ‘Is your garden dementia-friendly?’, and all are available to download for free from our website.
  • Our next set of postgraduate modules will be starting in January with several options available as covered in a previous blog. You’ll need to apply by the end of November to study with us in January, so see our website for more information.
  • If you’re looking for arts and sensory activities that are suitable for people with dementia and their families and carers to share together, the two free booklets created as part of the TAnDem legacy work are worth investigating.

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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