How to tackle loneliness in the city?

It’s one of these subjects that isn’t always easy to talk about: loneliness. Yet, in many countries and many cities, it is a growing problem. Also in different cities in The Netherlands. One of them, the city of Assen, organized a special meeting with both citizens and professionals representing different sectors [e.g. healthcare, education, churches, municipal authorities etc.]. About 75 people attended an interactive session, that resulted in concrete actions.

The meeting was chaired by a moderator, supported by a sidekick and fueled with a social gerontologist. The last person is a professional specialised in the process of “getting older” and in her case also specialised in loneliness prevention programs. Here’s how the meeting was setup:

An interactive session on loneliness prevention

  • Confront: Before the audience would dive into the issue, they were first asked how the theme of loneliness resonated with their own experience. The organization believed that when doing so, people would be somewhat confronted, which would help to increase engagement around the subject. People were asked to discuss the following question in pairs:
    «I know one or more people in the city that are lonely»,followed by:
    «Past month I’ve felt lonely myself»Although the organization was aware of the sensitive nature of the question, it also believed that attendees would be mature enough to decide what to share and what not. Besides, the voting was anonymous and resulted in 60% indicating that would know people that are lonely and 11% [!] indicating that they themselves felt lonely last month.

  • Educate: With an audience that was now triggered by the results and that had briefly spoken with each other, it was time to put the theme into a strong context. Social Gerontologist Willie Oldengarm spoke about different loneliness prevention programs throughout the country and the do’s and don’ts that come with it.Throughout her lively 30-minute presentation, she was every now and then interrupted by a sidekick. She collected all incoming questions that attendees could send in through Sendsteps. The sidekick would interrupt and ask clarifying questions and share interesting comments to which the speaker would then elaborate on, or whereby the moderator sought further interaction with the audience. 

  • Break: After an hour, people would spend a little break to digest all the information, talking further before heading back to the room for the last part of the session.

  • Interaction: Based on shared personal experiences, knowledge gained and social connections established, it was now a good timing to discuss the situation in the city itself. This was a talk based on statements [that attendees could vote on again], like e.g.:
    «Regularly visiting lonely people, will solve feeling lonely»,or
    «I ask lonely people what they would wish themselves»or
    «I miss a collective approach on loneliness prevention within the city»With every statement the attendees could vote, then they’d briefly talk in small groups and then a plenary discussion followed. The expert speaker and the sidekick interrupted every now and then, adding valuable remarks to the discussion.

  • Best practices and solutions: Finally the audience would send in best practices. “What, in your experience, has worked well with regards to loneliness prevention?” A number of solutions would appear on the screen: coffee mornings, language courses, buddy projects etc. The moderator would invite attendees to live elaborate on the responses, resulting in a great sharing of knowledge and experiences. Some people didn’t know about each other’s initiatives and decided on the spot to join forces from then on. In the final part of the meeting, all attendees would fill out a short questionnaire through Sendsteps. Attendees could indicate if they’d be interested in forming think groups and to volunteer in loneliness prevention projects. With a high response rate:
    • A new group of volunteers could be setup
    • New connections were made between professional organizations
    • A more coherent loneliness prevention approach could be designed
Interesting With a clever program setup, the use of anonymous feedback through Sendsteps and the concrete follow up actions, this event can be called a best practice. It is an example for other cities and communities and shows that even sensitive subjects can be discussed without people needing to leave their comfort zone too much.

What’s there for you to take away from this best practice?

About the author

Robert DaverschotChairman | Moderator | Sidekick

Robert is a professional moderator, dialogue facilitator and sidekick and works both independently and on behalf of Sendsteps audience response system. Robert has years of experience at home and abroad and has interviewed, ministers, captains of industry as well as His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In his dealings with the audience, he always uses Sendsteps. With Sendsteps an audience is able to voice their opinions, whereby attendees can cast votes or send in open comments and questions to the speakers and panels on stage. As such events turn into 2.0 experiences with everyone being able to speak up!