Government turns to tech to tackle loneliness

Written by Sam Trendall on 29 November 2018 in News
News

First companies awarded funding through GovTech Catalyst programme

Credit: Giuseppe Milo/CC BY 2.0

The government has awarded funding to five technology companies it believes can help address the problem of loneliness and isolation in rural areas.

The five firms – Box Clever Digital, Enable International, GPC Systems, The Behavioural Insights Team, and Zipabout – were chosen after applying for backing via the government’s GovTech Catalyst programme, in which public-sector organisations put forward challenges they believe could be solved via innovative use of tech or data.

One of the challenges selected for the first round of the programme was put forward by Monmouthshire County Council in south-east Wales, which was seeking ways to tackle rural isolation and loneliness. 

Five proposals have now been selected for the first phase of the programme, during which they will receive as much £50,000 in funding over the next 12 weeks to support research and development activities. Up to two of these could be chosen to progress to phase two, where companies will be given up to £500,000 to develop their product or service over the course of 12 months.


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Cllr Sara Jones, cabinet member for social justice and community development at Monmouthshire County Council, said: “In Monmouthshire we are blessed with beautiful rural surroundings and thriving towns. Yet the diversity of our landscape has its challenges, where journey times on public transport to local services can exceed two hours. That is why we are determined to address this issue to ensure people feel connected and part of the community.”

 She added: “We are delighted to be working with innovative businesses who have developed a range of digital solutions for transport and rural isolation. Given the importance of the small business sector to the fabric of our country, it was great to see that 65% of the applications were from Welsh and UK-wide micro businesses with less than 10 employees."

Among the five companies chosen for GovTech Catalyst funding is the Behavioural Insights Team – a data science specialist which was formerly a policy unit based in the prime minister’s office. During its time in Downing Street, it was often referred to as the “nudge unit” due to its promotion of the nudge theory of behavioural science. Having been spun out government in 2014, the business is now jointly owned by its employees, the Cabinet Office, and innovation charity Nesta.

Box Clever Digital develops digital services, while Enable International specialises in software and cloud services. Both firms are based in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Oxford-headquartered Zipabout has created a platform for providing information on transport services. Located in Swansea, GPC is a software firm specialised in the healthcare and policing sectors.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said: “I am delighted that our funding for innovative tech companies is helping to tackle loneliness and rural isolation – to improve people’s lives and enable them to feel a part of their local community. The GovTech fund encourages firms to find innovative ways to address the big social problems we all face, including loneliness, plastic pollution and national security. Through emerging technologies, this fund will help to elevate British companies onto a global market while transforming the delivery of public services for people across the UK.”

Launched earlier this year and run by the Government Digital Service, the GovTech Catalyst has a total of £20m in funding to award across about 15 rounds of challenges. Two sets of five challenges have been announced so far, and bidding has already taken place for the next three rounds.

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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