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Essex County Council’s Challenge Dementia Prize is an inspiring call to action for anyone with innovative and practical ideas about how to improve the lives of people living with dementia.

At Essex County Council we are currently rolling out the Challenge Dementia Prize, which is a national search for products, technologies and services that could transform the way people live with Dementia across the UK, and is the second in an ambitious series of Challenge Prizes. The prize is a leading example of a local authority thinking differently and moving away from traditional procurement processes that dictate what solutions should look like. Instead, the Challenge Prize process enables the challenges we face to be shared with an almost limitless audience of innovators, in the hope that we can inspire creative and sustainable solutions.

Challenge Dementia is about engaging the ‘unusual suspects’, and as part of this we are currently planning a Twilight Networking Event, hosted by TechUK in London on the 21st February.

Beyond the health and social care sector we are looking for submissions from individuals, groups, organisations and businesses with experience across architecture and construction, tech and engineering, art and design - wherever there is an opportunity to look at the issue through a different lens and the possibility to disrupt the status quo and improve outcomes for people in Essex living with dementia.

RSA colleagues working on the Health as a Social Movement programme will be supporting us with the assessment of the prize entrants. We are also working in partnership with a range of sector leading experts including Alzheimer’s Society, PA Consulting, TechUK and the University of Essex on the prize, who will provide finalists with up to six months of tailored advice and support as they develop, test and iterate their ideas from an initial concept through to a fully-fledged business case submitted with the chance of securing a £100,000 prize.  

Challenge Dementia opened to entries on the 19th January 2018 and closes on 13th April 2018. The networking event is the first opportunity for interested parties to find out more about the unique ecosystem of support on offer to finalists, which includes a £5,000 micro-grant to support testing and development costs. 

The evening is also a chance for entrants to find out more about the expectations of the judges who will make all decisions with help from a panel of Essex residents living with dementia.  Although it will be an informal evening with beer and pizza we anticipate that the calibre of the experts on the night will ignite creativity and passion in those who come along, turning interest into entries. 

As a team we have spent a lot of time thinking about the types of solution the prize might yield. Across the team, and with our partners, there have been heated debates about the benefits of seeking tech based solutions to the problem.

On one side are arguments for the need to embrace emerging technology - to look for opportunities to transfer learning across sectors, and to create new tech where nothing currently exists. This side of the argument is looking for the next Paro (a therapeutic seal robot), but is faced with the opposing view that an over-reliance on technology could spell the end of person-centred care and the human-to-human connection that we know is so important to people living with dementia.

But for me it isn’t a case of either/or. I am reminded of a Tweet posted by Tom Loosemore, founder of the Government Digital Service, which defined ‘digital’ as ‘Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people's raised expectations’.  

The idea that tech or digital isn’t a silver bullet is fundamentally important to me, but it is an enabler and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. If we are going to fully exploit the potential that technology and a more digitally sophisticated world can bring to the people we are here to support, we need to understand the context, culture and the working practices within which it sits. 

With this in mind, the Challenge Dementia Prize will not encourage finalists to rush in with something shiny and new, and hold it up as the answer. Instead, it will afford each of the shortlisted finalists six months to learn about the barriers and the appetites of those they are expecting to embrace their ideas.

We are very excited and genuinely hopeful that the approach we are taking with the Challenge Dementia Prize here at Essex County Council will enable innovation to improve the experiences and outcomes of people living with dementia.

challenge dementia

Pictured left to right: The Harbour Club (South Essex) members enjoying a music and movement session with staff. Right: John with a member of the team at The Harbour Club in Battlesbridge. The Harbour Club is a dedicated provision for people living with dementia based around a programme of cognitive stimulation and Occupational Therapy.

For any questions about the prize, please email Ben Mann or Nicole North at essex.challengeprize@essex.gov.uk

For more information on the Challenge Dementia prize sign up to the Challenge Prize Newsletter

View the Challenge Dementia Prize full terms and conditions

Benjamin Mann is Senior Strategy Advisor (People) at Essex County Council

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