Reimagining Help Guide: Social connections

Why are social connections important? Organisations that draw, and build, on the social value of people’s relationships and communities will tap into wider sources of emotional and practical support which cannot be provided by practitioners alone.

Social connections can be any meaningful contact with another - for example, friends, family, neighbours and community members or new people with shared experiences. When it comes to changing behaviour, it can be particularly helpful to meet others with similar goals and experiences; realising you’re not alone in your experience and believing that things can change can be an important source of motivation.

Taking part in social activities can improve health and wellbeing through learning from others - for example, sharing health information, practising new behaviours and supporting each other's successes (see Celebrating success). Social connections can be harnessed to help people move towards their goals - for example, by creating shared goals with friends or by asking family and friends not to tempt them away from their goals.

If social activities are being offered, they should be delivered in a way that feels inclusive and safe enough for anyone to take part (whether face to face or virtually), recognising not everyone has the same amount of time, money or confidence in social situations.

Social connections:

  • Increase opportunities for behaviour change by exposing people to a range of behaviours modelled by others in similar situations. Role-modelling provides people with examples to try out or aspire to, and helps to establish new norms for helpful behaviours within a community.
  • Increase motivation for behaviour change because goals set within the context of a person’s relationships and families are likely to be consistent with their belief system, identity and culture. Seeing others successfully change can increase people’s confidence (a key element of motivation) to make changes in their own lives. Social connections also create opportunities for feedback and positive reinforcement (see Celebrating success), which is critical to the process of changing behaviour.
  • Increase capability through the exchange of knowledge and skills via interpersonal learning (learning from others).

  • Club Soda runs social events for people trying to stop or reduce their alcohol intake. These events role-model socialising without alcohol, enabling people to make friends with others with similar goals, in an environment that has a great social atmosphere (as you would find in a pub!) and interesting non-alcoholic options available (see Enabling environments).
  • GoodGym is a community of runners that combine getting fit with doing social good. They harness social connections by providing opportunities for people to come together and work on a shared goal - for example, planting trees in a community garden). This sense of shared interest and peer support helps people stay motivated and build exercise into their regular routines (see GoodGym case study in the full report for more detail).
  • Peer-support platforms that match people to others with similar health conditions, interests and ambitions, and virtual events which help people connect with and learn from each other about living with particular experiences. For instance, TeenHeart is a peer support programme facilitated by the British Heart Foundation for young people with congenital heart conditions; and Grapevine’s Teenvine Plus is a programme for young people with autism or learning disabilities which focuses on developing friendships, confidence and skills to achieve their ambitions.

Using the information above, start to brainstorm ideas to try out in your organisation or community. Think about how to co-design ideas with other practitioners and people in the local community who could benefit from Good Help. Use the map below to help you test and develop your ideas.

A guide to refining and testing your ideas against the evidence and common pitfalls

Explore the next Good Help characteristic

Enabling environments