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Down’s Syndrome International have members in over 140 countries around the world. They work together to raise the voice of people with Down syndrome and ensure their human rights are upheld.

Use this Guide if you want to use an app for ongoing communication with a group of people. It was developed to support a group of people with Down Syndrome so it may be particularly useful if your group have similar needs.

Note: Since contributing this Guide in 2020 DSI changed the app they use. They now use WhatsApp instead of Connecteam. We've added a note after Step 6 explaining why they changed. 

Steps to staying in touch with a group using a team management app

You need to ask yourself questions like:

  • Why are the group communicating?
  • How often?
  • How much do we want to have our staff involved?
  • How much security and privacy do we need?

You might find the answers by doing a research project, or by looking at feedback from another project you are running.

DSI's initial user research questions

Down’s Syndrome International were running a new group for volunteers with Down syndrome to be more involved in the organisation overall. They had monthly meetings but realised they needed to support the group more between meetings.

The volunteers wanted:

  • Information that was clear and accessible for them so that they could prepare for meetings

  • A way to make decisions between meetings

  • For it to be easy to use on mobile phones or tablets

The team wanted:

  • To help the volunteers stay engaged in the project

  • To make sure they didn’t put the volunteers at risk in any way

  • To be able to control who spoke to who, when

  • To make sure no-one external could contact anyone in the group

To make sure no-one could have one to one conversations

There are lots of different apps that can provide this kind of group conversation. They fall into several different types.

  • Mainstream social media - such as Whatsapp or Facebook
  • Community building or forum software or apps
  • Team management apps

Once you know what the needs for your group are, you will be able to explore which fits best for you.

Down Syndrome International chose a team management app called Connecteam.

They chose it because:

  • It had the security settings they wanted

  • It let them set up group conversations but block individual conversations

They also liked the options to add branding that Connecteam had.

There was one risk. Connecteam group conversations are set up using a chat room system. These rooms are available 24 hours a day. They managed this risk by letting all the volunteers know when staff were available to reply.

They pay just over £100 a month and they consider that to be worth it for the additional security it offers.

Find out if the app you are planning to use offers free support calls or video calls. This can help you find the best ways to configure the app, to make sure that the features you want are working properly. If you can’t get a support call, make sure you read the online documentation. You could also look for advice from other people who have configured the app.

If you can't find support from someone close to your organisation, you can get help from a volunteer digital expert. Ask for 1 hour of free advice from Digital Candle.

Down’s Syndrome International booked a 1 to 1 demonstration from a Connecteam advisor and a free trial of the software.

Then they configured it to include:

  • Adding our branding

  • Choosing the security settings we wanted

  • Adding staff as administrators

  • Adding volunteers as users

It’s important to make sure that your staff are comfortable with the app. It’s best to do that before you introduce the app to other volunteers or people you are supporting. Allow time for this. Include a chance for staff to predict any issues that might come up and make plans to deal with them.

Down’s Syndrome International set up all their staff with admin roles and gave them time to get comfortable with it before they introduced the app to the volunteers. They also realised that during certain times, they wanted to make sure there was always a staff member monitoring the chat on the app. So they planned out a schedule for chat monitoring.

Make sure you know how the people you are working with like to learn about things.
Ask yourselves things like:

  • Will they want to be shown, or will they prefer to explore on their own

  • Will they want to ask questions or need reassurance?

  • What other tech do they already use that could help us introduce the new app?

Down’s Syndrome International did two main things:

  • They created a short video of someone using the app, that the volunteers could review whenever they wanted (To make the video they used a tool called Loom)

  • They ran online calls for groups of no more than 5 people at a time. This was the right size to provide support and reassurance through any individual issues. (They did this on Zoom, which the volunteers were already using.)

Any communication tool that is set up for use between sessions has a risk that it will get neglected. If people don’t use it often, then sometimes they forget how and so the tool is abandoned. All the original needs remain unmet.

So you may need to devise plans that encourage people to use it more often.

Down’s Syndrome International found two issues came up with their plans:

  • sometimes Connecteam would go quiet for long periods

  • sometimes conversations would drift into topics not related to Down Syndrome International work

They decided that both of these needed addressing so they added:

  • A monthly conversation topic

  • Polls to get people engaged

  • A lot more posts and comments from staff than were originally planned

Update: Changing from Connecteam to WhatsApp

Since developing this Guide DSi changed the app they used. They did this because of:

  1. The monthly subscription cost - £100 a month for a small organisation was a large cost.
  2. Low use of Connecteam - they found it hard to get people to start using and engage with an app they didn't already use. They decided the app wasn't fit for purpose.

How they used WhatsApp instead

DSi did not want to let participants send messages to each other that their support and  team members could not see. So they set up WhatsApp carefully.

They created one main WhatsApp group for everyone - all participants, their support and DSi team members.

Then they made separate WhatsApp groups for each participant, their support and two DSi team members.

Then they blocked the participants ability to direct message team members from the two groups they are in. This keeps all communication open and visible.

Further information

DSI made 7 how to videos for using Connecteam.

They also created a playback deck about the project.

Contact DSi's Inclusive Participation Officer: [email protected]