Technology, Engagement & Social Connections in the WI (TESC_WI) Study


The National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) was formed in 1915 to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War. Since then the organisation’s aims have broadened and the WI is now the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK. The WI celebrated its centenary in 2015 and currently comprises of nearly 220,000 members in approximately 6,300 WIs.

The Women’s Institute role is quite unique, in which it provides women with a myriad of opportunities (i.e. education),  and the chance to build new skills, take part in a myriad of activities and to campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities. The ideals and mission of the WI is based on truth, tolerance and justice, is non-sectarian and non-party political. All WIs are charitable.

While the purpose of the Women’s Institute is clear by the NFWI, and they have an online presence via their NFWI website and in some cases individual WIs will have a social media presence, but not all.

WIs meet at varying days/times each month, for example, 1st Thursday at 7.30pm or 2nd Wednesday at 2.00pm. Across England and Wales there are numerous WIs which are situated within counties – for example. Over the last 10-15 years there has been a ‘new wave’ of WIs, constituting young members (≥18 years) undertaking contemporary activities (i.e. bat walks and corset making) while also ensuring traditions are kept (e.g. arts and crafts, and singing the NFWI anthem at each meeting).

In contemporary society governments at all levels, and organisations are noting the importance of social connections, engagement, and the impact loneliness and social isolation has on older adults.

However, there is a paucity of knowledge focusing how on the WI impacts the lives of women across the lifespan (age cohorts), and their perception, behaviour and impact ICTs have on their individual, community and WI lives. Using identity theory (Burke & Stets, 2009) this project will explore the role ICTs have in the lives of WI members from the perspective of being a WI member and from their individual lives.

In 2017, the WI passed two resolutions:

  1. Keep micro plastic fibres out of our oceans and
  2. Alleviating Loneliness.

The latter resolution was passed with 69.3% of membershiip votes from across the NFWI, with a total of 4334 votes in favour and 1919 votes against.

The resolution “seeks to ensure that people who are lonely, or at risk of loneliness, are identified at the earliest possible opportunity to enable them to access the appropriate support and assistance. It calls on every WI and the NFWI to work in partnership with health and social care providers and their local communities to raise awareness of the causes and impacts of loneliness to help achieve this.” ( Both of these campaigns including all campaigns current, past and future aim to impact at local, national and global levels.

Aims & Objectives

The aims & objectives of the TESC-WI project are:

  • To explore in the context of the WI, what role do ICTs play in a smart age-friendly ecosystem?
  • To explore how the role of the WI plays in fostering and enhancing social connections, and potentially reducing loneliness?
  • To explore how ICTs, impact individual WI members, the Institution and Regional Federation(s) making up the NFWI; across the life course?
  • To explore how the WI, embraces new technologies in their day-to-day running of the respective Institution, as well as in their own lives, and community?

Research Questions

  1. How do WI members embrace new ICTs (e.g. social media, wearables, smart home devices, mobile apps) in the context of smart age-friendly ecosystems and to what degree are they integrated into their individual daily lives and the WI
  2. How are WI members relationships (i.e. relationships between older adults and their extended family members) impacted by ICTs?
  3. How do ICTs impact on the WI (i.e. computers, internet, social media, digital devices) differ across different WIs and geographic locations; regarding their quality of life (QoL), well-being, social inclusion, and social isolation?
  4. What role and impact do ICTs play increasing social connections, & reducing social isolation and loneliness?

Project Partners

  • Dr Hannah R. Marston (PI) – is the Research Fellow in the Health and Wellbeing Priority Research
  • Vino & Stitch WI – located in Methley, West Yorkshire

Social Media

  • Coming soon

Ethical Approval

In progress


This initial study was funded through the 2019-2020 H&W PRA January funding call.