Summary and update on our digital tech later in life exploration

Update: all dtlater exploration content has moved from the original wiki to this site
Here’s a summary and update on our exploration for Nominet Trust into how we can use digital technologies to prepare for and enjoy later life. It is prompted in part by nonprofit tech specialist Norman Reiss posting the key points, together with links to US initiatives including SeniorPlanet. Thanks Noman, and to Amy Sample Ward for the intro. I hope this opens the way to further exchanges. There’s some ideas on next steps in here as well.
The draft. The near-final draft of the report that we created, through an open process, is available here as a commentable document. I’ve copied the 10 key points below. The brief was to develop guidance on where to focus investment and project development in the field – rather than provide a hands-on guide to how to use technology and devices. That’s definitely needed too, as I explain later.
Reference. There’s a set of reference materials in Storify linked to each of the key points, themes, and the research background.
The process. During the open process – summarised here – we reviewed research, created an open document to gather first ideas, ran a workshop, set up an online space to gather and discuss more ideas, and collaborated with Gransnet on a forum.
An online learning space. You can view and join the online space at the Social Learning Network.
Online innovations and social care. During the exploration, Nominet Trust published a paper by Shirley Ayres on Can online innovations enhance social care? – to which the answer is definitely yes. There’s a wealth of examples, with a recommendation for a Community Wellbeing and Social Technology Innovation Hub which brings together all the organisations funding, researching and promoting digital technology innovations and pilots across the wider care sector.
Sharing. I explored the proposal for a hub in a blog post on How more sharing could enhance social innovation including reference to Steve Dale’s ideas for social ecologies, and the possibility of Nominet Trust, NESTA and Big Lottery Fund getting together. The scope for collaboration became more evident with NESTA’s announcement of a Living map of ageing innovators, followed by news from Cabinet Office that Big Lottery Fund would be setting up a Centre for Ageing Better.
Making innovations useful. In a post We know lots about innovation, digital tech, social care and later life. Now who will make it useful? I suggested that while the various centres, and proposals for knowledge sharing were welcome, this was conceived mostly at the level of policy and larger projects. What we also needed was work to translate findings into advice and applications directly useful later in life, and also work to bring new and existing useful tech together in guides for older people and carers. Much of it would be useful to anyone – whatever their age.
Join up innovations. This exploration, and Shirley Ayres’ paper Can online innovations enhance social care?, have brought home how important it is to develop solutions that work together within organisations, across disciplines, and that are designed for the whole person. I wrote that NESTA provides a framework for innovation towards a better later life in reviewing several pieces of work from the innovation agency: the Living map of innovation projects, mentioned earlier, an earlier report on Systemic Innovation, and Halima Khan’s report entitled Five hours a day. The five hours a day refers to the equivalent extra time added on to the end of our lives through increasing lifespans.
Mapping innovation to people’s lives. In How to organise ideas about digital tech in later life: invent some characters and tell their stories I suggest that a good way to show what technologies may be most relevant in different circumstances is to create some fictional characters, tell their stories, and then map what’s available on to these narratives. It is something we piloted in the workshop.
What’s next?
We have reached the end of our exploration contract with Nominet Trust, subject to reviewing the draft and agreeing any more formal publication. However, I hope there is scope for further development, if we can find collaborators and funders. Here’s a few ideas I’m discussing on different fronts:

  • Develop an online store or market place of useful tech stuff for later in life – sites, apps, methods, guides that people and carers can use for wellbeing and amelioration. This would contribute to the wider digital inclusion policies promoted by government, and organisations like GO ON UK, UK Online Centres, and Digital Unite – who already have some guides. Maybe there’s scope here for sharing with US and other initiatives globally.
  • Co-design and learn together. Run a workshop/part of a conference where people invent characters, tell their stories, and then choose from the store things that will be useful. Follow through with a hands-on learning session and develop this as a format that people can run for themselves. Described in this post
  • Create a community of practice around digital tech in later life. We have made a start with the group at the Social Learning Network, and could do a lot more.
  • Work with those directly in touch with older people and their groups, like Age UK, Digital Unite, and the English Forums on Ageing, on experiments and pilots.
  • Focus on the use of initiatives using tablets and simplified systems that make it easy for people to share messages, photos, videos and more within a secure environment. Finerday, Mindings, and HomeTouch are among examples that we found.

What I do feel strongly is that development should focus on what’s useful to individuals, and anyone providing support: whether friends, family or care services. Both our team and Shirley Ayres found scores of research reports and initiatives that attract quite high levels of funding but appear to overlap quite substantially. We are now going to see further developments by innovation and funding agencies. There is a need to curate and make accessible the work they are doing … but one of the best ways of ensuring that it is actually useful is to take a human-centred approach as we have suggested above. Currently the ratio of research reports, and funding, to useful guides and support is weighted hugely towards the professionals and not the front line … whether on the sofa or in the care home.
Do please add your thoughts in a comment, join us in the group at the Social Learning Network, or email me directly I’ll update on further developments as they emerge.
Key points
Here are the provocations in our draft
1 Look at personal needs and interests as well as common motivations – one digital size won’t fit all. While there are general benefits at any time of life in using digital technology – whether for entertainment, shopping, learning, information – everyone has different priorities and these will be shaped by life experience and current circumstances. The best way to engage people is to start where they are, the particular interests they have developed, and the personal challenges they face.
2 Build on past experience with familiar technology as well as offering new devices – they may do the job. New devices can be challenging, and recent developments of familiar equipment may offer an easier route for some. Smart TVs and smartphones may provide what’s needed without learning to use a computer.
3 Consider the new life skills and access people will need as technology changes our world – using technology is ceasing to be optional. Public services are becoming digital by default, and new opportunities for employment require at least an email address. It will be important to make the use of digital technology as accessible and easy as possible – or encourage people to act as “proxies” in helping make the connection with the online world.
4 Turn the challenge of learning about technology into a new social opportunity – and make it fun. Learning how to use digital technology can challenging. It takes time, and having someone to help can be important. Loneliness and isolation are a big challenge for some later in life. By getting together so learning becomes a social experience we can achieve benefits on both fronts, and enjoy the experience as well.
5 See digital technology for later in life as a major market – co-designing with users could offer wider relevance. On the one hand people are living and remaining active longer, and on the other hand facing a wide range of health and social challenges for longer. This will provide a growing market among older people, and an opportunity to design and test technologies for relevance and usability with any users than have diverse interests and capabilities.
6 Address social isolation and other challenges through a blend of online and offline – they don’t need to be different worlds. Digital technology can enable virtual friendships that lead to meetings, support social learning, and underpin projects for new forms of sharing both on the physical world and online. The greatest benefits may come from blending face-to-face and online activities.
7 Enable carers and care services – both for direct use of technology and to act as proxies. More could be achieved by integrating digital technology into services, and supporting carers in their use of technology. This will be increasingly important as older people who are not connected may require “proxy” helpers to use online public services.
8 Use digital technologies to enhance existing connections of family and friends – and help each other learn. Free video calls, photo-sharing, email, texting and the use of social networking sites are part of day-to-day communications with family and friends for many people later in life. Family members can help each other learn about digital technologies.
9 Value the role that older people may have in acting as digital technology champions – and providing long term support. Older people know the challenges of using technology later in life, and may be best at providing the continuing support needed for its adoption. Demonstrations and short courses are seldom enough.
10 Look for ideas among those providing digital training and support – and help them realise them. Those working directly with users of digital technology will have insights into what works, and where development would be valuable. With some support they could turn ideas into projects.

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