Social technology in later life – moving from exploration to cooperation

Update: all dtlater exploration content has moved from the original wiki to this site

In summary: the dtlater exploration showed a lot of action in the field of social technology and later life, but also suggested that more could be achieved through great cooperation. As a next step we are going to experiment with some active social reporting and network building to try and show how that might be possible. It’s an adhoc initiative by the team who have now completed the first phase of work.

Update: all content from the exploration is now on this site and Nominet Trust have published the final report here.

Although we have completed the initial DTlater work for Nominet Trust, exploring how we can use social technology in later life, those involved are all keen to make the most of the ideas we brought together, and help others do the same.  I think a next stage could work at several levels.

  • First, Nominet Trust are reviewing how best to promote the first results of the exploration, summarised here, and we hope that will inform future developments and and anyone proposing projects.
  • Secondly, there’s a lot of additional information and contacts in our background reference that could be reworked. We identified 10 key propositions from the exploration … but there are potentially many more.
  • Thirdly, the exploration provided some insights into the nature of the ecosystem of organisations, entrepreneurs and investors in this field … and that’s what I want to focus on here.

In doing that, I’ll draw a line under our initial work for the Trust, and emphasise that what follows is a purely personal opinion, and a jumping off point for some further independent exploration and connecting.

A lot of action, unconnected

What struck me during the DTlater exploration was how unconnected everything is – strongly confirming the findings of Shirley Ayres, reported in this post. Shirley has been reporting on social technology in social care, and recommends a knowledge hub to promote more sharing.

I found unconnectedness on several fronts:

  • Many research reports covering the same ground but with limited cross reference, and difficult to find and cite.
  • Little knowledge  of the research among practitioners
  • Funders developing new programmes when we don’t have well-shared knowledge of the many innovations already in the field, which are often struggling to scale up their operations.
  • Those trying to help people later in life adopt social technology are left without much guidance drawn from all this work

So how could we make more of the ideas and assets that we already have, and avoid duplication in funding further research and project work?

A framework and support structures

Fortunately the social innovation agency NESTA is providing a framework for looking generally at innovation later in life, as I reported here , and developing an extremely useful Living Map of innovation projects.

I think this gives a top-level opportunity to connect many of the strands identified above … but how might that translate into something directly useful to people later in life, and those aiming to provide support? I touched on this earlier and linked it to the work fellow socialreporter John Popham has been doing with another Nominet Trust-funded project, Our Digital Planet.

John, Nick Booth and Lloyd Davies have been running ODP exhibitions in town centres, and identified the following needs

  • an independent source of advice with no selling agenda for those (particularly older people) bewildered by the array of modern technology options;
  • a non-judgemental introduction to IT and the internet for the digitally-excluded;
  • a resource that recognises that there are multiple barriers in people’s lives which prevent them from using the internet and listens to their concerns before dispelling advice;
  • a high profile hub, which demonstrates to the non-internet user that internet use is a normal part of most people’s everyday life;
  • an enhancement to the local environment, and a new destination.

Developing these ideas for bottom-up support – perhaps within the framework provided by NESTA – could be a good way forward.

There are now a couple of substantial propositions for support programmes that could be the basis for further development.

  • The Age Action Alliance Digital Inclusion Group has produced a Paper entitled the ‘Digital Champions Capacity Building Framework’, drafted by Emma Solomon of Digital Unite, that sets out how to build a network of professional and informal support.
  • The Sus-IT project at Loughborough University, led by Professor Leela Damoddaran, supported by the KT-EQUAL project, has produced proposals for Community hubs where older people could learn about technology in a social setting. Report here (pdf). There are further details here of how that might be implemented, based on discussion at a St George’sHouse event in November last year.

Moving towards co-operation 

I think the ideas from Our Digital Planet, Age Action Alliance, and Sus-IT, have much in common. They could be supplemented through connections with the many projects identified by NESTA and our exploration. They could give practical expression to many of the recommendations I’ve seen in research reports, and priorities suggested in our exploration.  But – achieving that would require greater levels of co-operation than we have seen so far.

A number of people have remarked to me that the field of digital inclusion, and social technology later in life, is marked by pretty intense competition between the many interests in the field, as everyone tries to pitch their idea and get funding to carry on their work.

As a reporter, it would be easy to highlight examples of duplication, lack of communication, and funding overlaps. But as a social reporter I’m more interested in how to help people make sense of this complex area, and to help in joining up ideas and people amongst those who are prepared to cooperate

As a first step, instead of thinking about a one-stop knowledge hub for sharing, we could take the model of a social ecology, outlined here by another of our team, Steve Dale.

In order to reinforce a people-centred approach, we could develop further the story-telling methods Drew Mackie and I have worked on, as I reported here.

And we could exchange ideas with people who are tackling the same issues in other countries, as I started here with Noman Reiss in New York.

Starting some further conversations

All members of the team are freelance, and we don’t have funding for this next stage, so it’s going to be something we develop as part of our general enthusiasm for social technology for social good. I hope we can show pro-active social reporting is valuable, and we might be able get some further funding.

I’ll do some more reporting round the major programmes that are emerging, and explore further US-UK exchanges. John will report from the frontline through the events, exhibitions and projects he is working on. To distinguish this from the first phase work, John will report on his blog and I’ll use mine, with occasional summaries back here.

We have had some useful exchanges in the DTlater group on the Social Learning Network  and will keep that going. Do join us.

However, as a new dimension I’m thinking about experimenting with a Yammer network . Yammer is a bit like private Twitter for a group, with no limit on message length. It is works very well on mobile devices, and is easier and chattier than forum exchanges.

My current thinking is that the network will be for anyone who is prepared to commit to sharing ideas and resources, and from that exploring possible new collaborations

Next steps

This rather lengthy blog post aims to sign-off work so far, and provide a rationale for our experiment. We’ll follow up shortly with more details of the first story lines we’ll develop on other blogs, and also more about the possible Yammer network. Meanwhile, any comments on these ideas most welcome.

Thanks everyone who has contributed so much so far.

Update – on personal blogs:

John Popham

David Wilcox
All content from the exploration is now on this site and Nominet Trust have published the final report here.


  1. Interesting article David,

    I would definitely be interested in an easier way of collaborating with other individuals and organisations attempting to assist older people with Digital Inclusion.

    I am in the process of starting up a Not-for-Profit Social Enterprise iPads4Care, which is aiming to help older people in two areas – Digital Inclusion and The Dementia Challenge. This will be done via a Person First App and Demonstrations, Activities and Training using TouchScreen Technology (specifically Apple iPads).