How to organise ideas about digital tech in later life: invent some characters and tell their stories

Peter Farrell asked this key question, commenting on an earlier post about the many reports on digital technology and later life, and the innovative projects featured on NESTA’s Living Map:

If I was an older adult, or a carer or someone working with the community  and with limited or no ability with technology or social media how would I know about these resources?

Fortunately another post popped up on the Living Map site that crystalised one possible solution that had been at the back of my mind: tell stories, and then add ideas to those. Here’s that NESTA post:

This short animation tells the story of Charlie and Marie, a couple ageing in the UK today. It visualises the significant events in their life after retirement and how they interact with different state services at these times.

The aim of the animation was to stimulate new and more holistic ways of thinking about older people and their experience of services, amongst local government and partners – who may often operate quite separately from one another.

The animation is based on 10 ethnographic studies and a series of interviews with older people around the UK. It was developed by the Young Foundation as part of their Ageing Well Innovation Series in 2010.

Now here’s my suggestion.

In the workshop that we ran last October as part of this dtlater exploration, our highly creative gathering invented some characters, told their life stories, and then mapped onto those some of the ideas that we had gathered earlier. You can see the results here, with the ideas organised around stories at strategic, intermediate and personal levels. It was an incredibly rich set of insights, which we used to inform the provocations and themes synthesised in our final draft.

We achieved that in an hour or so – and we could do a lot more now with the additional ideas that we have gathered, and those on NESTA’s Living Map.

One of the most creative storytellers was Geraldine Bedell, reflecting her various skills and roles as journalist, novelist and editor of Gransnet. Some of our most interesting online content then came from a forum that Geralidine ran on Gransnet – summarised here. Shirley Ayres had lots to add from her work and passion for sharing, as did others in the room.

Wouldn’t it be fun to re-run a workshop – ideally with some of the Gransnetters, plus NESTA, Nominet Trust and Big Lottery Fund who are establishing their own Centre for Ageing Better?

At this point in my thinking I mentally connected with another exploration we are about to relaunch, into how community enablers can use digital tech as part of their work in supporting local groups, building networks and improving local life many creative ways.

As you can see here, Drew Mackie and I created the fictitious town of Slapham for a workshop where we invited 20 people to invent characters and choose digital tech and others methods for community enabling. I have no doubt there are (or certainly can be) lots of older people in Slapham – so why not run our dtlater workshop there? Virtually, as it were.

Slapham Neighbourhoods by socialreporter

We could invent some characters – perhaps drawing on the Young Foundation and other work about peoples’ lives – locate them in their local networks and support services, pitch in some challenges and ideas for action, and then create the stories of what happens. That could provide insights on several fronts:

  • identifying ideas and information that is around now that we could offer to people seeking help: Peter’s question
  • the range of issues that need to be addressed overall in a person’s life
  • then how some systemic innovations might be developed on the lines advocated by NESTA in their recent report
  • … and it would be an icebreaker for Shirley’s idea of a roundtable for funders (referenced here)

The Living Map could then accompany a series of stories about characters, and the resources they are using, which whom people could identify. We could even run a version of Slapham as a multi user game, given some development work. I’m sure NESTA know people who could collaborate on that.

I should say that these workshops around the use of digital media in communities aren’t new. Here’s a reference to one of the first that Drew and I ran, back in 1999. Sometimes innovation is a matter of refreshing old ideas in new contexts, and doing some joining up. I believe that’s one way socialreporters can help.

Update: I love the ways stuff just turns up. Here’s IBM evangelist and social media super-enthusiast Luis Suarez on storytelling and Solutions for An Ageing Population in the Era of Open Business.

2 Comments.

  1. To begin to answer my own question. And this is just line of thought at the moment, Im sure something like this has been done before.

    I think it’s about developing from existing local channels and networks. These have the benefit of already being used, are familiar and have relevance to local need and interest. Use these as channels to push out the messages. At the same time innovate pragmatically and apply digital where they will work and are acceptable. This is describing the process very simply obviously its much more complex than this.

    To find the local networks and channels, I think the approach you used here http://socialreporter.com/?p=971 would work. Map the existing a local social care network then overlay the online community network data gathered from from local social media and other traffic. That ought to provide some insight into who and how local intermediaries and community action is connected and working
    Where the networks appear to touch, even though there might not be any actual connection on the ground, these are local nodes. Who are likely to be the well connected organisations and individuals to connect to and work with to develop a holistic network for awareness raising and delivery to people who require the social care and other services.

    A model town to develop ideas and approaches on. A great idea I really like this approach. Could you configure it with some real local data to enable it to be used by communities to develop their own models and apply network maps to it?
    I’d be really like contribute if you are going run workshops they sound great fun.

  2. Thanks Peter. My colleague Drew Mackie is the social network analysis specialist, and you’ll be pleased to know he’s started some (fictional) mapping in Slapham! What’s challenging is to mix the fictitious and real places, the online and offline.
    We certainly want to develop Slapham further …. thought it may become Slipham since people say it’s a bit in your face … as a learning space that could then be used as a model for real activity.
    Maybe we could run a developer camp over a weekend to build it out. We’ll certainly be looking for help.
    Anyway, Drew and I are meeting up this week so more will follow,
    Appreciate your encouragement.