Social technology in later life – moving from exploration to cooperation

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.

Participatory design and older people

Eric Harris set up OlderView because he believes older people need to be involved in the design of technology from the very start to break down their exclusion from the digital revolution.

OlderView was established up in Autumn 2012 specifically to look into these issues with the involvement of a community of older people who answer surveys about particular technologies. The subsequent results submitted by the Technology Review Community are analysed and then published. Eric explains further in this guest post.

Background

The pace of technological development continues to increase relentlessly, giving rise to almost unimaginable possibilities for ‘helping’ us get through the day in one piece. Who would of thought at the turn of last century that within ten years or so we would all be ‘skyping’ our families in Jamaica, Australia or Barnsley; paying for our shopping at the local supermarket using automated check-out tills and sharing photos with our friends on Facebook?

Well we (older people) don’t!

Although there are some well-publicised exceptions to this, such as Lilly the 108 year old on Facebook and Twitter or Peter (Geriatric1927) on YouTube, there is a greater body of older people who are at best ambivalent, and at worst stubbornly against, the uptake of new and emerging technologies. The older the age group, the less likely they are to be an active part of the digital revolution. This is a problem in so many ways that it leads to digital exclusion in its broadest sense. It has an impact on engagement with all sorts of technologies both at home (can’t pay heating bills through not being online) and in the environment (not being able to use car music system through not having an iTunes account).

The reasons for this are complex and diverse; touching on social, economic and accessibility agendas. However the OlderView position is that ‘Design is Critical’. By design we don’t just mean what a thing looks, feels and functions like (although this is very important), we mean the complete design process. For example when a new phone is designed, why not ask older people what they want from their phone; which features are meaningful for them and which are not?

In a wider context this is already happening: technology providers are increasingly using a participatory design (P.D.) approach to help technologies ‘better fit’ their target markets. They involve groups of people in their target demographic to help inform the design. Part of this design process is to understand the User Experience (U.X.) and feed the outcome of this process to their hardware and software design departments. This used to be called marketing.

The problem is that the target demographic for a lot of new technology is 20 to 30 year olds. [e1] They are seen as early adopters of new technologies, and are willingly available for focused group studies. The designers of new and emerging technologies are typically from this demographic themselves, so speak their language and readily understand their needs and wants.

On the other hand engagement with the older community is a little more challenging. Older peoples’ lives are long-lived and complex; their social economic footprint is probably changing or has changed and there is a likelihood of accessibility issues.

However, if the design of new and emerging products and services are to ‘work’ for this age group, active engagement in a participatory design process by this community is imperative.

The OlderView

It is with this context of user-centered design that OlderView was created in the Autumn of 2012. OlderView has a community of older people called rather unimaginatively the Technology Review Community, who every month or so answer a survey questionnaire about a particular technology. The results are then collected, analysed and published.

We are of course aware of the skew to our results from engaging with predominantly older people who use computers to do our surveys, which one might argue further supports the position that the older community are often digitally excluded . Where we can, we collect responses that are recorded on paper as well as some that are mediated through third parties such as care workers. It is to be noted that OlderView believes there is work to be done here, with engaging the digitally excluded and recording their concerns and opinions.

Some of the technologies we’ve reviewed have been: camera phones, self-checkouts and online brain training pastimes. We are particularly interested in how our community deals with these sorts of technologies. Is the technology used? Is it liked? What would the community change if it could about the technology?

What our community are saying

We have found that older people, rather than having luddite attitudes towards technology, are quick to see its potential benefit and wanting to do stuff with it. They would be only too happy to video conference their relatives, share their interests on chat sites with others or book their next doctor’s appointment online. So where do the problems lie which leads for some older people to total digital exclusion and for others partial engagement?

The answer to this question is not to be found solely in design; social, economic and accessibility factors are just as important. However, there are some significant barriers to the uptake of new and emerging technologies by the older community which can be squarely placed on the doorstep of poor design.

image of phone 'app'

Lady in supermarket using camera phone 'app'

This can be illustrated by the use of the camera found on many phones. When the Technology Review Community were asked to take a photo with their phones, switch the phone off and then turn it back on, recover the photo and send it to me, over half the community had difficulties of one sort or other.  Comments such as:

 ”fiddly – lots of options I’m still discovering by accident or on the rare occasions (my) reading glasses are not on”

“whole sets (of photos) where I had the camera facing me rather than what I intended to photo”

and

“well if it worked (sending a photo) I surprised myself, never tried to send a photo from my phone before”

were common.

Although there were issues with completing this task, a large section of the community said that they used their camera phones in one way or another frequently. This community clearly has a desire to take photos with their phones and see the benefit in doing so.

Sometime after the initial survey and whilst at a local computer ‘drop-in’ centre, I showed some of the centre members an ‘app’ that utilised the camera by changing the phone into a magnifying glass. This was of great interest to the members that I spoke to, since they could see the potential usefulness of it for times when they had perhaps forgotten their reading glasses, or had brought the wrong glasses with them.  However, the setup instructions to download the app, together with the various caveats about connectivity, cost and security proved one hurdle too many for most of the people I have discussed this app with, both in the centre and in other places.

The download and configuration time for so much new I.T. is in itself an almost impenetrable barrier for older people, who often have to rely on friends in the know or family members to steer them through the maze of ‘helpful’ options.

As one member said of supermarket automated checkouts.

 “make sure there is a member of staff present at all times to help !”  

Our current favourite design for older people

This has got to be Fujitsu’s ‘smart walking stick’, which is specifically designed to help the elderly. This walking stick is Wi-Fi enabled and has an LED display on the handle to help elderly people find their way. There is a bunch of other stuff that the walking stick can do as well, such as monitoring heart rate and temperature, all of which could be beneficial for older people.

smartcane image

Technology enabled walking stick

Although this sort of embedded technology can get a little ‘gadgety’ and suffer from over complication, its sympathetic design is to be applauded.

What we like the most about this is that Fujitsu is clearly doing some user experience work with older people. This mobile computing device (a simple walking stick) reflects older people’s needs and is sensitive to their daily routines. I think the icing on the cake would be some level of customisation for its look and feel, as the choice of walking stick for older people can be very personal.

 

What needs to happen ?

The design of technology for older people has for far too long been reactionary or an afterthought which modifies or tweaks products to better fit their needs. If we are to prevent technology exclusion of this demographic both now and in the future, older people need to be involved in the design of technology from the very start. We need to have proactive design choices for and by older people.

Technology companies that understand this will undoubtedly reap the rewards and we will end up with better designed technologies.

eric@olderview.com

@OlderViewTweets


 

Summary and update on our digital tech later in life exploration

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 david@socialreporter.com. 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.

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.

NESTA provides a framework for innovation towards a better later life

View larger version of this graphic from NESTA

As I wrote earlier, we now have a good basis for looking at the range of ways in which digital technology and other innovations can help us in later life. Nominet Trust have supported both Shirley Ayres’ paper on how online innovations may enhance social care, and our own exploration summarised here. Last week NESTA launched an expanding Living map of innovation projects, and their report Five hours a day, about which more later.

I’m sure there’s more in prospect from other sources, because the costs – and oppportunities – of an increasingly older population make this an area of some interest for academics, policy makers and market analysts. As Shirley recommends in her paper, we need better ways of keeping up and with organising this expanding knowledge base, and she suggests as first steps:

  • Convene a roundtable for all the funders of digital technology to explore collaboration, sharing practice and a common approach to evaluating and promoting the outcomes and impacts of their investment.
  • Provide signposts which enable care recipients, their families and carers to find out what technology products and services are available, both through statutory services or to purchase independently.
  • Create, promote and participate in events that showcase innovations in care which could be adopted by local authorities, the NHS and housing providers.
  • Map all of the digital community hubs (however defined) which are available to ensure that people have access to local resources. This would also identify areas where there is currently no support available.
  • Benchmark levels of awareness about technology innovations across the care sector and work with key players to promote and share the benefits of innovation.

So – we need knowledge-sharing and collaboration among resource-holders, ways in which people can find and use what’s available – highlighted by John Popham and in our work – and also further work to translate research and ideas into action, and scale up successful projects.

Fortunately NESTA have produced a report by Halima Khan, entitled Five hours a day, that provides a framework for the way this might be done. (The five hours a day refers to the equivalent extra time added on to the end of our lives through increasing lifespans).

The report sets out a systemic approach that reflects another piece of work by Geoff Mulgan and Charles Leadbeater on Systems Innovation. It about how you can’t fix problems in isolation and within one discipline, how one solution depends on another, and so about the benefits of joining up ideas and solutions. The illustration of what it takes to make an “industrial” cup of tea brings that home.

In the Five hours a day report, Helima suggests the following vision for older people in a successfully ageing society:

  • to have a purpose – feeling useful and valued as an employee, volunteer, mentor, entrepreneur, employer, hobbyist or source of advice with a cup of tea. in a formal role, or informally amongst friends and family, inside or outside the labour market.
  • to have a sense of well–being – living as well as possible with health conditions, being physically active and emotionally resilient. it’s also about happiness, choice, control, intimacy and personal relationships.
  • to feel at home and connected to others – feeling at home wherever we’re living – in a care home, shared housing or in our own home. it’s about living where we want to live, being as independent as possible and also connected to a supportive social network.

The report touches on how this might be done in terms of product and service innovation; policy innovation; market innovation; and cultural innovation, using “people powered health” as an example. This might involve:

Alliances of key organisations that recognise the same challenge, rally around a shared vision, have influence across key sectors and an appetite for real change. these alliances should reflect, at their core, the insights, priorities and perspectives of current and future older people. And they should work hard to do this authentically, beyond the small numbers of the already–involved, to using creative ways to tap into the great variety of people who have a stake in this agenda.

Systematic experimentation to develop, test and scale radically improved solutions. Critical to this will be generating useful and appropriate evidence, focused on demonstrating impact in real situations. it will also require a strong understanding of which methods of experimentation are most appropriate to different stages of innovation. And relevant here is the role of clusters to systemic change; what are the key relationships between complementary innovations and how can they be leveraged to increase overall impact?

Policy innovation to transform the conditions for change, build on behavioural insights and apply social innovation techniques to policymaking. the aim should be to embed outcomes throughout the policy process, to create locally–relevant solutions based on sound evidence with local stakeholders, and to combine policy and delivery into an iterative process that achieves significant impact and avoids the weaknesses of the traditional policy/delivery split.

Innovation infrastructure including developmental functions such as institutions with the capacity, timescales and resources to carry through genuinely systemic change – whether that be in terms of political change, or orchestrating knowledge or mobilising people to change their behaviours at scale.

Local demonstrators which take a whole population approach to explore the impact of a set of interventions. this type of whole place intervention would create an opportunity to apply systems thinking to specific locations, building on existing local work and generating an evidence base for how to make change happen.

Halima adds:

We think we are part–way through systemic change on ageing and that change is needed on a number of different fronts to move forward – policy, products and services, markets and behaviours.

We think there are a number of different mechanisms that could be used to contribute to systems change – including using alliances to make significant headway on systemic issues through clusters of innovations, key pieces of developmental infrastructure and testing at scale in real places.

Nesta is already active in this field through our impact investment Fund, Ageing Well challenge prize, the ventures supported through the innovation in giving Fund and our practical programme on long–term conditions, People Powered Health. We also have previous relevant work including Age Unlimited focusing on older social entrepreneurs.

Our next step is to discuss and test further the ideas put forward in this paper and to prioritise our own areas of action – as an investor, innovation manager, centre of research and supporter of innovators.

We want to be part of the shift that enables us to adapt to an ageing population. We’d like to know what you think. Drop us a line at ageing@nesta.org.uk

I’ve quoted at length from the report because there does seem to be scope for joining up with the work that Shirley, our DTlater team and others are doing … and this requires better communication. I hope NESTA won’t mind me re-iterating how difficult it is to report and connect this sort of work when the main means of offering content consists of a fairly brief blog post and a lengthy pdf. It is a format that is used by other funders and agencies, and academics. Doing a cut and paste to extract material is tedious. There is relatively little coverage because the many ideas in the pdf can’t be individually referenced. The Living map is a much better format, if it could be extended to include other material.

If we are to promote systemic thinking and doing I believe we need to consider how to develop the social ecologies that would make this possible. Steve Dale is developing ideas in a series of posts.

We’ve tried making content accessible and re-mixable in our dtlater exploration by crowdsourcing ideas on a Google doc, using an ideas platform and social learning space, running a workshop, creating reference in Storify, then compiling a draft – as described here. The potential value of this approach is that chunks of content can be curated and used in different ways, and the process can help to build conversations and networks.

I’m calling this process social reporting, as a shorthand for the mix of content creation, facilitation, workshopping and curation that’s needed. I hope we can find some ways of keeping the process going now there is so much valuable thinking, and so many projects surfacing. One immediate task could be to cross reference the Living map work with the resources the Shirley Ayres and our team have located, and then follow through with some of the steps Shirley advocates.

However, I think we’ll only get a really innovative social ecosystem emerging if there’s a good content framework … and of course more investment in social reporting!

Update: part of the Cabinet Office announcement today on evidence centres for policy making included:

What Works Centre for Ageing Better
The Big Lottery Fund (BIG) is in the process of establishing a Centre for ageing better. BIG has been developing plans for this ‘centre’ in conjunction with groups of older people themselves, and other stakeholders including the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Department of Health (DH) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Further details about this centre will be announced by the Big Lottery Fund at the end of March 2013. The plan is for this Centre to become a member of the What Works network, recognising that it will be delivering the ambitions of What Works in ageing better as part of its remit.

We know lots about innovation, digital tech, social care and later life. Now who will make it useful?

Just as I was cleaning up a final draft of our exploration into using technology later in life – now available here - the Ageing and innovation team at NESTA launched their Living map of ageing innovators as a blog with scores of projects for starters.

It’s not so much that the innovators are ageing – more that they are developing ideas, apps, projects to help us meet the challenge of living longer, and doing it well, as we have explored on behalf of Nominet Trust. There’s some further good tech examples on the map that we can add to our resources.

I confess I didn’t know the Living Map was in process. Nor, I think, did Shirley Ayres, author of the recent excellent Nominet Trust paper Can online innovations enhance social care?  As I reported under the headline How more sharing could enhance social innovation, Shirley’s main recommendation was for a Community Wellbeing and Social Technology Innovation Hub, so I wasn’t surprised to see her tweeting “really concerned about duplication of resources” and questioning “where this project fits w/ all the other age & innovation projects underway?”.

I guess there is a point about how far it might be possible to share research-in-progress. We ran an open process, and Shirley is highly visible online, but it may be more difficult in other sorts of research contracts. Anyway, I’m sure we can now connect well with the NESTA team and maybe do some integration. There’s value in different perspectives, and “Ageing innovators” isn’t just about tech.

The point of this post is more about another issue that been at the back of my mind as we worked on a brief aimed at developing content useful to anyone considering investing in the area and/or developing projects and programmes. I hope that the 10 provocations summarised below (more detail in the draft) are good talking points and guidelines for anyone interested in the field. They might be one way to categorise projects and apps identified in our various researches.

However, this and the other research is not designed to be directly useful to someone thinking of getting – or giving – some useful technology for later years.

We discovered relatively few examples of user/consumer guides tailored to older people or those helping them. The best we found were by DigitalUnite, but they are fairly broad, because there’s a lot of ground to cover and the focus is on digital inclusion. I’m pretty sure Emma Solomon and her excellent team agree more could be done to turn lessons from latest innovations into something more specifically useful in relation to health, finance, learning, combatting isolation for example. I’ll ask.

So – we now know lots about social innovation,  ageing, and the possible useful role of technology later in life. There are lots of good projects, with more to come as funders focus on this field.

But the real challenge now is how individuals – not just projects – can use the hugely powerful tech available in smartphones, tablets as well as computers and other devices, and how they can be supported by friends, family and other helper,  not just in courses. We highlight the issues in the provocations below. Who is standing on the side of older people (and the not so old) in making all this innovation useful?

 

Our Digital Planet exhibition

John Popham, a member of our team, has been running the Our Digital Plannet exhibitions (above) in town centres with Nick Booth and Lloyd Davies - and is now planning phase 2.

John highlights the needs they identified:

  • 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.

It may be that others working in the field are pitching at Nominet Trust, NESTA, Big Lottery Fund and others for resources to do just that. I particularly like John’s approach of getting into the High Street, and also leaving something behind. I hope our report helps support their case … but I also hope that the funders find ways to share thinking and make sure we get the best out the work done so far. Maybe we could all have a sort join un-launch of work so far, to help start the conversations. That’s (constructive) provocation number 11.

Do share your thoughts here, or join us in the Social Learning Network.

Provocations in the draft report.

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.

How more sharing could enhance social innovation

During this exploration into using digital technology in later life, supported by Nominet Trust, we have benefited a lot from the experience and ideas of Shirley Ayres, among many others.

Now the Trust has published a paper by Shirley, and the first blog post of a series, on Can online innovations enhance social care? There’s a wealth of great ideas – plus a proposal for better ways to share knowledge in the field, which I’ll come to later.

Shirley acknowledges that technology can’t replace human contact, kindness, empathy and understanding – and then provides a host of examples of how it can help people to connect in different ways, and enable a range of innovative solutions to the challenges of social care. Shirley writes:

Digital technology and social networks provide some of the most powerful tools available today for building a sense of belonging, support and sharing among groups of people who share similar interests and concerns.

I believe we need a dramatic re-think in the way that care and support is organised for adults in the UK. This should focus on keeping people healthy and independent for as long as possible and preventing crises before they occur. It does not seem that statutory social services recognise the reality of the digital age and how technology is supporting the development of new social networks, social learning and sharing resources. We need a major cultural shift which recognises the role of technology in shaping services which are focused around an individual’s needs and aspirations.

Our #dtlater exploration expands on digital technology in support of people’s wellbeing, before care services may be involved, so we believe the two publications will work well together.

We now have a draft of ten provocation and a number of themes – as you can see here http://bit.ly/VoVk0J - and we will be reviewing those with the Trust to agree how publication can best inform those considering investment and project development in the field. More on those provocations in a later post.

One idea I do want to pick up on now, from Shirley’s paper, is the recommendation for a knowledge hub in this field:

There is a need to explore the potential for developing 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. This could be an independent organisation or a new remit that falls to an existing one, however it could also be developed ‘from the ground up’ in a way that takes advantage of the very technology that it reports on. By supporting practitioners, researchers, funders and policy makers to share resources in ways that makes them highly discoverable,  we could begin, now, to create this useful hub of knowledge.

I’m with Shirley on this. Our research threw up an enormous range of research, scores of organisations, and hundreds of projects, which we have gathered as 16 Storify stories to underpin the provocations and themes. It was very evident that people in the field didn’t know what others are doing – which cuts down on the scope for innovative cooperation – and leads to re-inventing and refunding of digital wheels. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, makes a smilar general point here about social innovation funding.

I was at a meeting recently of the Age Action Alliance Digital Inclusion Group where a dozen of so organisation were discussing how they could organise and share their work, and finding it quite a challenge even at that level.

In a recent paper by Geoff Mulgan and Charlie Leadbeater the innovation agency NESTA makes the case for systemic innovation – “an interconnected set of innovations, where each influences the other, with innovation both in the parts of the system and in the ways in which they interconnect”. In other words, joining up people and ideas to create good new stuff from what we have, and what we may develop.

At this point there’s a danger that we drift towards the idea of big databases that need constant updating -which doesn’t happen – and knowledge sharing forums that show little activity after initial enthusiasm, unless there’s a lot of facilitation. Shirley makes the point that we can start knowledge sharing bottom-up in fairly simple ways, by tagging tweets and cooperating on bookmarking.

Of course, as Shirley says, we need a blend of both the formal and informal.

Steve Dale, who designed the substantial local government Knowledge Hub, and has worked on #dtlater, is now exploring the idea of social ecologies as a framework for thinking about the following challenges which he kindly attributes in part to me:

  • Social media is generating enormous amounts of unorganised content: how to make sense of that.
  • Social networks enable a wider range of connections: how to find people and develop relationships.
  • New forms of collaboration are made possible by social media and networks: how to organise and manage.
  • There are a bewildering variety of methods and tools: how to choose and learn to use.
  • The new ways of making sense, connecting, collaborating, and using technology throw up the need for new skills: what are the new roles and the new skills?
  • The emphasis on open access and sharing changes where value may reside: so what are the new business models?
  • Social capital is becoming increasingly important in establishing trust and credibility in the virtual world: how do we increase or measure our social capital?

In his post Steve makes the case for all of us having to get better at finding the knowledge that we need, and making our own connections rather than expecting to find them in one “hub”. I’m sure he will be developing the idea of personal knowledge management and personal learning networks, on his own blog and in the modest social learning space we have used during the #dtlater exploration. Do join us there

I hope that Nominet Trust may help develop Shirley’s idea for an innovation hub – or perhaps social innovation learning space – because their funding and research is now so extensive, and shows the potential for connecting across different fields.

We found a lot of similarities in lessons from both the earlier Digital Edge exploration – about young people and technology – and the current #dtlater exploration. In fact, it became evident that for much of the time we were talking about digital technology in life … not just young life or later life.

The issue of how to share ideas and knowledge also figured strongly in another exploration about People Powered Change for the Big Lottery Fund.

How powerful it would be if Nominet Trust, NESTA and BIG got together to explore what is the most appropriate model for knowledge sharing that is sustainable and leads to practical benefits top-to-bottom – from policy to projects and personal use of digital technology.

It may well be they are doing so already – and if so, here’s another important connection, that would help ensure the work is grounded.

During last year Nominet Trust funded our other social reporter John Popham, with Nick Booth and Lloyd Davies, to take the Trust’s Our Digital Planet exhibition around towns and cities, showing people the potential of digital technology and hearing first hand from them what would make a difference to their lives. John has now written about plans for phase 2. An Our Digital Planet tour could be a great way to showcase the collected projects and gather more.

So – the potential is there, but adhoc sharing isn’t going to be enough on its own. It will need to be underpinned by a model for sustaining activity that involves facilitation and curation as well as good technology. Maybe even social reporting, of course :-)

Nominet Trust announces Digital Edge project funding

Here’s the slightly belated news that Nominet Trust recently announced funding of more than £1 million for the first round of projects under the Digital Edge programme.

You can see the background provocation paper here that helped inform the programme, written by socialreporters, Tim Davies, Alex Farrow and me. Some terrific projects are under way, bearing out the innovative ideas we discovered during our exploration. There’s now another call for proposals, which you can see here.

The announcement or current funding:

Following an unprecedented number of applications, the Trust has awarded 14 organisations more than £1 million to support their work in using technology to improve young people’s participation in society.

With close to a million young people unemployed and prospects for full time employment bleak, internships and other low-paid work placements have become a vital way to boost employment prospects. But expensive rent or travel costs often prevent young people from taking advantage of such opportunities.

Room for Tea, one of the 14 organisations receiving funding, connects guests in need of short-term, affordable accommodation in London with hosts who have a spare room in their homes.  This project has the potential to benefit young jobseekers while also reducing the social isolation often felt by older people living on their own.  Nominet Trust investment will enable Room for Tea to develop its online platform and expand its reach to a wider number of potential young beneficiaries.

Catch22 is another organisation that has been approved for funding. Their project comprises an app that encourages young people to make a positive contribution to their community – such as keeping their neighbourhood clean – and in the process helps them to discover and develop the soft skills and confidence needed when applying for a job.

Annika Small, Nominet Trust CEO, commented:  “Digital technology offers new ways for young people to develop and demonstrate their skills and talents.  Importantly it can help young people to connect with the wider community, whether that is active participation in their local neighbourhood or contributing to an online group. This in turn can boost their skills and confidence which will help when it comes to applying for a job.

“At Nominet Trust, we are excited to be supporting so many forward-thinking organisations. From creating new forms of online skills exchange and reward, new connections that increase young people’s access to resources and networks of support, or new ways of showcasing talents and experience to future employers, these projects are demonstrating how digital technology has the potential to broaden young people’s horizons and improve their social and economic participation.”

Can we learn from other countries?

Knowledge management specialist Martin Fowkes reports 

Internet use among elderly people is higher in Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Luxembourg than it is in the UK. Why is this and why does it matter?

I have recently been involved in the Digital Technology in Later Life project and have become aware that those who are not online are increasingly at a disadvantage. Not only are the best savings rates and discounts available online, but digital provision of public services is starting to become the default option, and alternatives will become harder to use and probably less efficient. Providers of both public and private sector services seem to assume everyone is online now – and this is not the case. It is ironic that the more
vulnerable members of society are those most likely to benefit from some of the online services, but are most likely to be offline.

There have been several projects and reports over the past few years that have looked at the issue, and
some good work has already been done. The latest report on this subject is Nudge or Compel? Can  behavioural economics tackle the digital exclusion of older people? from the International Longevity Centre – UK. This contains many useful ideas but it struck me that there was little mention of what was happening in other countries – surely this isn’t just an issue in the UK?

A bit of internet research shows that other countries do have similar issues. The report ‘Older Australians and the Internet: bridging the digital divide’ highlights many of the same barriers found in the UK and contains similar recommendations to those in UK reports. The Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI) produced a report on ‘Internet use and older people’ which focuses more on what older people use the internet for, as well as noting some of the barriers.

The statistics I’ve found on the internet need to be treated with some caution, as they are not all based on the same questions or periods. Different countries have also used different age ranges, but the broad findings are probably sound. Here are some examples of what I’ve found:

  • The Eurostat survey covers internet usage in households and by individuals for EU countries,
    but frustratingly only covers people up to the age of 74.
  • In the UK, 64% of people aged over 65 have no access to the internet, but in Norway only 18% of people aged between 65 and 74 don’t have access. And the corresponding figure for people aged between 75 and 79 is 40%, a reduction from 60% in 2011. Currently 74% of Norwegians aged between 65 and 74 years use a computer.
  • In the Netherlands, 60% of 65 to 75-year-olds were active on the internet in 2011, nearly twice as many as in 2005. The gap between older and younger internet users is rapidly narrowing.
  • Eurostat shows that 18% of 65-74 year olds used online banking across the UK in 2010. These
    levels are well below those for countries such as Norway (54%), Sweden (45%), the Netherlands (41%), or Denmark (40%).
  • Internet usage among Australians aged 65 years and over has increased significantly – from 30% in 2007 to 40% in 2009

And here are a few examples of actions being taken that may increase use of the internet:

  • In Finland it is the legal right of every citizen to have broadband, and 96% of the population was connected by 2010.
  • In Denmark legislation has been proposed to make digital access of many public services mandatory by Nov 2014.
  • Turkey and Russia have announced plans to provide all citizens with an email address – although this may be more to do with nudging people to use national services rather than foreign ones.

As I work in knowledge management, I’m always keen to see reuse of good ideas and learning from
previous experience. Far too often, people set out to solve a problem without first checking to see if anyone else has already had a go. In particular, I suspect we don’t look hard enough for solutions from other countries. In 2006 the EU produced an action plan for ‘Ageing well in the Information Society’ and the Nominet Trust report Ageing and the use of the internet refers to some European-funded projects, but I
do not know if these are related.

We should be asking why it is that elderly people in Scandinavian countries are making more use of the
internet than they are in the UK. There may be cultural or other differences that explain the gap, but there may be some solutions that we can adopt/adapt and apply within the UK. Hopefully we can benefit from looking at what has worked or not worked in Norway for example.

Although we know why this matters, I don’t believe we know the reasons why the UK lags behind some
other countries. And if we don’t ask, we won’t find out.

 

Is age really an issue in later life?

Annika Small, chief executive of the Nominet Trust, posted these reflections on their site following the workshop we ran on October 23 as part of our exploration into using digital technology later in life.  We are still analysing the workshop output – but meanwhile you can see the rich content we generated here.

As part of its ongoing open consultation, Nominet Trust brought together a group of experts this past week to think about how technology might be used to realise new opportunities – and address the persistent challenges such as social isolation, access to adequate care and pensioner poverty – facing people in later life. We weren’t looking at how adding digital might make existing services more cost-effective or efficient; nor were we seeking specific solutions. Instead we were hoping to define some areas that would benefit from social innovation with technology.

Under the guidance of social reporter guru, David Wilcox, and his colleagues Drew Mackie and Steve Dale, small groups developed some propositions and tested these against fictional characters that they had created (one group is a good bet for next year’s Booker, given the intricate and compelling plot that they created around their protagonist). From these discussions, some key themes began to emerge.

What struck me from these themes is how irrelevant age is. So many of the issues – and how we might address them with technology – are the same, irrespective of whether you are 12, 22, 52 or 82.  The circumstances may be different but the issues are very similar.

Take ‘transitions’, which has emerged as a key theme throughout our consultation. There is no doubt that people in later life are often faced with multiple transitions whether it is a result of retirement, bereavement, re-locating to live with their children or moving into a care home. Digital technology can offer considerable support during these transitions, not least in the form of online networks and communities. This echoes Nominet Trust’s work with young people where we are finding that online peer support networks can make a big difference whether in the transition to secondary school or into work or training.

Another key theme identified in the workshop this week was the need to recognise the very differing circumstances, interests and attitudes of people in later life. With increased life expectancy, those we categorise as ‘older’ can span an age group that stretches from 55 to 95 and above. ‘Old age’ can describe people in good or poor health, active or sedentary, lonely or leaders of their communities. With over 40 years of difference between the lower and upper ends of this age-span, we need to avoid one-size-fits-all solutions and instead recognise the individual. Again, there are strong parallels with Nominet Trust’s work at the other end of the age spectrum where we actively support initiatives that recognise the myriad of starting points that young people have, building on their very differing interests and aspirations to create more meaningful and relevant approaches to learning and engagement.

It was also striking to hear the groups at the workshop talk about the risks of a deficit model, looking at older people as a problem that needs solving rather than considering the continuing contribution that people in later life can make to society.  Older people are a hidden source of innovation whose assets – time, commitment and insight – can play a critical role in the design and delivery of new services. There are already more people over 65 than under 16. By 2025, half the UK’s adult population will be over 50.  We need to recognise the opportunity that this ageing demographic presents. Again, this has echoes with young people who are often seen as empty heads that need filling or as unemployed statistics for whom jobs need to be found. Nominet Trust’s Digital Edge programme supports initiatives that use digital technologies to draw out young people’s talents, to create new forms of employment and rewards, and to encourage greater economic and social participation. In the same way, as a society we need to think imaginatively about how we tap into the rich resource offered by people in retirement.

In this European Year of Intergenerational Solidarity, it seems fitting to find that young and old are facing very similar issues and that there are strong parallels in how we might address these, using digital technology. We need to step out of our silos and recognise the tremendous opportunities afforded by digital technology to create new communities and networks of support, irrespective of age, location or background.

How you can get involved in this exploration

We are developing this programme in the open and hope that many people will contribute and help shape a shared understanding of the opportunities for using digital technology to best support older people.

If you have something to contribute, here’s how you can add your voice.

In addition, we have created an online space at our new social learning network site, kindly created by Dave Briggs. It is open to anyone interested in this field, and we hope that the network may wish to continue after the end of this exploration. View the space and join in here.