Monthly Archives: February 2013

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 – 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.”