Monthly Archives: March 2013

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.
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”
“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.


Summary and update on our digital tech later in life exploration

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

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

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

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

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.