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.

  1. Another great post David. Thanks for sharing all this.

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