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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.