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Ten propositions about digital technology later in life

Since last blogging here** I’ve been engaged in an exploration at socialreporters.net into how we can use digital technology later in life … with a focus on personal wellbeing.

The aim, on behalf of the Nominet Trust, was to identify where anyone developing projects or investing funds might best focus. There’s a summary here of the open process that that Drew Mackie, Steve Dale, John Popham and I used to develop a draft report and the 10 summary propositions below.

While the main aim of the exploration has been to develop a consensus to guide development and investment in the field, the open nature of the approach yielded a lot of insights into who is doing what in the field, and how more might be achieved. More on that in the next post.

Ten propositions about digital technology later in life.

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.

** Why the big gap in blogging here? I’m not sure … I just ran out of enthusiasm for the rather unfocussed reporting I had been doing. These days it is difficult to get much commenting on blogs, because there are so many places for conversation, so posts don’t usually yield much feedback. Tweets notifying posts may get retweeted (and thanks for that) but does it make much difference for the time spend in writing? The idea of collaborative, open explorations at socialreporters.net (one for Big Lottery Fund, two for Nominet Trust) has been more rewarding … not least because it yields a fee!

However, as I’ll explain in the next post explorations for clients do have some necessary constraints, and it is useful to have somewhere to fly some personal opinions. So I’m hoping to regain momentum here.