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Using digital technology and asset mapping to tackle social isolation – without special funding

I’m sure that the 15 partnerships supported under the Big Lottery Fund’s £82 million programme to tackle social isolation, which I wrote about earlier, will produce excellent projects over the next five years – but how about the other areas that pitched but did not get funding?

And what sort of projects may be developed in future when public sector funding will be even tighter than it is today, as the retiring head of the home civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake pointed out the other day?

Drew Mackie and I used the opportunity of a seminar about social media, community and local local government, run by LGIU and Globalnet21, to explore that recently. Thanks to Francis Sealey of GN21 for the opportunity. Do take a look at the other GN21 excellent events and webinars.

We used the setting of our fictitious town of Slipham, recently the subject of a workshop in Southwark on how to develop digital participation programmes in the face of austerity. Here’s the challenge our 20 workshop participants faced:

In Slipham a partnership of local organisations recently failed in its funding bid for a five-year programme supported by the Big Lottery Fund to combat social isolation among older people in the town.

However, the Slipham partnership has decided to turn the rejection into an opportunity, and develop an “austerity innovation” programme that focuses on local assets and global knowledge rather than external funding. To do this the partnership will:

  • broaden the scope of the programme to cover anyone challenged by loneliness, or aiming to enjoy living alone.
  • research and map local resources and networks that can provide ideas, support, activities or funding – and build relationships to make the most of these.
  • help people and organisations use digital technology and innovative approaches to meet their needs and interests.

The partnership is running co-design workshop sessions in which they will develop their new innovative programme to address the broad challenge:

How can we help Slipham people and organisations use technology to help tackle loneliness and/or support living alone.

You can see a full report of the workshop here, with downloads of materials. The format was similar in part to the Southwark workshop: we started with some Slipham characters and organisations, and discussed in groups which project themes might be appropriate to address their needs and aspirations. For example:

  • Help people use full capability of smartphones and tablets to connect
  • Make tech learning sessions social events
  • Build the capacity of community groups to use tech
  • Develop a network of volunteer digital champions
  • Recruit social reporters to amplify and connect face to face events
  • Support community sharing of services online

Slipham characters The groups developed project briefs, and then exchanged these. At this point we introduced another dimension – a social network map of Slipham. The map showed the original partnership organisations, and also more than a dozen others. As well as the map we produced a table showing the assets each organisation held – premises, skills, equipment, membership, funding.

We asked participants to review the map and assets held by organisations, and consider what new connections would be helpful in developing projects. We also offered a set of method cards that provided ideas on how to both build the network and develop projects.

The idea of introducing the network map was to simulate the process of asset and network mapping that may be undertaken by partnerships to underpin asset based community development. I think the session was useful in providing a framework for conversation around these points:

  • any plans to use technology should start with people who may benefit – as we explored with Age UK London earlier this year
  • in any area there are far more skills and other resources than evident until you start to research them
  • bringing the assets into use with any new projects will involve building new relationships

I hope that we may be able to run a similar workshop “for real” with some of the partnerships or other organisations exploring how digital technology can be used to help tackle social isolation, and support programmes for well-being.

The Campaign to End Loneliness ran what looked to be an excellent event in July –  Technology: will it ever be a ‘fix’ for loneliness? As well as producing an extremely useful report and video, they provided these summary points:

  • Treat technology as a useful tool that should be used alongside a range of other things to combat loneliness: non-virtual relationships are still vital
  • Remember that older people want from technology is what we all want: our interests and needs do not just change overnight when we turn 65
  • Recognise that people aged over 65 are as just thirsty for new technology as you are, but some confidence building might be needed at first
  • Try to focus on the benefits of a technology if introducing it for the first time: don’t describe the service, describe the outcome that it will bring
  • We need more funding to make kit and training cheaper (and therefore less of a barrier) but we can start to talk and do more to raise the value of technology at the same time

I used some of the insights from that work, as well as the exploration we did for Nominet Trust into digital technology in later life, to inform our workshop design. The Campaign to End Loneliness workshop provided some examples of specific technologies that could be used in projects, and these and other ideas could form the basis for planning development “for real”.

Declaration: the winning partnerships are being supported by Hall Aitken, and I made some early contribution to their work on asset and network mapping. Ideas here are my own.  Follow @HallAitken for updates on the programme.

How BIG could digitally amplify the impact of its £82 million investment tackling social isolation

The Big Lottery Fund’s investment of £82 million in 15 partnerships, that are working to reduce social isolation, could spark innovation and benefits beyond the 200,000 older people immediately involved in the programme. However, to achieve that I think the programme deserves more attention than it is getting, and the addition of an innovative approach to promote storytelling and learning.

The programme was announced earlier this year, as a joint initiative with the Daily Mail, and a couple of weeks ago BIG confirmed which partnerships would be funded from the 30 shortlisted. Originally a much longer list of areas expressed interest, so it has been a highly competitive process. As BIG says in its release:

Currently, there are 10.8 million people aged 65 or over in the UK and this is expected to rise to 16 million over the next 20 years. Of those 10.8 million, 3.8 million live alone, and one million say they are always, or often feel, lonely. 17 per cent of older people have less than weekly contact with family, friends and neighbours.

More people are now at risk of becoming isolated as the population of older people grows, lacking contact with family or friends, community involvement or access to services. The Big Lottery Fund aims to encourage changes and improvements so older people are happier, healthier and more active, contributing even more to their communities.

That’s a major social issue, and as BIG says “partnerships in the fifteen areas will test what methods work and what don’t, so that evidence is available to influence services that help reduce isolation for older people in the future”.

The release adds:

Throughout the Ageing Better investment, evidence will be produced to show the social and economic impact of a range of approaches. Ecorys, working with the Brunel Institute for Ageing Studies at Brunel University and Bryson Purdon Social research, will measure the impact of the funding and share successes and lessons learnt so projects deliver sustainable improvements.

Before going on I should declare a slight interest, because I’ve been marginally involved through sub-contract work in planning how asset and social network mapping may be used by partnerships to underpin the community engagement and asset based approach advocated by BIG, and summarised by BIG England chair Nat Sloane:

There are concerns about a ticking timebomb facing adult social care, but older people have a wealth of experience and skills to offer their communities. We need to tap into this – to help them help themselves and others living alone. Our Ageing Better investment will put them at the heart of the way the projects are designed and delivered to ensure that future generations of older people not only live longer but also live well.

There’s lots happening in the partnership areas already, with many excellent ideas hinted at in the information so far released. That makes me feel there is plenty of scope to share stories day-to-day about local projects over the next five years of the programme, as well as undertaking the structured assessment planned by Ecorys.

All partnerships are expected to put older people at the heart of their programme, both in guiding projects and acting as volunteers, and that provides a lot of opportunities for community and social reporting – which is, of course, one of my interests. However in this instance I would advocate that partnerships work with local social media enthusiasts to develop the necessary skills, and with people like my friend John Popham, whose blog details his work on digital storytelling and what others are doing in the field. I could list a dozen other people – like Shirley Ayres – who blend professional work with a personal commitment to sharing learning about social innovation using digital technology. I expect to meet quite a few at the Futuregov Expect Better event this week.  Perhaps nationally Globalnet21 could help with some of their excellent webinars and events, as well, of course as organisations like Age UK and the Campaign to End Loneliness.

The announcement of winners on September 8 received no significant coverage that I spotted – apart from making the lead in Tony Watts new Later Life Agenda newsletter. Tony’s OBE for voluntary work in the field is well deserved. Nothing in the Mail, and as far as I could see, little local coverage (I’m wrong on that – see update below). Nothing about the vision statements setting out the programmes in each area, that will now be developed into plans by the end of the year, and hopefully funded from next April.

I think BIG deserves more credit for the meticulous way in which the programme has been developed – and the partnerships for their innovative proposals. Even more I think it is essential that there is some way for people involved in the programmes to tell the stories of what is being achieved – and the challenges they face – to maintain their enthusiasm and inspire others around the country, beyond the 15 partnerships.

However, I wonder whether there may be a problem here for funders like BIG. They know the power of digital storytelling, use social media themselves, and increasingly fund projects enabling people to tell their own stories. They can issue press releases, and put out competitive contracts to promote programmes, and hook up with big media. All important – but not on their own enough to help foster the social ecoystem that releases the energy of local partnerships and people (who may not yet have the skills for storytelling) and also uses the amplifying capacity of people like John, Shirley, and Tony (to name a few … multiply that by scores).

What’s needed is the national equivalent of the local approach being promoted by BIG: look at the existing communication assets and networks in the field – and not just the big organisations but the freelances and volunteers. Set out some comms objectives, and invite people to pitch ways and means to achieve them by training, support, content creating, publishing to a range of media. Bring people together to build the human networks that will create five years of buzz in the virtual ecosystem. A modest investment in facilitation would yields much higher returns on the £82 million.

My suggestion would be to start this as soon as possible, so that partnerships can move from their competitive and secretive mode – imposed until now – into a more open and cooperative culture that will produce some cross fertilisation of ideas in plans now being prepared.

That would also help carry partner organisations and volunteers through the flat spot between January and April when full funding is confirmed, based on December submissions.

The obvious question is “how much would this animation cost” – but I don’t think it is the first thing to ask. That should be the same as the one partnerships are addressing locally: “how do we find out who is already doing good stuff in this field, and what would it take to encourage and support them to do more”.

Disclaimer: these are personal ideas, and do not reflect those of others I have talked to in the programme or elsewhere. I’ve drawn on inspiration from similar explorations I’ve worked on, including one with John for BIG on People Powered Change.

Update: I clearly wasn’t watching my Twitter feed as closely as I should in the week of September 8, when Hall Aitken – who are supporting partnerships – did great work in tweeting local coverage of the awards as it emerged. But there doesn’t seem to be any one place to find out details: the main Big Lottery Fund page about the programme has a latest news link, but it goes to a piece about Middlebrough, not the press release.

Further update: link now fixed, to the press release. There’s a list of the partnerships with funding. The Old People Twitter account @BiglfOlderPeop provides updates.

There’s now a Storify of the Twitter responses to the announcement.

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My idea for digital inclusion – the minimal technology assessment kit

Provocation: instead of promoting an over-rich mix of technology to people who are resistant or not interested, offer a way to understand how the world is changing and then assess how little tech they might need for their needs and interests.

My immediate thought after our successful workshop on digital technology for older people was to develop a DIY version where people could profile the potential user, their needs and interests, offer a rich menu of sites, programmes and apps, then choose an appropriate device. This might be a smartphone, tablet, smart TV, desktop computer or laptop. Or – with the kit – they could do that for themselves using the a kit of cards and other resources, perhaps ending up with a hands-on demo if there were someone to help.

I also drafted an article, copied below, which is in AGEnda- Newsletter of the English Forums on Ageing, thanks to editor Tony Watts. This floated the DIY kit idea, and also reflected on how we should just see technology as part of the mix of communications and services any individual needs. I wrote:

… a lot of older people don’t see the need to get online, find the idea scary, computers intimidating and costly. Is it really so important – unless essential for communication with distant family, or accessing public information? If the latter, are there intermediaries who could help? Although I’m focussed here on older people, there’s an any-age issue too. I’m a technophile … but I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of everyone must be online.

so … reframe the problem. Instead of planning how we get more people into/onto the Internet (digital inclusion), accept many won’t go there, and think in more detail about the networks of information and relationships we each inhabit, served by lots of different media. Then work through how to improve that experience in different cases (social inclusion).

From that social ecology perspective, the challenge is how to help people build the blend of newspapers, magazines, phone calls, visits, relationships and maybe online activities that is right for them.

The difficulty with the “choose your tech” kit is that it can make tech the solution without enough analysis of the problem.

Tomorrow I’m making a small contribution to an online discussion among members of the Digital Inclusion Group of the Age Action Alliance, on the theme of what can we do in practice to move things forward. The temptation is to offer ideas on how we can do more to get more people online, and so “included” in the world of technology.

But isn’t the real challenge how to help people create or expand the world they want, bringing in technology where appropriate?

But how to help re-frame the discussion, and give us a nudge to change our minds about some aspects of the digital inclusion agenda?

Here’s one idea I might fly. Let’s create a kit that helps individuals – or those supporting them – to profile their needs and interests, their networks, and the various ways that they communicate and get services. What’s working, and what isn’t. How interested are they in exploring new opportunities.

Then how little technology might they need to make a difference, if any at all. If none at present, but the need arises, can someone act as an intermediary to get information, fill in a form, order something. If the minimal tech in insufficient, would it be easy to extend. I’m sure that there are lots of assessment methods from social care that we might build on. The exploration could be done within the Living Lab Drew Mackie and I are developing.

The kit should include explanations of how the world is technology pervasive and dependant, so avoidance may be challenging … but the focus should be on helping people, friends, families and supporters, make choices about how they wish to live in that world.

As technology become more personal, and the world more complex, the importance of understanding and being able reshape context become more not less important. So as well as looking at how to develop digital adoption and skills, look at building social ecologies.

It might be not awesome, but it could be useful.

Here’s the article I wrote, published in AGEnda- Newsletter of the English Forums on Ageing

With huge numbers of older people still not using the Internet, David Wilcox argues that it’s time for a rethink on the way we promote and enable digital inclusion.

The recent Age UK London report on the Wealth of the Web did a really useful job of scoping the challenge of encouraging, persuading and supporting older people into using computers and so engaging with the online world.

The report noted that 78% of Londoners aged over 75 are not online and a total of 661,000 people over the age of 55 in London have never used the internet – and then went on to recommend action by pretty much anyone who could help. These included government, voluntary organisations, private companies and older people themselves, acting as digital champions.

Drew Mackie and I ran a workshop session at the launch event, where some 50 people played through how fictitious but realistic characters could follow their interests and enthusiasms using smartphones, tablets, smart TVs or games consoles as well as computers.

Lots of buzz on the day, but since then I’ve been pondering how Age UK London – and anyone with similar concerns around the country – might move from research and discussion into large scale action. My hunch is that the game has changed, and try harder isn’t going to work. Here’s why.

First of all, as the report showed, a lot of older people don’t see the need to get online, find the idea scary, computers intimidating and costly. Is it really so important – unless essential for communication with distant family, or accessing public information? If the latter, are there intermediaries who could help? Although I’m focussed here on older people, there’s an any-age issue too. I’m a technophile … but I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of everyone must be online.

Secondly it has, in the past, proven really difficult to co-ordinate large-scale action, by multiple agencies, on the lines set out in the report … not least because senior decision-makers in relevant organisations are frequently less than passionate about technology themselves. They know how tough it can be to make tech work, and can sense there won’t be easy wins.

Thirdly, the report – and most programmes – are still focussed on computers, when a lot of consumer-led uptake is through smartphones and tablets. I suspect that older people with a potential interest in the online world are more likely to be enthused by a grandchild with an iPad than a computer in a community centre.

So even if you could get all the agencies together to talk about a computer-based digital inclusion programme they would be on the wrong track. And if someone were to suggest (as I might) that they should focus instead on tablets and smartphones, I doubt if they would have the experience as organisations to move forward. Individuals within organisations might well be using tablets at home – but the organisations would generally not be mobile-literate.

It’s good to see Age UK nationally promoting the uptake of tablets through a deal under which people can buy a customised Android-based Breezie Samsung tablet and get a year of phone support in the package.

However, this still focusses on the technology (albeit more usable tech) and I suggest, additionally, a rethink on two fronts.

First of all, reframe the problem. Instead of planning how we get more people into/onto the Internet (digital inclusion), accept many won’t go there, and think in more detail about the networks of information and relationships we each inhabit, served by lots of different media. Then work through how to improve that experience in different cases (social inclusion). Many, many organisations are of course doing an enormous amount on that front, so …

… focus on these intermediaries. Help organisations and carers enhance their digital literacies in ways designed directly to help those they serve, often using mobile technologies. Map who connects with who in the networks, and use technology and other means to enhance those connections and relationships. Age UK London and Positive Ageing in London – and other regional organisations – are well placed to do that with the many organisations in the field … so start at home. Develop mobile digital literacy in key organisations, and build outwards.

I would, however, go with the suggestion in the report about helping older people (or anyone for that matter) help each other. Recruit a core of volunteers who are enthusiastic about using iPads and other tablets like the Breezie and the Tesco Hudls, run some sessions to develop mentoring skills, and build a learning network so people can share experience. Ask organisations to host iPad/Android parties, building on the success of techy tea parties supported by EE, with bring-your-own tech. We could develop a DIY version of our workshop game so sessions don’t have to start with a screen, but with people’s interests.

Of course there will be continuing demand for more traditional computer-based learning. Libraries and centres are invaluable in providing access, support and sociability. I just don’t think they are any longer the ground on which to mount a campaign.


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How our workshop game confirmed all digital adoption is personal

This week some 50 people joined us in exploring how older people, or indeed anyone, might be encouraged to engage with digital technology and the Internet – without a screen in sight. Instead we used bits of card, flip charts and a lot of animated conversation. The aim was to start conversations around the research we carried out for Nominet Trust last year into technology in later life, and hopefully spark ideas for ways forward.

Drew Mackie and I ran the workshop, that I wrote about earlier, as part of the launch event for the Wealth of the Web report from Positive Ageing in London (PAIL) and Age UK London. I think people enjoyed themselves, and we gained some useful human insights to add to those in the broader scoping report written by Ben Donovan.

The challenge for the session was how to offer people online opportunities, digital devices and support when everyone’s interests are different. The Government wants more people online for their own benefit, and to digitise public services, but one size doesn’t fit all.

So Drew used his iPad mini to create some wonderful cartoons of Alice, Jenny, Faisal, Eunice, Sam and other characters who we introduced to groups in our workshop. Their first task was to fill out our starter description of their character, identify the main life challenges and opportunities that they faced.


Above: Jenny’s initial character card, and the expanded description from the group

We then offered the groups a deck of 18 cards with some online activities that might help. Each of the cards had a brief description of a possible activity, and then on the back we gave two or three examples of web sites or tablet apps that could be useful.

Some of the cards we offered to groups. You can see all of them here.

We asked the groups to describe what devices their character used at present, what key challenges and opportunities they faced, and to choose three or four of the cards. After that we asked how the life of their character might be changed if they adopted the ideas on the cards, and then to consider which device might be most appropriate – desktop or laptop computer, tablet, smartphone, smart TV or games console – and what sort of support might be useful. Would they, for example, benefit from access and training at the local library or online centre, if that were available, or get the help and encouragement they needed from friends and family?

Groups identified challenges and opportunities, possible online activities, and then described the difference they might make.

The aim of the workshop sequence was to emphasis that technology is not the best place to start. First consider the individual, their attitudes, interests and skills – and then what online activities might be beneficial. At that point you can look at the range of web sites, apps and other options available, what devices and support might be appropriate. We did all of that in an hour and a quarter. Your can find the workshop materials that we used, and the flip charts generated, here. We’ll have a transcript, and more detailed instructions, later. Update: transcriptions here, thanks to Age UK London admin volunteers

The discussion brought home to me several key points:

  • People may be fearful, with some justification, of the risk of going online. Can you trust sites with personal information? Guidance and support on that is essential.
  • The process and costs of getting personal access are confusing. It is difficult to compare different home broadband and mobile broadband offerings, and  monitor usage.
  • Even those with computer skills may find upgrading to a new machine problematic, because much will have changed.
  • Tablets like the iPad and Tesco Hudl are increasingly attractive because they are more intuitive to use, and the apps provide a quick route into useful activities.
  • Organisations offering access and support may find it difficult to keep up with the move to tablets. Help is just as likely to come to come from friends and family.
  • At the same time, libraries and centres are enormously important for social learning and support.
  • “Techy tea parties” run by Age UK London with corporate sponsors, and their Micommunity intergenerational learning programme have been very successful.

Overall I believe that the key message was that all digital adoption is personal. Whatever the broad policies and programmes in place, everyone is different. One size doesn’t fit all. It’s not just a choice between laptop or tablet, smartphone or smart TV. It’s about what apps may be useful, and how to move from one to the other. It’s about how to develop the digital literacies to live in an increasingly technology-dominated world.

Drew and I are really grateful to PAIL and Age UK London for the opportunity to try out the game, and to everyone who took part.  The game is part of a proposal to Nominet Trust for a Living Lab of games and online resources for the Life Transitions challenge. I’ll be writing more later about that, and other possibilities for taking forward the momentum we achieved at the workshop. If you are interested in applying the game to your work, do get in touch.

Meanwhile TalkLondon, the discussion forum for the Greater London Authority, have an item on the event which we’ll be expanding. Any comments welcome below too.


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Turning a digital adoption report into a game of phones, tablets, TVs – and maybe computers

Summary: the impact of reports and campaigns urging digital adoption may be limited because people’s needs and interests are different. A game about online activities could provide insights into how to personalise. Your ideas welcome.

Last year I worked with colleagues on a report for Nominet Trust about how digital technology can help us lead a better life as we get older. It was well received, but not much help if you are sitting down with someone wanting to show them practically that it may be worth them touching a keypad or screen for the first time.

Nor is it much help, in my experience, to tell people tech is a Good Thing, or the Government wants to save money by putting services online and they are Going To Have To Go On or Miss Out.

Digital Inclusion and Engagement is a turn-off to most people who are unconnected … or who may actually be online but don’t use their Smartphone, Smart TV or games console like the computer that it is.

But the Internet is important because it is re-shaping our world, and may help at the personal level in combating loneliness, managing finances, getting goods delivered, dealing with health issues and so. That’s as well as the fun stuff.

You don’t need a report to prove it. Just look at the newspaper inserts detailing 500 must-have apps for phones and tablets, under those headings. The Telegraph has just published two such guides.

The problem is that everyone is different. The must-have activity and app for one person may be irrelevant to another. People who learned touch typing may like a keyboard, others a touch screen. If you have figured how to Skype your family on your Smart TV, hitting the Facebook app there is going to be more appealing than learning a new device.

While there may be some basic skills that are going to be important for everyone in future, learning how to switch on a computer and use a web browser isn’t necessarily the place to start for many people.

If you are personally fairly familiar with the possibilities, you can probably find out someone’s interests and capabilities and take them through what’s possible on, say, an iPad or the much cheaper Tesco Hudl.

But if you are designing a campaign to make a difference to a lot of people, how can you think both about scale and about personalisation?

Positive Ageing in London (PAIL) and Age UK London have given Drew Mackie and I a chance to try a different approach on January 27 when they launch a report on digital inclusion.

Before the policy makers engage with the comprehensive overview report prepared by Ben Donovan we are going to run a workshop game with PAIL and a few dozen people – a few of them experienced online and others not.

We are following a similar approach to other games we have run, first developed some 15 years ago to help groups decide how they might wish to use computers in community learning centres. These days learning can be more personal, mobile and appified.

We’ll start by asking people, working in groups, to invent some fictitious characters: their situations, skills, confidence with technology and life challenges. They’ll then pass the profile to another group – and receive one themselves.

The groups will have a deck of cards with ideas for online activities, and choose some appropriate ones for their character. After that they will consider what device might be most appropriate: a computer, tablet, smartphone, smart TV or maybe a games console.

The final stage will involve thinking about what sort of support might be needed: formal training, informal social sessions, help from a tutor, or friends and family, for example.

The results of the discussion will be shared with policy makers and funders attending the second half of the event. That should lead to follow-on discussion about who can do what to help.

Here’s where you can join in before the event. I’ve drawn up a long list of ideas for online activities, as below, and also put them on an open-to-edit Google doc here http://bit.ly/JWiEFn

  • Emailing individuals
  • Email discussion group
  • Web browsing
  • Playing games
  • Shopping online
  • Watching live TV
  • Catching up TV
  • Renting movies
  • Video calling (like Skype)
  • Viewing and sharing photos
  • Online banking
  • Facebook and networks
  • Reading books, mags and newspapers
  • Taking online courses
  • Exploring to learn
  • Using maps
  • Texting
  • Blogging
  • Private network (e.g. Finerday)
  • Taking photos and video
  • Recipes, food, drink
  • Planning travel
  • Ancestry research
  • Health and fitness advice
  • Topic research and sharing

During our exploration for Nominet Trust, Geraldine Bedell ran a discussion on Gransnet which gave some terrific insights into what may be useful or not, and I’m expecting a lively discussion this time around too.

If you any further ideas – or want to suggest changes – please do so on the doc, or in comments here. I would also be really interested in thoughts on which device may be most appropriate for which activity. I’ll follow on with a further blog post about that.

I think that you can do many of the above activities without a computer, and that for a lot of people a tablet is preferable unless you need to do office work. If that’s the case, the challenge for organisations who wish to support people in adopting digital technology is that they may need to do some learning themselves.




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Realising the knowledge assets of research for the rest of us – how about a set of recipe cards?

This piece is about making academic and professional research as useful as possible to the intended beneficiaries – in this case people later in life and/or with disabilities, and those helping them – a well as professionals. It’s about doing that by involving beneficiaries in how knowledge from research is shared, as well as in the design of products and services. I’ve used the final event of the KT-EQUAL programme to spark some ideas … but there are outstanding questions in my mind, and the ideas are half-formed.  So in the spirit of the piece I’m making this a draft and inviting amendments, additions and comments from the KT-EQUAL team and others. I hope I’m not too far off track, and that this contributes positively to “what next” for the programme if there are plans for a further stage.

For the past four years a consortium of researchers on the KT-EQUAL programme have worked “to ensure that years of investment in high-quality research translate into real benefits that have an impact on people’s lives”. The focus has been extending quality of life for older and disabled people – which relates in part to the #dtlater work that I and others have been doing for Nominet Trust on digital technology later in life.

This week provided an opportunity, through the end of programme celebration event in Whitehall, both to catch up on the highlights of the work, and reflect on where next with the body of knowledge that’s been gathered.

I love these sketch notes of the event from Ross Atkin. Visual knowledge exchange. Click for larger image.

Over the past four years the programme has run some 150 events, developed publications, blogged and tweeted, involved older people and influenced regulations, good practice and product design. I went to one of the events earlier, and can confirm it was an excellent creative workshop. The objective of the £1.8 million programme has been:

To transfer the knowledge out of funded research so that it reaches the intended beneficiaries. The aim of KT-EQUAL is to ensure that research findings reach industry, professionals, policy makers and older and disabled people.

So it’s not about the original research, but about making that useful. The celebration was a fairly formal do in Portcullis House, but it included good opportunities for networking and a chance to chat with researchers.

As a result of KT-EQUAL there’s some very useful guidance available from the i~design consortium in the form of the Inclusive Design Toolkit, and the Designing with People website. I’DGO examines what Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors means for older people, and Smart2 has created a personalised self-management system – “an integrated system for use in the person’s own home, consisting of a touchscreen ‘home hub’ and a mobile device.”

The SUS-IT team has developed proposals for a network of community hubs to support older people learning to use the Internet. PDF download here.

The online content is in addition to the impact the programme has had during the past few years through collaborating with wide range of public and private service providers and product developers. As I understand it, that wouldn’t have been possible without KT-EQUAL: it funded exchanging knowledge, rather than the original progammes.

It is an impressive body of knowledge – particularly if added to the many other areas of research in the field. For example, we gathered our #dtlater references here, and Shirley Ayres found some 65 papers produced by more than 30 organisations exploring ageing, innovation, digital technology and access to information and resources. As Shirley has previously observed:

There is so much potential for digital technology to enable people to make new connections, contribute to person-centred support, develop community networks and new models of care so an obvious question is what is stopping more widespread adoption?

There is no shortage of innovations in digital technology and millions of pounds are being spent supporting further developments. It is less clear about the application, impact and usage of these innovations. One problem is the limited awareness in the sector and amongst the public about what is available and it’s value. I believe that a big deficit is the lack of a strategic approach to embedding digital technology in the range of options to support people to live more fulfilling lives.

The KT-EQUAL programme has not been mainly about digital technology, but since the aim is exchanging knowledge it provides a chance to reflect on Shirley’s question, and the issue she (and I) have raised elsewhere – who is research knowledge for, and what will be done next to help people learn? Taking KT-EQUAL as an example, it looks as if the knowledge transfer to professionals in their objectives has been successful, but I’m less sure about how far “older and disabled people” can continue to benefit from, for example, the way publications are presented. There’s an email newsletter, but no continuing online community. However, see later for my ideas on recipe cards.

I framed the challenge in a piece a wrote during our Nominet Trust exploration: We know lots about innovation, digital tech, social care and later life. Now who will make it useful?

Although research programmes like KT-EQUAL may involved older people and those who support them in their studies and workshops, the content that they generate is usually designed for other professionals. It isn’t generally much use, for example, if you are a carer, friend or child of an ageing parent trying to figure out how to apply the lastest innovations. It may not necessarily be well-configured for civil servants and Ministers desperately looking for ways to support an ageing population with diminishing resources.

That’s not to under-value, for example, the importance of knowledge exchange for companies developing new products, but we are entering a period when carers, care services and individuals will need all the help they can get in taking lessons directly from research work – and so will policy-makers. As one civil servant remarked at the event this week: this shouldn’t be the end of knowledge exchange – it should be a beginning.

It looks as if the KT-EQUAL programme has provided great professional value during the past few years, but the key themes in this week’s event were “impact and legacy”. So – is there scope now for another phase of KT-EQUAL to re-purpose its kits and findings for wider audiences, showing the way for other programmes? And what might that involve?

I got one idea from an interactive diagram on this page in the Inclusive Design Toolkit. It summarises all the activities in creating, designing and testing a product, in association with a range of stakeholders including users.

Suppose researchers now considered a wider range of stakeholders and users for their knowledge products … and applied this sort of methodology to developing some that would appeal, for example, to policy makers, older people, and those supporting them? The use of personas and user journeys has some similarity to processes I was discussing the other day with a team developing mobile phone apps. A quick search shows other reference to its use.

To be more specific, suppose we took one sort of information product that’s familiar to everyone – recipe cards – and used that metaphor to explore what sort of decks of cards we might need to help people choose on their own, or in discussion, the sort of products, tools and technologies would suit their personal needs – or start conversations on policy options?

Cuisine and cooking gives us a range of variables: personal preference, dietary needs, cost … coupled with availability of ingredients, skills needed, occasion etc. Through a mixture of pre-prepared dishes, home cooking, canteens and restaurants we manage to meet the challenge we identified in our work on digital technology in later life: everyone needs a different solution … but we also need to move to scale.

I know cards work well because Drew Mackie and I have used them extensively in helping people choose social media methods, and we explored what’s involved here during our Nominet Trust work: How to organise ideas about digital tech in later life: invent some characters and tell their stories.

On another front, the Transitions Towns network has turned their process of developing local projects into a set of cards detailing ingredients and tools, and I was fascinated to see How Google Unified Its Products With A Humble Index Card.

I have no doubt that older people – let’s just say “people” – would be keenly interested in a process that involved them in co-design – as I reported here. It’s about doing things with people, rather than to them or even for them.

That’s very much in line with the ethos of the team at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, who created the Designing with People site.

Anyway, this piece has turned into a bit of a ramble – or hopefully the start of a conversation. I hope the KT-EQUAL team will take my extension of their knowledge exchange ideas in good part, correct any misconceptions, and ideally join in a discussion about these or others ideas for extending the impact of their work.

I wonder if it would be possible to run a workshop to explore extending the benefits of research through co-design of information products and advice with non-professionals. I expect someone has funded that idea already … but how to find out?

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New funding for digital tech projects to support life transitions

Nominet Trust have just launched a new funding programme around how we may be able to use digital technology to best support people through transitions in life. It is informed in part by the recent work I led on digital technology in later life. The Trust briefing says:

We will all go through periods of transition in our life, for example this could be moving in and out of employment, geographic relocation, or moving in and out of a healthcare environment; similarly transitions can occur at the onset of illness or through bereavement.

It is often during these times of upheaval and change that we most need support.

Whether these changes are temporary or permanent, expected or forseen, they are times when family friendship and professional support networks become more important. Of course, not everyone has strong networks to turn to, and often this is exacerbated by the transition.

Through our Life Transitions programme, we are seeking applications from people and organisations that are using digital technology to best support people during periods of transition.

The programme will offer grants that may be larger than £50,000 to develop digital products, plus other support. The deadline for first stage applications is 4th September 2013. Details here.

In an associated blog post, Dan Sutch explains the reasoning behind the programme:

At this point of the year, we expected to launch a new funding programme looking at how we can enable older people to benefit from using digital technology.  We ran an open exploration of the key themes (led by the inimitable David Wilcox); pulling together existing research, practice and funding activity and aimed, through that process, to understand where digital technology could be most useful and, as such, where we should target our social investment fund.

But there was a really clear message that came through this process, as well as the other landscape research and insight papers that we commissioned and our internal reflections:

Don’t start with age.

If you’re aiming to create an inclusive funding programme that supports communities through the use of digital technology, don’t start with a characteristic that divides people.

If you want to address the social challenges faced by people, describe those – after all, though it may be a shared problem, it is something that binds us together.  So, start with the challenge or opportunity that you’re aiming to address,

Equally, ‘later life’ or ‘old age’ is incredibly broad.  It could describe 60 yrs olds in poor health or 100 year olds in perfect health; those with strong community and family connections or those socially and physically isolated.  Even though ‘later life’ is an important demographic it is such a broad term that it isn’t helpful in focussing an area of investment.  Indeed you wouldn’t expect a focus on 1-40 years old to create especially useful, shareable outcomes.

This isn’t to say that age and experience isn’t important.  It is incredibly important – the life experiences that people bring to a specific challenge change the way in which they can/might/are able to respond to that challenge.  Equally, the way in which we engage with new ideas, messages or activities builds on our own experiences, and as such, someone with greater experience can respond differently to someone with little experience. The way in which we respond/react to particular challenges may well differ by age and experience, but there is a shared feature with which we should start.

We know that innovation often comes at the intersection of disciplines so we don’t want to reinforce an unhelpful segmentation of only funding projects ‘for older people’.  Some of the great work being done with young people might be incredibly useful for the challenges facing older people; equally some of the assets held within the older population are incredibly useful for supporting young people through specific challenges.

We’re still really interested in how digital tech can be used by older people, and more broadly how older people can benefit from digital technology, but many of the challenges that have been highlighted in our exploration are shared across generations.  We equally remain committed to supporting the UK in being the leading place for social-tech entrepreneurs and social-tech businesses, and it’s clear that the emerging market opportunities that come with an ageing population offer a rich area of exploration.

The other important thread in this argument is that digital technology enables us to re-organise the way in which we use our resources.  We don’t need to segment people by geography when they can become a community online; we don’t need to group people by physical characteristics when networks allow people to come together around shared interests, and we don’t need to segment people by age when many problems are shared across the lifecourse.  That isn’t to say that these traditional segmentations/groups are no longer relevant, simply that we’re in a position where we don’t have to rely on them as the only, or principle, organising feature.

With that in mind, this funding programme aims to explore how we can use digital technology to address some key challenges that are present across the lifecourse.  These challenges often occur at moments of transition and change which seems to suit the affordances of digital technology being used to support people through them.  We are particularly interested in applications about how we can use technology to support older people through these transitions, though the answers may come from exploring with other demographic groups too, and we hope that we can share the findings across age ranges, tailoring responses where appropriate and ensuring we find the best ways of using digital technologies for social good.

While I’m not sure about “inimitable” (but thanks Dan), I agree completely with this analysis, and I think that the programme should produce some really interesting project ideas. I hope it might be possible for the Trust to follow their practice elsewhere of helping network those involved – perhaps both those who didn’t get funding as well as those who did, or before decisions are made.

We found the landscape around ageing and technology very fractured, with little willingness to share experience, and highlighted this in Theme 4: Better sharing of knowledge, experience and resources could foster innovation. Part of the problem is that organisations are competitive in pitching for funding around “ageing”, and I sense a general lack of trust and no doubt some “history” in a few instances. A different focus could bring fresh connections.

This seems a good time to thanks Dan and the rest of the Nominet Trust team for their encouragement and support during our work, and building such a creative outcome. All our exploration is now on this site. It has been a fascinating journey, and I hope to develop some practical proposals on where next with some of the people and organisations we met along the way. You can join our online learning group here.

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Older people want to be involved – digital tech can help

I’ve now posted all the content from the Nominet Trust exploration into digital technology for later in life to a new site, and I’ll be looking for opportunities to suggest its wider relevance. Here’s one.

A report from the Shaping our Age project, featured in today’s Guardian, concludes Older people don’t want to be passive recipients – they want to get involved – which resonates strongly with the Ten pillars of wisdom manifesto I helped developed recently with Tony Watts and Bryan Manning.

Peter Beresford, leading the project team, writes:

The main route older people see to improving their wellbeing is social contact and the route to this was having a say and involvement. But this doesn’t mean getting sucked into committees, procedures and bureaucracy, the stuff of old-style engagement. Instead they want to be asked what they want, supported to widen their horizons, recognised as having a lifetime of skills and experience, offered opportunities to meet other people – of all ages – and supported to do the things they like to do.

This demands the redeployment of existing resources to equip volunteers and workers with new facilitating skills, to work alongside them, listening and encouraging, crucially developing conversations, instead of keeping older people occupied or attended to. All this is true whether older people are living with dementia, are physically frail, or still feel fit and strong.

By breaking the link with traditional stereotypes, services are likely to reach a much wider range of older people. As Shaping Our Lives found, older people who kept their distance from existing services were prepared, perhaps for the first time, to join with others, take on new tasks or do things they hadn’t done for years. As they say themselves: “It’s vital not to treat older people as older people”; “Older people need to be encouraged to say what they want… to do as much as they can and want to do.”

What’s needed now are the 21st-century equivalent of the old “Darby and Joan” clubs, to reconnect older people – not just more of the same. And, critically, older people themselves must be centrally involved in formulating what this will look like. With our dramatically changing demographics, policies must now catch up and move from “doing to”, to being “involvement-led” for this increasingly important minority in our society.

There’s the promise in the article of a fuller report Involving Older Age, the route to 21st century wellbeing and it will be interesting to see if they have any suggestion about how digital technology can help with involvement and independent living. There’s quite a bit in our digital technology for later life work, and certainly in that by Shirley Ayres, which we referenced here.

One comment on the Guardian article, from Jennie Holland says:

Gransnet local is doing just this, enabling meet-ups and online forums so that we can socialise as persons in our own right without having to “do” some activity deemed good for us by some third party. Only recently launched there are already new bonds and relationships being made, there is a lovely thread on the Middlesbrough forum which sums it all up.

The thread is brilliant, and another example of the great conversation space developed by Gransnet. One of the highlights of our exploration was the Gransnet discussion about technology facilitated and summarised by Geraldine Bedell. The original forum discussion here.

What’s slightly disturbing is that I haven’t heard the Shaping our Age report mentioned by others that I’ve been working with in the field  … which may just be another example of the problems of knowledge sharing that we – and Shirley Ayres – have highlighted. Theme 4: Better sharing of knowledge, experience and resources could foster innovation.

Update: I’ve now found a link to the full report via a tweet from Peter Beresford’s accountInvolving Older Age: The route to 21st century well-being. It is full of wisdom, but with a slightly negative tone about technology, which is mentioned briefly. David McCullough, Chief Executive, Royal Voluntary Service, starts his foreword:

Sometimes in our working lives we’re lucky to see something that is simple and yet profound. I’ve been privileged to join the Royal Voluntary Service (nee WRVS) a little while after the Shaping our Age project began and have watched the initial findings turned into reality in the local projects.

I use the word profound carefully because while this project hasn’t been about investing in shiny new things or making technology the answer to all our challenges, it has thankfully been about new ways of doing familiar things – with remarkable results.

However, there is this recommendation:

IT support to facilitate communication between people and to source information

The provision of information that is relevant, brief, up-to-date, jargon free and accessible. Many participants involved with Shaping our Age questioned the use of technology to meet the information requirements of all older people. This participant argued for more face-to-face contact to tailor information to the preferences of individuals.

Older people like face-to-face contact because they haven’t grown up with technology like this generation.

Information providers also need to take into account the particular communication needs of groups such as older people from black and minority ethnic communities, those with sensory impairments or who for other reasons communicate differently or non-verbally.

Which is fair enough, and perhaps opens the door to a conversation about how appropriate tech can be helpful. It is important, as John Popham highlights in promoting his important event for social housing providers, which I reported here, government plans to put all services online means there’s no escaping tech if you wish to claim benefits, for example.

Here’s a few of the provocations from our work for Nominet Trust that I think are relevant to the Involving Older Age work:

  • Look at personal needs and interests as well as common motivations – one digital size won’t fit all.
  • Build on past experience with familiar technology as well as offering new devices – they may do the job.
  • Consider the new life skills and access people will need as technology changes our world – using technology is ceasing to be optional.
  • Turn the challenge of learning about technology into a new social opportunity – and make it fun.
  • Address social isolation and other challenges through a blend of online and offline – they don’t need to be different worlds.
  • Enable carers and care services – both for direct use of technology and to act as proxies.
  • Use digital technologies to enhance existing connections of family and friends – and help each other learn.



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Ten pillars of wisdom: a manifesto for a better later life

There’s lots of research, programmes and even innovation funding to address the challenges of later life, as our team of socialreporters detailed in a recent exploration for Nominet Trust **. However, most of this is about doing things FOR older people. What would it be like to switch the professional emphasis towards doing things WITH older people?

I spent yesterday in Bristol at the SW Seniors Assembly getting some ideas, and I’m quite sure I’ll pick up more from a NESTA event with Vickie Cammack this evening. I’m nearby and so can attend, but it is also being live streamed from 6pm.

Meanwhile I can’t resist sharing some thoughts I developed from the assembly discussions, and then bounced off Tony Watts, who is chair of the SW forum on ageing, and Bryan Manning, visiting professor of compunetics at the University of Westminster. We turned my 10 provocations into a draft manifesto, and Tony suggested Ten pillars of wisdom, which I like, since it reflects a lot of the discussion around the wisdom held by older people, but perhaps not sufficiently valued by the “ageing industry”.  Point 4. The manifesto reflects some of the 10 propositions generated by the Nominet Trust work, but this time without so much of an emphasis on technology.

Ten pillars of wisdom: a manifesto for a better later life

  1. Enable older people to do as much as possible for themselves. We can’t afford to do otherwise.
  2. De-professionalise the communication of ideas, options and policies around ageing so that everyone can engage in the conversation.
  3. Apply good design to simplify technology that will benefit everyone. Codesign with users.
  4. Respect and use the wisdom of older people. They are the only people who know what it is like to be old.
  5. Develop communities and networks with older people for influence and learning.
  6. Recognise that ageing affects people differently, and that only by understanding the diversity of barriers faced can we develop the choices needed to enable people to live the lives they want.
  7. Switch the digital inclusion framework from “how do we get more people online” to “how do we encourage and enable people to use whatever technology meets their needs and preferences”.
  8. Question whether it is really useful to teach older people how to use traditional computers. Tablets, smartphones or smart TVs may be easier and offer what’s needed.
  9. Switch funding from research and “good practice” about ageing into supporting action led by older people, and sharing knowledge through social learning.
  10. Recognise that a connected society is a healthier and more harmonious society, and that ageing is a challenge suffered individually, but best addressed socially.

Here’s an interview with Tony and Bryan.  It is also available on Audioboo here with a couple more from the assembly.

What do you think of the manifesto? I’ll be developing a more rigorous framework with Tony, Bryan and others, and also developing ideas on how to put some of this into practice, building on the work we did for Nominet Trust on technology in later life. Now off to NESTA.

Update: There’s a very relevant new item on NESTA’s excellent list of projects – the Living map of ageing innovators: it is the Wisdom Bank which “provides a platform for people approaching retirement to share their skills and insights with those that need their advice”

** Update: All content from the Nominet Trust exploration is now available on this site – Digital technology for a better later life.

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Exploring tech "later in life" offers lessons for tech challenges anytime

As  I reported in my previous post, I’ve just completed a team exploration at socialreporters.net into how we may use digital technology later in life for personal wellbeing. It has thrown up some wider lessons about how we might think about, and use, digital tech at any time in life.
The idea of an exploration as on open curating and reporting process came about from some work with the Big Lottery Fund, and then when the Nominet Trust invited me to write a provocations paper about young people and technology. Background on that here.
Instead of a closed research and drafting process, why not crowdsource ideas, run a workshop, develop contacts and aim to generate momentum around the topic at the same time? As I’ve summarised here, that process worked well on our latest exploration as well as the earlier one.
We now have a report with 10 proposition about digital technology and later life, a lot of background resources, and a network of people interested in learning more. You can join that network here.
It’s now time to see what more we can achieve, and to do that it seems appropriate to move from the structured approach we designed with our client on socialreporters.net, to something more free range, personal, and maybe a bit more provocative. I’ve explained the reasoning here.
John Popham has already made a start with an excellent post following up an issue I highlighted – the lack of collaboration between the bigger organisations in the field. That’s partly, I think, because there is intense competition for funding and little trust that a good idea or new theme won’t be picked up by another organisation without an offer of some part to play. However, John raises an even more fundamental issue:

The professionals and institutions which work with some older people are not comfortable with new technologies themselves. Issues here range from organisations which continue to block use of social media and will not or cannot provide their staff with smartphones, to technophobic frontline staff who pass their fears on to people they work with.

The organisations researching or promoting the use of digital technology with older people, often under the digital inclusion banner, may not be using it. Their “clients” are in reality funders who may not have a very nuanced idea of what’s needed either … so policy and development defaults to teaching people how to use computers and getting the numbers up for those allegedly engaged.
John identifies another couple of barriers to progress: the scariness of unfamiliar technology, and the lack of confidence (or willingness) of those who may be able to help older people to do so.
While these issues may be particularly evident later in life, I think they apply to many organisations and for many people at any time in life.
So one of the themes I’ll be exploring is whether we might use the challenges, and opportunities, of digital technology later in life as a good window through which to look at technology in life.  Our tag has been #dtlater. Should it now be #dtinlife? The government’s policy of moving services – and benefits – online means that opting out is difficult. Either you learn to cope with tech, or have someone act as a proxy.
Below are some of the 10 propositions we developed for the digital tech later in life exploration, that seem generally relevant to any time of life. Full report here.

  • Look at personal needs and interests as well as common motivations – one digital size won’t fit all.
  • Build on past experience with familiar technology as well as offering new devices – they may do the job.
  • Consider the new life skills and access people will need as technology changes our world – using technology is ceasing to be optional.
  • Turn the challenge of learning about technology into a new social opportunity – and make it fun.
  • Address social isolation and other challenges through a blend of online and offline – they don’t need to be different worlds.
  • Use digital technologies to enhance existing connections of family and friends – and help each other learn.
  • Look for ideas among those providing digital training and support – and help them realise them.

Here’s the main links cited above