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Making sense of technology for Care, Ageing Better and Living Well

This note draws on two resources on this site: the exploration into Living Well in the Digital Age, and our paper on Network Mapping. It is a first draft. David Wilcox and Drew Mackie April 2015

Local councils and partnerships will increasingly be faced with the challenge of deciding what technology solutions to develop and promote for care, health and wellbeing in their community. Here's some ideas on how to approach those issues, from resources on this site, and other work we've been doing since the 1990s.

Although the technology has changed in thirty years, we've found the principles remain the same, in particular: put technology last, after being clear about the problem or opportunity you want to address; design with users; and recognise that “digital exclusion” is as much a problems for organisations as it is for individuals. The biggest barrier to innovation is culture.

Back in the 1990s one challenge we worked on was how to engage residents in planning local online learning centres, when people often hadn't used a computer - and almost certainly not the Internet. We used an early version of the workshop simulations mentioned later, and detailed here.

Now the challenges may be, for example, how to meet the requirements of the Care Act to provide information and advice using a range of different media, identify ways to save money and improve services using health care apps, and collaborate with a wide range of local organisations who may not be very tech savvy.

That's as well as preparing for increased government pressure to save millions and increase efficency by going “digital by default” and moving as many services as possible online.

Maybe a local partnership is among the fortunate15 to receive support under the Big Lottery Fund's £82 million Ageing Better programme, and finding they are beseiged by technology suppliers offering solutions now budgets are confirmed. How to choose?

Or perhaps the local partnership was one of many who were disappointed not to receive funding under that or other programmes, but want to find ways of going ahead by making the most of the local talent and resources they have in the area.

Recently we've been exploring technology for Ageing Better, and Living in the Digital Age, with the Digital Inclusion Group of Age Action Alliance. Here's an approach that combines our findings with past work.

Think conversations, stories, networks - before technology

Technology is not the answer. What's often most important in relation to living well are the age-old ways we have solved problems and provided support - through conversations to share ideas, stories to inspire, and networks to build relationships, trust and cooperation. Technology allows us to do more, and provides additional tools. Put first, it can be a barrier.

Avoid re-inventing the wheel - dip into the research

You can find some resources that we identified here during our exploration. There are lots of research references, and sites listing innovative projects, as well as practical guides that we also cover below.

Look for shared insights and conversation starters

As part of our exploration we came up with ten provocations, and then filled those out from discussion at a recent symposium organised by SEEFA. Here's the provocations, with additional insights. You'll find a longer version here. They should be useful conversation starters.

  1. There isn’t an opt-out from technology - but you can choose how much you participate. (Technology has changed the world dramatically, and it will continue to change. What’s important is enabling people to choose how they engage).
  2. Government is concerned that many older people are not online - but there are limits to what government can do. (People will engage with what’s interesting and useful to them, and use devices that most suit their needs).

    3. Everyone needs Internet access … but beyond that, no one size fits all. (Cost is a barrier, and then personalisation is important).

  3. Computer courses and basic skills training don’t meet the needs of many older people. (Tablets are much easier to use than computers for most purposes, and smart phones and smart TVs may also meet many people’s needs).

    5. Simpler interfaces are needed for computers and mobile devices - not just more functions. (Older people should be involved in design).

  4. Relatively few organisations in the ageing field are actively engaged in the online world or using collaborative tools. (Using social technology should help enable greater greater cooperation).
  5. Digital social innovations in services are not scaling. (There’s too much focus on the tech, and not enough on what it does, together with a lot of re-invention).
  6. There is a raft of research, but little knowledge-sharing of that and day-to-day practice. (A lot of research is hidden and not transferred to practice. A culture of competitive tendering reduces people’s inclination to cooperate and use what’s already available).

    9. The energy for change lies with apps, connectors and storytellers. (To which we can add, evolution of trusted technologies such as TVs. Bring the storytellers together).

    10. The digital divide is no longer a useful metaphor. Reality is more complex.

Check out these sites for practical ideas

From our resources pages:

Consider three levels: policy, community and people

Bear in mind that solutions will have to work at three levels.

  1. The policy level, where government will be promoting transformation of public services using digital technology, and ways to engage and support citizens online. You'll find insights into how that is developing opengov. At present it looks as if the greycells being developed by the Department of Communities and Local Government will be the key reference point.
  2. Community level, where a range of organisations will need to develop solutions for those they serve, as well as internal technology and communication with other key organisations and interests. As John Popham remarks here, most local organisations in the field aren't using the latest technology, so they will need some support.
  3. The personal level, where everyone's needs are different. Training people to use computers and office systems is pointless where a tablet with appropriate apps may be far more rewarding. We explored what that means in a workshop with Age UK London

Use creative methods ... and start with people

Cabinet Office has developed an Open Policy Toolkit, detailing a range of creative methods. Below we offer a few of our own.

However ambitious - or modest - your technology plan may be, its success is going to depend on how far people can engage with what's on offer - and whether they will bother. That's going to depend on whether they have Internet access, necessary skills, trust, interest, and enthusiasm. What works on an office computer may not play well on a smartphone … and lively social media may be blocked on council machines.

The Open Policy Toolkit recognises this in suggesting the use of personas

We made fictitious personas the basis for a workshop that we ran with Age UK London in 2014, where we invited people working in groups, to develop some characters, tell their stories and work through what technology they might use.

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

jenny and chart

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.


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.

Make it fun

Workshops with personas create a lot of buzz - but here's nothing like engagement with real people, trying out technology, to get insights into what works - or not. The Age UK London workshop we ran sparked the idea of a digital team party in Camden, teaparty.


My colleague John Popham specialises in making digital fun, whether it's Twicket - the first live streamed village cricket match or in sheltered accommodation where the connection fails.

Here he offers a progress report on his ambition to put measures in place to make sure no older person needs to be lonely at Christmas 2015 if technology can provide a solution for them. You can reach John here.

Develop a plan - and co-design

The workshop described above, with Age UK London, is a great way to help people realise that one size of tech doesn't fit all. But how can you plan to offer different solutions to different groups?

We addressed that challenge in LGIUgame and then followed up in workshopbrief.

We suggested that a local partnership would run a co-design workshop, like the one we simulated with LGIU. Before the workshop they would:

  • Review the resources we describe above.
  • Identified local challenges, and generate ideas for action.
  • Created personas reflecting people they aim to benefit.

persona cards

  • Map local assets and relationships among potential collaborators. Here's an example of a borough-wide network, and you can see a further illustration in More on mapping assets and networks.

organisation cards

Then at the workshop they would have:

  • Details of local organisations, and their assets, on cards.

network map

  • A set of cards with ideas for use of technology, and links to back-up resources

tech cards online

Then task, working in small groups, is to:

  • Consider the needs and interests of the persona characters, and develop project ideas to support them.
  • Review the asset and network map to identify possible project collaborators.
  • Develop an action plan for further project co-design, network building and evaluation.

How this can work in practice

  1. It is possible to run a fictious scenario workshop in a real situation - southwark. There we used our fictitious town of Slipham to run a session like the one desribed above, to start a process of engagement with local groups.
  2. A fictitious scenario workshop could pave the way for research to run a workshop later in the process for real - once work had been done on identifying challenges, mapping assets and networks, and developing ideas.

    More here on workshop games and simulations

More on mapping assets and networks

We have developed an extensive briefing paper on networks and network mapping

In work for Croydon Voluntary Action (CVA), we have mapped the organisations and key individuals involved in Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) pilots in New Addington and Thornton Heath. This has involved:

  • presentations to CVA managers and Community Builders
  • creating forms to be used in face to face, telephone and online surveys of who connects to whom in the ABCD programme.
  • creating maps of ABCD connections at local and family levels and analysing the results through Social Network Analysis
  • training CVA managers and Community Builders in the use of network mapping software
  • exploring the possible links between geographic and network maps
  • using personas to test the ways that the ABCD programme is working
  • combining asset mapping, network mapping, personas and personal communications to create a Croydon “Living Lab” that can be used to test local initiatives and strategies and provide the basis for continuing evaluation

The network map has been developed in Kumu. This online software allows us to progressively hand over the map to CVA and to monitor its use remotely as staff we have trained become more familiar with it and start to expand it.below shows the network of connections between key individuals and organisations involved in two pilot ABCD programmes in Croydon (New Addington and Thornton Heath).

The software allows us to attach information directly to nodes in a a sidebar and to carry out complex searches on various attributes assigned to nodes and connections.
new addington networks

The intention is that this should become an everyday method of recording the progress of the project. The metrics that SNA produces will serve as evaluators of:

  • how connected the community is and how that connection has grown over the course of the project. Connectivity is widely regarded as a measure of social capital.
  • how the ABCD programme has promoted these connections and facilitated resulting actions to benefit the communities.


This content is licensed Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA so you may remix, tweak, and build upon this work non-commercially, as long as you credit us and license any new creations under the identical terms.

livingwell/makingsense.txt · Last modified: 2017/12/04 18:22 by 26u8s

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