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Helping older people engage with digitally-driven change

Draft blog post by David Wilcox April 26 2015

The symposium run by SEEFA on Transforming not excluding – the impact of information technology and innovation on later life surfaced how challenging it is for older people - and indeed anyone - to understand how digital is changing the world, cope with change, and adopt new technology where appropriate.

It seems particularly important, therefore, that organisations in the ageing field should be in the forefront of work to bridge the gap between policy-makers, technology companies, and local groups who are variously shaping the digital world, producing tech products, and dealing with practical issues of using digital services.

That's why the lack of any reference to technology in the Centre for Ageing Better strategy document, revealed recently, seems so important. But on reflection what's just as important is that fact that the Centre has engaged with hundreds of organisations in the field over the past year, and none of them seem to have raised the issue.

Full credit then to SEEFA for setting up an action group to focus on how people in later life can:

  • more effectively engage in the technology driven processes that often disadvantage or exclude them; and
  • have more involvement in the development of technology that has the potential to enhance the quality of their lives.

The Action Group’s overall aim will be to identify the steps that need to be taken in order to create a dialogue between people in later life and those who develop or deploy technology.

I'm delighted to have been asked to join the group, and SEEFA chair Peter Dale has asked us to come up with some ideas before the meeting on May 20. Here's mine:

Engage with the technology - even if just a bit

It's not really possible to understand or even talk about the changes technology brings if experience is mainly limited to traditional office systems of email and document sharing. Apart from one or two meetings, the action group will have to work online, so that's a chance to try some collaborative methods.

Review existing research to save going over the ground again

We've gathered some resources on Ageing Better Innovation here, and this post explains livingwell/whytech

Think pre and post-digital worlds

The idea of different worldviews might be useful - highlighted here - together with this day-to-day set of examples Drew Mackie and I developed for a workshop with non-profit consultants:

Our experience of technology in the past - and still for many of us today

  • Knowledge came in books and articles
  • Networking happened mainly face to face
  • Documents were written in Word and shared as attachments
  • Emails were written from the desktop
  • Your content was on one device. Disaster if you lost it.
  • Client systems were fairly standard - Microsoft or Mac
  • Information was authored by a limited number of people
  • Software programmes were expensive, so you had a few
  • Teams were fairly static
  • Photography and video required dedicated cameras
  • Meetings stayed within the room
  • Online connections for a group required wires and a hub
  • Transmitting paper required a fax machine
  • Business cards needed handing over and filing

How things may work in future - and how some people are using technology now

  • The most useful content emerges first on blogs and Twitter
  • The most useful contacts may be made online
  • Word may be the least useful format
  • Text, images, video can be mixed and remixed, and shared in many ways
  • All content can be on all devices. Backed up in the cloud.
  • Email and texting may be expected anytime
  • Anyone with a smartphone is an online publisher of text, photos, video
  • There are thousands of programmes (apps) many of them are free
  • Teams may be fluid
  • Document and image sharing will be by shared spaces
  • Video conferencing is free and easy
  • Meetings are extended beyond the room by Twitter, video streaming
  • Phones can create a mobile hub for a group
  • Fax is a phone app
  • Business cards can be a phone bump

Develop a framework

From discussion in the symposium, the idea of worldviews - and practical examples - I think key issues include the increasing importance of networks over hierarchies, culture, and willingness to experiment, as well as the more obvious ones of skills, and easier to use devices.

Plan a process for engagement

The task for the action group is not to come up with solutions, but proposals for ways in which older people can understand and influence what's happening - whether at policy level, or in technology design. So - how can they gain most leverage, and explore what's involved in co-design. As a start I suggest:

  • After the election, talk to the teams at the DCLG and Cabinet Office about the Grey Cells model and Open Policy Making
  • Connect with innovation work at NESTA and the Nominet Trust - references in our resources
  • Consider games and simulations as ways to play through what digital technology means in different situations - some examples here
  • Find who is gathering stories about older people's use of digital technology amnd co-design processes

It might be worth talking to the Centre for Ageing Better, who will also be starting to explore digital technology. Driving that exploration from the point of view of older people would be a good approach.

And finally, blog about the work of the action group.

livingwell/actiongroup.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/12 15:20 (external edit)