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Living Labs for local communities

David Wilcox and Drew Mackie. v 3.0 September 2015 | Contact details


Following our exploration of Living Well in the Digital Age, we are developing plans to put into practice key ideas about the ways that older people can use digital technology for personal wellbeing, and how organisations can provide support.

The plans focus on ways to increase local opportunities and support networks, by combining community building, social network mapping, personal and organisational technology and storytelling. We’ll develop a model for combining these methods, work with local groups in several areas, and create a co-design kit for people to create their own solutions, using a set of workshop games and simulations.

We are calling these Living Labs.

Although initially designed for “ageing better” the approach offers benefits to people at any age, and any community projects aiming to use technology for social benefit.

This paper includes:

  • A lightly-edited summary of a proposal to a major funder.
  • Why the Kit and Labs are needed
  • Further detail about the model and kit
  • Developing the kit and Labs

Earlier funding proposal

Here's the basis of a six month development plan, created in conjunction with Paul Webster and Miles Maier of the Connecting Care project. We are now revising.

Our vision

Our aim is to develop a set of practical processes that will put digital technology at the heart of community-based initiatives to support living well, at whatever age. We will do that by developing a model and open source package of methods that builds on investment in digital inclusion and skills training programmes.

These inclusion programmes are creating widespread capacity to access and use the Internet. What's now needed is further action on three fronts: firstly ways to tailor personal digital offerings to meet individual needs - because everyone's situation and requirements are different; secondly ways to build the capacity of organisations in the community that can provide new opportunities to digitally-capable older people; thirdly ensure the personal and organisational capacity-building is designed to make the best of local whole-system approaches to wellbeing driven by digital by default policies.


One high-value opportunity to combine personal and community capacity-building is to integrate the use of digital technology in programmes like social prescribing that that aim to connect older people with local activities and support. Our long-term aim is to provide voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) with powerful co-design, digital and network methods through a two-year support programme and kit.

Objectives: What’s needed

Our first task - which is the subject of this proposal - is to co-design the model and package of methods by bringing together our experience and that of others in digital capacity-building and programme planning. That will ensure the best use of resources in the field, and pave the way to widespread adoption.

In order to work effectively, any whole system approach like social prescribing requires the key interests to understand the nature of individual needs, the opportunities in the system (the community), and to find pathways to connect people and activities. They must be able to share information and communicate effectively with each other, and use digital technology both in management systems and in health and care activities.

We are already developing this model for families with Croydon Council and Croydon Voluntary Action.

Our general model will bring together innovative methods to:

  • Map the assets in an area, in order to create a rich picture of the activities and resources available and how groups and organisations currently relate to each other and the digital technology they already use.
  • Plot typical pathways of prescribing and referral connecting beneficiaries to activities.
  • Ensure systems are people-centred by using fictitious personas, drawn from local experience, that exemplify beneficiaries and providers, in co-design workshops to evolve those pathways.
  • Enable organisations that support people and communities to feel more confident and be more competent in their own core use of digital technology and understanding of the benefits of touchscreen technology.
  • Help people in the field tell stories of what works.

These and other methods - developed by Drew Mackie, David Wilcox and colleagues - will be added to the overall portfolio of technology support offered by the Connecting Care team. These have been successfully delivered - and evaluated - through workshops, webinars, a helpline, and knowledge base as well as on-site with organisations. The proposal is also informed by research with Nominet Trust and Age Action Alliance into Living Well in the Digital Age over several years.

Possible support scenarios once the project is running

After six months of co-design and development work, the team will be able to offer support to voluntary and community organisations in a range of situations where they are operating as intermediaries between service providers and service users - or aiming to help local people make the best of local opportunities for living well. For example:

  • A social prescribing partnership has been established, and organisations find they need to upgrade their own digital capabilities or offer advice to older people about being on-line or about the relevant apps and websites they can use
  • A social prescribing partnership is proposed, and organisations need assistance in helping plan operation of the partnership and then participate
  • There is no formal partnership, but organisations individually or jointly wish to increase their capability to provide support to local older people. This might be the case, for example, with many BLF-supported projects.

In this project - as finally realised - we expect the skills and systems supported to include database management, communication technologies, geographic and network mapping, use of social media and awareness of apps and touchscreen devices. In addition we will cover the potential of digital technologies in self-managed health care and wellbeing.

Deliverables: Designing and developing the support system

While we have developed and used all of the methods outlined here, they need to be tailored to fit the scenarios described, and to work together.

In order to do we need support for a six-month co-design and development programme. During that period we will:In order to do we need support for a six-month co-design and development programme. During that period we will:

  1. Research, identify and recruit upto 4 social prescribing partnerships and/or other initiatives;
  2. Test pilot development of kit for maps and apps on the ground;
  3. Carry out an ongoing process of social reporting that will open our model to contributions from others in the field;
  4. Deliver one 'unconference' format event to demonstrate our methodologies and to showcase the work in the pilot locations, whilst seeking to gather interest from other partners and sites to continue this project;
  5. Deliver a short summary of the pilot project - this will be externally evaluated.

During this process we will use workshop games and simulations that we have developed over the past two years, and tested with community and ageing organisations. We have evolved a ficitious town of Slipham, and begun to populate it with a range of fictitious but realistic organisations and individuals. The simulations, used together or separately, create a Living Lab for demonstration, and then planning local programmes. They cover:

  • Creating personas exemplifying people with different needs and interests
  • Filling out the profiles of organisations and groups in a community, then detailing the resources they offer
  • Mapping the existing linkages between organisations, to show the potential for working together and supporting individuals
  • A range of digital methods and other social apps that can be used by individuals and organisations

Using this simulation kit, it is possible to play through the different scenarios that we might wish to support.

The simulation will evolve a model and set of methods that can become an open source framework for development of a kit once we are working more widely in the field.


Why the Kit and Labs are needed

The kit and Labs proposal followed our exploration into Living Well in the Digital Age and Ageing Better Innovation, that included a process of gathering resources, developing provocations, refining challenges and generating ideas for action. This threw up issues at different levels. For example:

For individuals, how to:

  • understand the changes digital technology is making to our lives, and deal with the personal challenges that arise - both problems and opportunities
  • adopt those technologies that are useful to us, and blend them into our day-to-day lives
  • influence people designing and deploying technology - whether companies or government

For groups and organisations, how to:

  • address the same issues facing individuals - whether they are customers, staff or others we work with
  • understand the way our markets or areas of activity are changing, and the shift in worldview that may be necessary to continue to operate effectively
  • make the necessary organisational changes at the same time as adopting new technologies and ways of working

For policymakers, funders and investors, how to:

  • understand the issues facing individuals and organisations
  • identify where you can best have influence to meet your objectives and/or get a return on investment
  • develop a Theory of Change or other way of intervening

We found during the exploration that people feel research is often duplicated and often isn’t in a form that can be used practically; organisations in the field don’t cooperate because they are competing for funding; there is little understanding among ageing organisations of the importance of digital technology.

For example, there is nothing yet in the strategy of the Centre for Ageing Better about technology and digital innovation. Organisations work hierarchically in professional silos. A symposium on ‘Transforming not excluding – the impact of information technology and innovation on later life’ organised by SEEFA, identified the challenges to innovation as “ SEEFA”.


We think that the barriers to innovation often reflect different worldviews. Here’s thoughts on that from a blog post on shifting from research and reports to innovation

Typical pre-digital view

  • technology isn't important
  • change is delivered by big well-funded organisations
  • in order to develop programmes you need to undertake yet more research and extract evidence
  • not much will have changed by the time you decide what to deliver
  • delivery involves top-level partnerships with a lot of funding
  • older people should be consulted via focus groups and similar techniques
  • organisations in the ageing field are the best route to older people
  • as a start-up you can ignore social media and online presence

A digital age view

  • technology is rapidly changing the world we all live in, not least the way public services are delivered, consumers are served, families and friends communicate, support is provided
  • technology can provide personal solutions, and already older people, acting as consumers, are developing those.
  • sustainable and scalable innovation will come from a frugal approach
  • change will come by empowering older people as service users and innovators, and those who directly support them
  • there is already plenty of research and innovation, but it isn't widely shared
  • as a start up direct contact with your customers and beneficiaries is crucial in understand your market, and imperative if it their money you are burning.

We produced papers and blog posts to promote an approach based on a more innovative worldview, network thinking, and the practical application of technology. Here’s some:

Component of systems and kits to develop them

In developing practical solutions, we need to think about the three levels indicated above:

  • The individual
  • The local community, and the range of groups and organisations there
  • The level of policy makers and funders

We tested what might be involved by running a number of workshop simulations including personas to explore individual needs and preferences; scenarios for individuals, organisations and localities, tech tools and methods that might be used; mapping to identify assets and show relationships.

  • Workshop games and simulations for Living Labs

    A long list of components emerged for a Kit and Labs:

  • Ecosystems. The related activities generated by actors using a variety of methods, tools and resources. Scenarios are snapshots of ecosystems.
  • Mindsets, worldviews, approaches. The cultural and intellectual frameworks used by actors for ideas and action within ecosystems.
  • Frameworks and analogies to help understand how components may join up, depending on worldview. A traditional one would be toolkit, more recent might be operating system and social apps.
  • Networks that define the relationship between people, organisations, ideas, resources within ecosystems, revealed by mapping.
  • Actors within ecosystems, including people and organisations.
  • Activities, using resources, undertaken by people and organisations, that may become projects.
  • Resources that support activities. These may be physical, financial, intellectual.
    * Ideas that express the “what if” of actors engaging in activities using resources.
  • Conversations and stories by which actors share ideas, and information about activities, projects and resources.
  • Methods and tools used to affect processes of change within ecosystem and develop projects using a range of different technologies.
  • Games and simulations that bring components together by modelling an ecosystem and enabling us to play through how actors might use resources, methods and tools in activities and projects. Simulations help create frameworks.

These components operate at different levels. Perhaps like this:

  1. Ecosystems, worldviews, frameworks as high level concepts.
  2. Networks as ways to show connections within ecosystems: the stocks of resources, and flows of ideas.
  3. Actors, resources, projects as stocks, and activities as interactions.
  4. Ideas, conversations, stories as examples of flow.
  5. Methods and tools as ways to interview, affect change.
  6. Games and simulations as ways to model the dynamic of ecosystems.

Developing the Kit and Labs

All this is thinking in progress, that will be clarified through more conversations, and the task of developing practical work with Croydon and other partners. We could map the relationships between different components and levels. We could then see:

  • Which components depends on others, and how
  • Ways in which, practically, interventions could be organised.

For example, this paper on explorations show one sequence: starting with some research, provocations to develop challenges and ideas for action, mapping to discover resources, co-design workshop to plan action, and network building.

A different sequence might start with a simulation to help create a shared mindset, and show the different components that need to be organised.

Proposals to develop the kit and Labs can be constructed to fit the preferred methodology of different funders. So we need a base map of components, and then lots of different process maps.

The briefing paper for our workshop with the DCLG Grey Cells Open Policy Making Initiative shows one approach to developing a Lab.


The underlying ideas in the kit and Labs include:

  • Making the most of the resources that we have, as individuals, in communities, and nationally. That is reflected locally in the strength-based approach adopted by Croydon Voluntary Action. NESTA posed the frugal innovation challenge in a blog post Thinking scale from the start: “What type of solution would you design if you could ONLY work with existing systems and resources?” Doing that makes it more likely solutions can be replicated and scaled.
  • Focus on what people can talk to each other about - rather than exchanging formal reports. That may be through informal chats, workshop conversations, social media exchanges, or digital storytelling.
  • Think about the relationships that are important to people, and the way to build connections in communities - and to map relationships and connections as networks. Mapping an help reveal opportunities for connecting people, ideas, resources.
  • Blend different media and methods - face-to-face, print, online - and recognise everyone may need a different blend.

A network of connectors

Recurrent themes from conversations in our exploration are that research is duplicated, innovations don’t scale, people don’t know what’s happening elsewhere, organisations don’t cooperate, existing knowledge exchanges aren't used extensively - but innovation often comes from conversations and stories that cross professional boundaries.

Although kits can provide methods for innovation, and Labs the context, it is people who make things work. So at both local and national levels we should focus on finding people who want to make things happen, and to share ideas and experience, and help them connect.

At local level that's what professionals and volunteers do, whether called community builders, connectors, organisers, or mobilisers. The kit we are developing will offer them additional digital tools for mapping, recording, communicating and running workshop.

At national level the same sort of network building is needed, following the same principles: connect what is there, don’t create new organisations or projects - and generally do do what others are already doing, or could do with some additional support. So we’ll be looking for:

  • Organisations that are already looking for new connections
  • Others that would act as convenors
  • People in organisations prepared to connect outside
  • Free agents - often freelances - who are already acting as connectors
  • Specialists in digital technology, health and care, community building, storytelling, systems thinking and innovation, who are prepared to share their work as well as look for new opportunities.

Like local community builders, we’ll aim to spend two years developing a kit that is open for development, making connections - and then move on.


The first task will be to undertake three sorts of mapping:

  • Ideas, to see how different elements of the kit and Labs may connect. There’s an example here of how we used an ideas platform and mapping earlier in the exploration.
  • Knowledge resources in the field - we have identified some here
  • People who are specialists or connectors.

The aim is not to create a new network - but to help with connections within, for example, Age Action Alliance, and with other networks involved in strength-based community development, health and care, innovation.

Where people are already using social media, it will be relatively easy to make connections. Where they are not, we will offer guidance on how to adopt new methods, and also how to organise meetups. We hope that funders in the field will help mobilise and connect those they support.

Will people bother to join in?

Network building is already successful at local level. Nationally there is a lot of activity on social media, and many excellent events. We believe we can help create a much more effective system if we concentrate on join-up innovation, to complement start-ups.

We will shortly begin a preliminary mapping exercise.

If you are interested in any of these issues, please get in touch. As part of the mapping, we'll plan a more open system for communication.

livingwell/model.txt · Last modified: 2017/12/05 16:50 by 26u8s

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