Monday, 3 December 2012

ILC-UK report on digital exclusion: to nudge or not?

Last Thursday, 29/11, International Longevity Centre - UK (ILC-UK) in conjunction with their social investor/think tank sponsor Nominet Trust, held a report launch. Hosted by the Communications Consumer Panel at the Ofcom HDQ, their new research into tackling the systemic, digital exclusion of older people was unveiled. This timely primer in behavioural economics investigated whether the predominance of isolation for marginalized groups from the digital world might be improved by nudging or compelling them towards digital participation.  It was also interesting timing, given that their findings were released on the same afternoon as the contentious report on the Leveson inquiry (into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal) was released. On every level, communication in the 21st C, is a fraught enterprise.

The establishment of a consumer framework for digital participation is advocated by the Communications Consumer Panel.  Recognizing that older people are a vulnerable population, bridging their distinctive path on the digital divide will require incentives, opportunities for skill development,  better understanding of potential risks and the acknowledgment of the potentially transformative power of digitization. At present however, inhibitors and obstacles abound while the digital divide widens for the estimated 15% of the UK population who have never used the net. In a separate study, it is also estimated that in the EU, 50% of over 50 year old's don't carry smart phones.

People who are not online need to be able to clearly see the benefits of technological adaptation. Social interaction is also key to making participation in the online world relevant. This, however,  can only be achieved when technology is positively perceived to add value to those things people already do on a daily basis. Producing this outcome for consumers while simultaneously sustaining high quality human contact has become the holy grail.  Therefore, inducing information seeking behaviour requires a tricky combination of high accessibility and manageability that can be seen as simultaneously complementary to existing behaviours. In a 2010 study, 39% of those without the internet maintain that they don't need it.  Even in a perfect world, connectivity represents a very tall order when anecdotal policy making by well meaning MP's appears to dominate the debate. The sense that this is no one's problem at the same time it is everyone's problem is palpable.  Successive actions of putting governmental services online presumes a digital by default stance. This also demonstrates an impressive lack of concern about tomorrow's problems in the ongoing struggle to get ageing policy, of which digital participation is an increasingly important feature, on the agenda.

Attention was also drawn to the failures on the part of technology designers and service providers to deliver. Products and online options must not only work but must also be perceived as superior to the status quo. We are nowhere near either outcome yet and the invisibility of older people in marketing efforts does limit acceptance of anything new. Meanwhile, the suggestion that older people can somehow be converted into digital champions seems a stretch and will require a tremendous societal, normative shift. Every technology user is already overwhelmed by choice overload but in the case of techno-neophytes, without broader peer group acceptance it will  be difficult to influence the choices they eventually do make. All evidence points to a growing need for simplification across the board and this is true with respect to any disability and not just age.

The inflexibility of human nature is well documented. Convincing this population to alter existing biases, hardwired into them and then somehow get them interested in learning new skills and changing the habits of a lifetime seems unlikely. Without serious attention to the development and promotion of sustainable, on-tap, intergenerational relationships, mass acceptance of connectivity is improbable.  The attitudes, interests and circumstances of people as they age and across the life course continuum must be recognized and supported and this is a failure of the market from innovation to product delivery. Optimally,  linking technology use to addressing and correcting social challenges is becoming increasingly necessary given longevity expectations and the momentous, demographic shift.

In conclusion, while nudging may be a soft option, compelling appears to be working with the recently announced automatic enrolment default for pensions. Behavioural choice has not been studied well but in the absence of research, compulsion could trump nudging. Martha Lane Fox, entrepreneur and digital champion supports radical transformation and shutting down of services to induce change. This is in harsh contrast to the drip feed approach taken when the decimalization decision was made in this country forty years ago and in 2012,  it is still incomplete.

This is a tremendous amount to consider and this blog does not cover all points, but any thoughts? Join the discussion!

Deborah Gale

Friday, 30 November 2012

The rise of the 'olderpreneur'

Can entrepreneurship help tackling the challenges of population ageing? 

Last week, at the Aging2.0 event in London, Rama Gheerawo spoke during his presentation about the “rise of the olderpreneur”, a term coined to describe the increasing number of older people starting their own businesses. Indeed, in the UK, about 1 in 5 people in the over 50s group is self-employed, a ratio considerably higher than in other age groups. Most interestingly however, is the level of success experienced by older entrepreneurs – over 70% of their companies last more than 5 years, compared to only 28% of those owned by younger entrepreneurs. In their concept paper 'The Second Half',  the consortium formed by the Volans Innovation LabCranfield University’s and Accenture suggest that supporting baby boomers to become entrepreneurs is key to overcoming many of the challenges of population ageing. The more I read about this, the more I agree this makes a lot of sense.

Starting up a business at an older age seems to have its advantages. As well as being more mature and experienced, older people may feel  more willing to take the risks involved in starting up a business, since many no longer have to worry about paying a mortgage or raising a family, which is not the case for most younger people. But why would starting up a business appeal to older people? The dream is to work hard when you are young so you can finally enjoy your life when you turn 65, right? Wrong. The concept of “work hard, retire harder” is not only proving financially unrealistic but also undesirable to many people. It is clearer than ever that the desire of doing something enjoyable and relevant doesn't go away after the age of 65. By starting their own businesses, many older people are finding an opportunity to reinvent themselves and, many for the first time, are having the chance to invest their time and knowledge in something they really care about. In an article published by Age UK, Nick Smurthwaite describes several examples of older entrepreneurs who saw in starting their business an opportunity to remain active, fit, engaged with society and, also very important, a way of supplementing their pension income.

If you extrapolate these benefits to the wider society, the potential impact in terms of tackling the challenges of population ageing is huge. All we want is for people to remain healthy, connected and productive for as long as they wish and are able for. Population ageing should not be seen as a burden, but a gift our societies fought for over centuries and one which we now deserve. Older people should not be seen as the problem, but as part of the solution. I believe we spend too much time talking about how to best develop services for older people, when we should be talking about how to involve older people in the design of such services in the first place.

Now we want to hear from you. What do you think? Do you agree that supporting older people to become entrepreneurs could help tackling some of the challenges of population ageing?

Apart from The Second Half Programme, there are other organisations in the UK (such as The PRIME and the OWLE50 Project) exploring ways of supporting older people to achieve financial and personal fulfillment through sustainable self-employment. Do you know any other interesting initiatives that are supporting older people to start up their own businesses? Share with us!

Have you, or do you know anyone who has, started a business at an older age? Tell us about it!

Brenda Reginatto

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Our take on Aging2.0 London (22/11)

Aging2.0 held their second London event this week. Stephen Johnston, founder, opened the capacity crowd gathering with his view on the barriers to innovation when designing products for the 50+ population. What stops the innovation?

The evening's overarching message was this; the ageing narrative is negative and the challenge is to change society’s mindset which sees physical ageing as a failure and a natural process as a disease. The fallacy is that ageing is homogeneous. Because it is not, the involvement of the people intended to be served is crucial. There is also enormous untapped potential in their inclusion because ageing involves vastly complex interactions between the body and society. If we aim to create, design, interpret and successfully change the mindset, then people must accept and embrace the opportunities and challenges that accompany this unexplored life stage.

The first panel of speakers focused on design issues. Meeting the innovation challenge requires an acknowledgment that the experiences people have throughout their lives influences their later life. This necessitates a new design approach because ageing is broader than the purely physical and extends to the psycho-social sphere. Therefore, designing for older populations must be driven by a goal to replicate normality while simultaneously satisfying the enhanced capability requirements of increasing age.

The second panel pitched their start-ups by explaining existing and prototype products. There was general acknowledgment of the relative lack of funding for ventures in this sector. Obviously, this is an enormous space and the demand for thoughtfully designed products will only increase as the baby boomer cohort ages. We are only in the first part of this phase of the demographic transition.

Our takeaway was that any radical rethink of ageing must reach beyond the more privileged parts of society and our own bias as gerontologists. Ageing is so clearly not a fringe issue. That said, this collective voice is already big and will only get louder. We need to make it OK for everybody to “catch old”.

Deborah Gale

Friday, 16 November 2012

Welcome to Health 2.0

From my very first year in college I've had this sensation that there was something very wrong with the healthcare sector. I couldn't accept the idea of having doctors (who knew it all) on one side and patients (who accepted it all) on the other. For a while, I was convinced that the problem was the lack of equality among the different healthcare professions. I thought that, in an ideal world, doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, care assistants, etc. should be all equally respected for their knowledge and experience and would contribute equally to making healthcare decisions for a patient. But at that time I didn't realise I was missing the very central point of the healthcare industry: the patient.

Don’t get me wrong, I always recognised the importance of my patients, after all they are the reason why I decided to become a physiotherapist. I always liked to think of myself as a very “democratic” professional. I always made sure my patients understood the reason behind my treatment strategies and always asked their opinions when setting treatment goals. But the relationship itself was still very much based on the same hierarchical structure, where I, “the physiotherapist”, made decisions for them, “the patients”.

A couple of days ago, my fellow AgeingAficionado, Deb Gale, suggested that I watch a TED Talk from Barbara Praisack. In the video Barbara talks about Health 2.0, a new era for healthcare. She explains that the Health 2.0 era is dominated by one word: collaboration. All over the world, Internet tools such as forums, websites, blogs and social networks are allowing patients, families, carers and healthcare professionals to share their knowledge and expertise in order to achieve a common goal: better patient outcomes. I have read a lot about this for the past couple of years, but it wasn't until now that I realised that I wasn't fully embracing this new approach to healthcare. I decided it was time to do something about it.

Starting this blog is my first step towards embracing Health 2.0. I want to start by sharing what I’ve learned in my years working with older people: some practical tips, some thoughts and some ideas about how to make things better. And I know I’m not alone in this pursuit. There are a bunch of people out there who are also willing to share their experiences and expertise. They are people of all ages, health or social care professionals, students, carers, family members or simply Ageing Aficionados like me. If you are one of them, this blog is for you.

Above all, this blog is meant to be a space for discussion and collaboration. Welcome to Health 2.0.

Brenda Reginatto