The Big Lottery Fund has started a welcome discussion about how it can integrate technology into projects that it funds in order to help combat loneliness and promote wellbeing.
Earlier this week BIG published a comprehensive foresight report on Ageing in the UK that highlighted, among other things, the challenge of loneliness among older people. It concluded:
Volunteering and digital technology are two of the key tools to help combat isolation and its resulting impacts. Volunteering is a powerful way to build strong social ties and alleviate loneliness. While there are strong number of women over 80 volunteering, men are under represented. Older people are also accessing the internet as much as young people, but more like to use it mainly for emailing and banking. Almost eight out of 10 over-65s use a computer once a week. As with volunteering, using computers and access to the internet helps alleviate loneliness amongst older people and reduces the impact of depression.
The slides that accompany the report include the recommendation:
The Big Lottery Fund should take advantage, wherever possible, to integrate technology into projects that support older people, as use of the internet and mobile communication devices can help to alleviate loneliness and reduce the impact of depression and lower subjective wellbeing – as well as helping connect individuals with essential services.
I've previously highlighted the fact that BIG's £82 million Ageing Better programme, and the £50 million Centre for Ageing Better funded by BIG, have lacked any explicit recognition of the importance of digital technology, or specialist support - summary of blog posts here.
BIG has, however, funded many projects that use digital technology, and it looks as if their importance is now receiving more recognition, starting with a series of blog posts. The first today - Never too old! - refers to the foresight report and says:
The digital inclusion summary included the following: “Only a small proportion of those over 65 are what Age Concern call ‘refuseniks’, those who want nothing to do with these digital technologies.” Instead, reasons for lack of social media participation revolve around lack of understanding and fear of the unknown.
The blog post goes on to tell the story of how Betty Holden, 83, engaged with technology through a Rochdale-based project run by Pride Media Association. Betty then went on to help others - and both Betty and the report confirm the main barriers to digital inclusion are lack of understanding and confidence with 'how it works'; fear and anxiety about 'doing something wrong', and concern about security online.
The post author, Baba A, adds some really interesting insights, based on the digital inclusion section of the report, about the need to recognise the communication preferences of older people - including a major bias towards email rather than social media.
Our ‘Ageing in the UK’ report summarised that people in later life have more or less the same access to digital as everyone else, but just use it differently; and that they see social media as the least important. It could be suggested that the social media tool developers themselves may need to develop a platform that is more later life user-friendly?
It cannot be assumed that people are not interested in the new or the different just because of their age, we need to take more time to find out why. There can be many practical or psychological barriers to interacting with new technologies, which we experienced users (and developers?) take for granted.
After going through the report I feel that in a world of numerous and varied digital platforms, we all need to remember that to even start reaching out to the digitally excluded that we might need to have an outreach plan that is mainly using telephones, Terrestrial TV, email and… word of mouth!
That chimes with an earlier post - My idea for digital inclusion - the minimum technology assessment kit - where I suggest that "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." I'll follow up in a further post, and hope that the BIG report and posts get the attention they deserve.