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Fostering social innovation for active ageing

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date28/07/2016
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventInflection Point: Design Research Meets Design Practice: The 20th DMI: Academic Design Management Conference - Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, United States
Duration: 28/07/201629/07/2016


ConferenceInflection Point: Design Research Meets Design Practice
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


Age-related loneliness is a major social issue as it is increasing alongside an upward global population trend which predicts that nearly 22% of the world population will be aged 60 years or over by 2050 (Rutherford, 2012). This ‘silver tsunami’ (Cacioppo and Patrick, 2008) represents an unprecedented growth of the elderly population and is likely to exert socioeconomic pressures globally in the form of healthcare needs etc. (Dychtwald and Flower, 1989, O'Connor, 2014). Recent surveys conducted in many parts of the world such as the USA, the UK and Japan etc. reveal this plight of the elderly as many older people report feeling lonely ‘often’ (Hawkley and Cacioppo, 2007, Marsh, 2014, Kim et al., 2009).
The examination of current methods and techniques aimed at combating age-related loneliness in order to recognize any ‘patterns’ (Alexander et al., 1977) reveals that the current thinking around developing such interventions predominantly adopts an incremental approach (Sharma et al., 2015). Sharma et al. highlight a gap in knowledge exemplified by the lack of radical-digital interventions, and suggest that more experimentation is required in this area to understand the strengths, or more to the point the limitations of radical-digital interventions (2015).
In this paper, we recognise that the Activity Theory of Ageing (ATA) (Havighurst, 1961) provides a good foundation for developing effective radical-digital strategies for tackling loneliness amongst older adults and we highlight its potential and restraints in this area. The application of ATA looks to encourage or support older adults in remaining active beyond middle age by finding replacements for ‘lost roles’ and social positions (Diggs, 2007). Because ATA is fundamentally fixated on the individual as a unit of analysis, its desired ‘social’ applicability is naturally then, restricted. We propose that the social restraints of ATA can be eased by bringing social innovation into the equation, which by its very nature, focuses on fostering communal environments that are conducive to bottom-up innovation (Manzini and DESIS Network, 2014). We argue that this shift in focus from ‘an individual’ to ‘the society’ can potentially involve previously unengaged stakeholders in innovative and unimagined ways and provide ATA with a means to explore wider contexts.
We examine both these theoretical frameworks to discuss how a hybridisation of ATA and Social Innovation can allow for a significant movement away from the dominant incremental approach to developing loneliness interventions. We call this hybrid approach Social Innovation for Active Ageing (SIFAA). Having discussed how we developed the SIFAA approach, we discuss the findings from our Action Research project where we developed a radical-digital loneliness intervention for older adults based on SIFAA. Our prototype involves getting older adults in the UK, to speak to young students in India via videoconferencing in order to help the students improve their English-speaking skills.
The contributions of our paper are two-fold. Theoretically, we contribute to the extension of ATA’s and Social Innovation's capabilities by combining them together, and on a practical note, we share actionable insights from our operationalising of a SIFAA-based radical-digital loneliness intervention.