Life 2.0 is an online platform for elderly people
Life 2.0 is an online platform that supports elderly people’s independent life. The platform gives elderly people the possibility to communicate with each other within their neighbourhood, to be informed about events organized by association and groups and to know about any special offer for services provided by business in their area.
The platform includes three main components:
· Announcements: here elderly people can propose initiatives for their friends living in their neighborhood or offer/request help to solve everyday problems, from shopping to gardening, from cooking to company for a walk in the nature.
· Events: here local organisations (the local church, activity centres, associations and clubs) can post announcements of initiatives and events that happen in the neighborhood
· Market place: here local businesses can post ads or even propose personalized services, such as special menu of the day, special offer of the week, to elderly people in the area.
The access to the platform is strictly regulated in each location, by a local administrator that only accepts users when they are personally or directly known. The administrator is a person that personally knows the users or is able to have enough knowledge about the users to guarantee trust in the community. Usually personnel of an activity centre, an associations of a club can have this role.
About 40 people in each community are using the Life 2.0 platform at present. Some organisations are posting relevant events and some businesses (e.g. local foot massage, local supermarket or a national producer of aids products) are posting ads (but not yet personalized offerings) on the platform.
The Life 2.0 project
The Life 2.0 project aims at generating innovative services to support elderly people’s independent living. The services will use location technologies and social networking to enhance elderly peolocalple’s access to information about what happens in their neighborhood.
At the end of 2010 a group of 12 partners, including universities, organisations, companies and public administrations, started a EU funded project called Life 2.0. The project aimed at generating service-based solutions to support elderly people’s independent life, through a platform that is exploring the advantages of geographical positioning systems and social networking.
The project, now almost completed, is proposing interesting insights to understand how a different kind of innovative solutions can be scaled up from local to wider geographical contexts.
The Life 2.0 project has been carried up in four different locations: Aalborg (Denmark), Joensuu (Finland), Barcelona (Spain) and Milano (Italy). In each of those locations a group of 20 to 40 elderly people has been contacted and involved in the co-development and testing of a platform of online services.
The level of participation of elderly people to the project has been very high, with continuous feedbacks on the design of the platform components. The co-creation process reinforced users/testers’ sense of ownership to the platform, besides creating a strong social and human link with the project personnel.
In two cases (Aalborg and Barcelona) the project has been associated to an existing community: in Aalborg the project has been located in a training centre, where elderly people meet daily or weekly, to make physical exercise, knit, play cards, discuss or have dinner together. In Barcelona the project has been placed in “Agora”, an association of volunteers located in the area of Sant Marti, where elderly people attend courses and meetings. In Finland and Milano, the community of elderly people has been “created” around the local library, with the help of existing organisations operating in the area. As a result of the project groups of users have been formed (in Milano and Joenssuu) or reinforced (in Aalborg and Barcelona) beyond the online contact between them.
The context for Life 2.0
Demographic and social transformation are challenging the social and economic structure of our communities, imposing a deep review of the strategies to address existing and emerging social needs.
One of the main evidences of such changes is the unbalance between active and passive population, caused by broad social and economic phenomena, such as unemployment, migration and population ageing. This will require a radical revision of welfare policies and a radical redesign of public services.
One of the most critical areas for government and public institutions is the assistance to senior people. A proportionally larger number of elderly people is going to require a bigger amount of resources, but the present economic crisis and the growing disproportion between active and passive citizens is urging governments to consider a new approach to services for seniors, that supports independent living.
The demographic emergence reveals the limit of existing welfare services; the weak point of the existing policies is in the way elderly people are considered. Welfare services assume that elderly people are passive receivers of assistance, that are unable to perform many fundamental functions in their everyday life. In fact the senior population is very diverse in its components, their capabilities are different; the majority of them has enormous residual capabilities, even though they no longer have the physical strength of their youth. Furthermore elderly people have new resources, such as time, which the younger generations usually do not have.
Several governments are considering activating citizens’ residual capabilities to co-produce new solutions. This approach would bring institutions closer to citizens’ need and possibly offer higher service qualities for a proportionally lower cost.
The same methodological approach has been used in the Life 2.0 project to develop an online platform to support social interaction, thus facilitating the exchange of knowledge and favours, supporting the organisation of individual and group initiatives and even individual entrepreneurship.
Characteristics of Life 2.0
The main feature of the project is the strong link between online presence and direct and personal contact between the users. The Life 2.0 platform has never been proposed as an alternative to personal contact. Users were well aware of the existence of social networking platforms, such as Facebook, and in few cases they also had a profile in some social networks. However users considered those platforms quite impersonal unsafe and unattractive, because they are open, they refer to very broad contexts, beyond the geographically perceiveable limits of their everyday life, and because those networks link unknown or unfamiliar people.
The platform is strongly linked to everyday real life. Life 2.0 services help people organizing a walk to the local supermarket, solving practical problems, organising parties and supporting seniors in many other practical functions. This means that the platform is complementary, rather than alternative to real life. The platform makes the condition possible, for an augmented neighborhood, in which the increased knowledge about what is going on in the area is giving more opportunities to solve practical problems, but also to reinforce social cohesion.
The other characteristic of the platform is the direct personal contact between people in the community and the community administrator. This ensures trust among people and between people and the platform, which has been identified by the testers as a critical requirement.
This characteristic is at the same time a positive feature of the system - because it encourages elderly peoples’ participation - and a limitation of the platform – because the limits of the community correspond to the number of people that are personally known by the administrator.
This feature has been critical when shaping the scalability and business model.
The challenges of this project, and consequently the area were this project is expected to produce innovative knowledge, can be exemplified in the following questions:
- To what extent can the use of those application support social and healthcare services in local context? Can those applications really support the activation of elderly people and reduce the costs of healthcare services? What technologies can be used to support people working in those services? How can those technologies be integrated in those people’s everyday life?
- Can new forms of social/support service emerge from the use of those technologies? Can elderly people become providers of some of those services, beside being the target for traditional health services?
- Social networks have been developed for youngsters or relatively young adults, can they be used by the elderly, too? What kind of change would motivate elderly people to use those technologies?
- Elderly people have always been unfamiliar with computers, however the coming generation of elderly people will have spent a good part of their professional work using computers. To what extent will this facilitate the creation of social networks for the elderly?5. Social networks are substantially indifferent to geographical location: facebook or skype can be used in the same way by people working in the same building or people communicating across the planet. Yet some applications, such as google maps, are giving more relevance to geographical locations; but can those applications be integrated and strongly linked to a local context?