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Senior Knowledge Bank

Create an internet-based knowledge bank for aging seniors that can be accessed first (pilot) by high school & university students conducting research, then allow access by other stakeholders! This will increase seniors' feelings of self importance.

Photo of DeletedUser
10 18

Written by DeletedUser

Students across the country are regularly assigned-- or design-- research projects requiring certain amounts of primary sources or very specific and detailed information best retrieved via personal interviews with individuals who experienced the research paper's topic. Most students have a limited pool of individuals from which to seek assistance in this topic and, if they don't have a grandparent who fought in that specific war, spend incredible amounts of effort seeking out other individuals who can assist. But the seniors and near-seniors of America have expansive amounts of information, experiences, and opinions that these young researchers would benefit from if only they could find them. Furthermore, research has shown-- and propelled social services to address-- that senior populations' wellbeing benefits from feeling important and relevant to the younger generations and from dialoguing with them about their experiences. So why not combine these two needs?

The idea is to create an online searchable and interactive database using simple library search/community forum type technology to allow seniors to input information-- both written testimonials of various experiences and topics or simply "specialties" and contact info-- that is then searchable by anyone who needs that specific information. For example, a Vietnam veteran from a specific battle or unit could either write a full testimonial of his experience and "tag" it with keywords, or simply create a profile that "tags" him as a Vietnam veteran from x specialty with contact information. Then the 10th grader who is doing a project about that specific battle or unit can use the database to find profiles that match his needs. He can then connect to the senior via the site's messaging interface and either set up a phone, in-person, or email interview or simply ask follow-up questions via the message board. Seniors can engage in as much or as little conversation with the researcher as they feel necessary, and the student walks away with a quality primary source for his paper. 

In this way, we increase the ability of students to conduct research rather than conducting subpar research due to a lack of resources or interest in reading old newspapers and we increase the feelings of value and importance among seniors whose own family members may be tired of hearing their stories. The research that is conducted and written from this system could be exponentially better in quality-- even among high school level students-- and could help create a much more robust and extensive national history and understanding. 

One of the best parts is, this project would not rely upon an extreme amount of money-- once the site is set up and maintained, even volunteers could work with senior groups and living facilities to set up profiles and teach them how to use the site-- and the technology already exists to support it. 

A Case Study Example:
I wrote my senior thesis on why sanctions against Iran won't deter their nuclear program. I conducted a lot of research by reading expert articles, analyzing polls of the Iranian public, and analyzing Iran's history. But my thesis would have been much better had I had access to Iranians who lived in Iran during different periods of their history-- the Revolution, Mossadeq's overthrow, etc. I didn't have access to this, though, because I don't personally know any Iranian immigrants and it's not something easy to seek and find within a one semester project. If this database existed, though, I could simply search for seniors who wrote about or listed Iran as a specialty topics and contacted them to ask a multitude of questions and simply listen to their personal narrative of those experiences. My thesis would have been much richer with personal content. Almost every project I was assigned in high school or college could have benefited from such a search function.

How might your idea scale and spread to reach as many people as possible?

The beauty of an online interface like this is that it is similar to any social networking or community forum type site-- as long as the bandwidth is maintained at an appropriate level, the database can be infinitely expanded to include as many seniors and topics as exist. As the program gains momentum, student volunteers seeking community service hours or simply more interaction with the older generations can serve as outreach specialists seeking out seniors with stories and setting them up. These same volunteers, the seniors they set up, or individual students who hear about the project will spread the word for the researchers via the endless possibilities online and people will begin using the site to research and engage. In the long-term, if the project takes off, it could easily be expanded outside the U.S. to other countries and allow for much deeper cross-national interaction and sharing as well as an increase in the wellbeing of the world's elderly.

How might your idea attract and involve partners from health care, business, government, nonprofit or other sectors?

The possibilities are endless! Once you create a system where seniors have a platform to express not only historical experiences but also current opinions, needs, and beliefs, partners from these fields can engage with them in the same way as students. For example, Medicare officials can use the database to identify specific issues or benefits among Medicare beneficiaries based on posts or reaching out to seniors identifying with a variety of demographics for interviews. The government can grow its understanding of past and present events through engagement with these seniors in a variety of topics. Businesses can use the database to target products or services specific to seniors. What do seniors really need to know about retirement, additional heatlhcare plans, or simply handicap-accessible transportation? Companies could more easily find out directly from the source than from generic polls and sociological studies. The health care and nonprofit sectors would have potentially the most to gain from this type of database. Health care groups could not only target approaches and services to those they are working to serve, they could conduct in depth studies on more abstract connections between things like experiences in a war and subsequent medical conditions or wellbeing ratings. Nonprofits could use the database to find seniors who may be looking to help out in their communities or who could contribute to community history projects or mentor younger children in their free time. Because this type of database is meant to transcend geographical boundaries, organizations and individuals could access a much larger pool of information than they could by visiting one or two assisted living facilities in their neighborhoods, thereby gaining a better understanding of what they are looking to understand with far less effort than a country-wide study would require by traditional standards.

How might you design an early experiment or prototype to further develop your idea?

Anyone with basic website design experience could work towards a prototype. Gathering initial profiles to test the senior portion would be as easy as having several volunteers interview their grandparents to set up accounts or visit a local senior home or communtiy center. Once a search function is programmed and made accessible, relevant University classes or high school students could test it to see what type of information they could obtain through this database as opposed to more traditional research methods employed today.


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Photo of Vikram Lokhande

Great idea Rachel. How about building a facebook group/page and creating a noise around this concept? So you will also have a ready user base when you launch the platform.

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