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Designing-Our-Future Participatory Pods embedded within the mature community (eg. ElderIDEO) UPDATED

Physical spaces within Senior or Community Centers, Assisted Living Facilities, etc. where retired/aging/mature individuals can participate in a structured, facilitated design-thinking process to design solutions to aging-related issues /challenges.

Photo of Sylvia Stein
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The initial inspiration for this concept came from a comment made by Barbara A. on this platform, in response to the Challenge Brief. Barbara wrote “Some good points - but the voice (the "we's" and "they's") and perspective of the pitch assume that the people engaging with this challenge are not old and that younger people will be coming up with the solutions. I hope this challenge is being promoted widely via channels with older audiences so we all get a chance to offer our insights, experiences and good ideas!”

Designing-Our-Future Participatory Pods is a simple concept: To bring the Design-Thinking methodology to the aging communities themselves; To empower aging men and women to build on a lifetime of experience, collaborate with others and help to create and innovate for themselves and for their communities.

In additionto the Design-Thinking process / toolkit, this would include a physical space (walls for sticky notes, white boards, flexible seating, storage for basic supplies / prototyping materials etc) and a trained facilitator who would jumpstart the Design-Thinking process until the community could take over for themselves.

Small groups of Seniors / Retirees or other able-minded aging cohorts and / or their caretakers/nurses/staff-members would be led though a structured process to: Define, Discover, Ideate & Prototype on a continual basis,solving problems they face, and challenges they encounter, large and small.

An online platform developed for this community of Elderly Design-Thinkers would allow them to share experiences, access resources and build a global community of practice.

Addendum: I had a great face-to-face meeting with many members of my Virtual Team yesterday: Thanks Kenny, John, Delia and Shashank!  As was also mentioned in some of the comments, we discussed the importance of including caregivers, and staff / professionals as well as designers in the design team / pods.  We also discussed the importance of having a strong structure / facilitator at the beginning to get these design-communities going, but that the goal should be for the facilitators, eventually, to remove themselves ie to inculcate / embed the thought-process, skills and methodology within the community center or home or hospital.  Toward this end we came up with a fun 'ice breaker' project to have the participants redesign they food tray (if they use a food service) or their pill dispenser, or something they use everyday. In other words, to start with a very concrete 'product' and work toward designing experiences or systems.  We plan to prototype this process with a local senior community center in the fall. 

UPDATE FROM REFINEMENT PHASE: During this phase there has been some nice momentum building for this concept.

First, we identified adults who are 'aging in place' (versus Senior Centers or Assisted Living Facilities) as the primary target for this initial prototyping phase for this concept.

Then we identified a large apartment building in Greenwich Village NYC that has a de facto aging community of diverse professionals (retired / semi-retired: professors, artists,writers, publishers, business men/women, lawyers etc.), all of whom have lived in the building for a long time. We approached one core member of this community with the ElderIDEO / Participatory Pod Concept and he agreed to enlist other members of the community to join in a prototype workshop around a challenge of the groups’ choosing. Some of these initial ‘challenge’ ideas are listed below.

There were two exciting outcomes from this initial foray into the field:

First, as our contact approached his community, he was surprised and delighted by the positive response. We had initially suggested that the prototyping group be comprised of 8 people from the building, we have now expanded that number as word-of-mouth has spread through the building and many more are interested in joining the session. We are planning to meet with this group in the Fall / October.

The second outcome was that word of the initiative spread to a thought-leader / domain specialist: Marion Swaybill, who, together with her collaborator, Joanne Roberts has been active in the ‘aging in place' space since 2008 (see comment below for details). As noted below, Marion will set up meetings with several innovation-oriented, aging-in-place-centric organizations with whom she has worked and for whom the Participatory Pod process / concept may beinviting and viable.

During these conversations, a number of potential challenges have emerged for the session(s). We will continue to solicit more, and will then focus on one for the prototyping phase: Here are a few examples of ‘challenge’ which have surfaced to date:

“How might we become more comfortable with technology."

And from Marion: “Other ideas for test workshop in the fall. I think the sense o fisolation comes much later in life, if you live long enough and all yourfriends are gone. A younger, more of-the-moment idea might be how do we keepour individual communities vital…make new friends…find new activities so wecontinue to flourish as we get older / retire?

In a similar vein, how do we remain relevant? Technology might be part of this rather than a subject unto itself.

Can I go it alone? How do widows and widowers keep moving…or falling forward as a friend of mine says.

Something around resourcefulness…how can we become more resourceful as we get older.

All these ideas reflect my beliefthat one of the hardest things to face as we get older is that our worlds shrink…whether in the transition of work to retirement, downsizing life, kids moving away, friends moving away, becoming diminished or dying. People don't talk about it much…all of a sudden you realize it's happening. It's a later-in-life challenge that can be met with creative thinking and willingness to seek out new companions and opportunities.” (end of quote from Marion)

The goal of the prototyping session(s) planned for the fall is NOT necessarily to come up THE big idea or THE solution, but rather to experience the ‘DesignThinking’ process, and to give us feedback about the process?

- Was it fun? Productive? Engaging?

- Does it seem like a process we could use as a community going forward?

- What other challenges could weaddress using this process?

We are excited about the momentum that is building for this concept and we will use this platform to update the OpenIDEO community with our progress by adding photos, videos and reports from the prototyping sessions. We hope others who have indicated in the comments that they are creating their own Participatory Pods within their communities and organizations will do the same.

One Final Update from Virtual Team Member William Snyder: 

2 Comments re ongoing facilitation and monetization: 

"Quick comment on the idea: don’t plan on facilitators/coordinators passing on the torch to local community, because it may be important to keep such a role. I would suggest planning to have someone there, because a coordinator is likely always needed if there is going to be ongoing participative design…and, it could be a resident or staff member (or multiple of them) who get certified, and who become members of a Community of Practice across participating centers doing this work.

Further, you / we should find way to monetize the work of these innovation-coordinators so there is stream of sustained funding for them, and for an overall organizing entity to help scale the effort, grow the discipline, coordinate institutional partnerships (which in turn, provide new funding and application opportunities), etc. this is down the line, of course, but there are implications for thinking through the design and business model now."

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

In addition to Design-Thinking Process toolkits which already exist, a turnkey manual would be developed to help organizations such a Community and Senior Centers to carve out space for a Designing-Our-Future Participatory Pod: Size of room, wall surfaces, furniture, supplies, etc. A network of facilitators would be on identified who could work with a Designing-Our-Future Participatory Pod to get the process going. As these communities take-off, members of active pods can begin to facilitate new pods in new venues.

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

The Designing-Our-Future Participatory Pods Design-Thinking process could include an emphasis on bringing outside experts / stakeholders into the process, including health care, business, government, nonprofit, etc.

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

I have identified a few small senior community centers / groups in NYC and hope to contact them in the next few weeks to see if we can conduct a pilot Designing-Our-Future Participatory Pod exercise. I am hoping to include members of our NYC OpenIDEO team, included as Virtual Members below.

Evaluation results

11 evaluations so far

1. How well does this idea enable people to maintain wellbeing and thrive as they age?

Really well. There's clear value in this idea for people of all ages - 27.3%

This idea is getting there but the connection to healthy ageing isn't quite clear - 63.6%

Not so well – there were other ideas that provide more real value for people as they age - 9.1%

2. Does this idea outline a clear mechanism or strategy that would enable it to scale and spread around the world?

Yep – it's really clear how this idea would get diffused and adopted by people from all over - 18.2%

Seems like the mechanism for diffusion still needs some fleshing out - 54.5%

No, it doesn't really look like it takes scale and spread into account. - 27.3%

3. How attractive is this idea for partners from health care, business, government, nonprofit or other sectors to get involved?

This idea is ready for partnership! It's easy to see how and why different sectors would want to get involved - 36.4%

There's some opportunity for partners here but it would need more refinement to really attract other organisations or people - 18.2%

It's not clear to me how or why partners would be motivated to get involved - 45.5%

4. How easy would it be to pilot an early version of this idea for continued iteration and learning?

Really easy – ways that we might test this idea in a pilot are already springing to mind - 72.7%

A pilot would be doable – but we'd need to spend quite a bit of time to figure out how to do it - 27.3%

An early pilot doesn't seem too easy at this point - 0%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

It rocked my world - 27.3%

I liked it but preferred others - 27.3%

It didn't get me so excited - 45.5%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kenneth Walton

Hey Sylvia,
I am digging your submission, I was doing something similar for the AARP Challenge is it OK with you to do a Remix on your idea?

Photo of Sylvia Stein

Hi Kenneth - be my guest! It's an 'open innovation' platform! I don't have the bandwidth to participate right now, but I'll be watching your progress.

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