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Reminiscing together: an IT-supported mentorship program that bridge generations through memories sharing, stimulation and collaboration in its preservation

What if we can bring together seniors and younger volunteers and give them a tool stimulates conversation and facilitates collaboration around a shared experience? That's what we would like to achieve with this idea. Let's design and build a tool that will support intergenerational collaboration towards one goal: writing a book of life stories "together".

Photo of Cristhian Parra
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How would you describe your idea in one sentence?

Bridging generations through IT-supported social reminiscence and collaboration for sharing and preserving beautiful life stories
Reminiscens is a tablet application designed to capture multimedia about a person's life stories, enriching the story with context in the form of music, pictures and other stories related to the ones being told. As a tool, it helps to create an opportunity of collaboration, which we believe can be an excellent way of engaging younger volunteers in helping older adults to create a collection of stories they want to share in the form of a book. For that, the tool allows also to digitize physical photos and, at the end, to export everything into an editable book format that can be later printed or published as an ebook. 

We believe the best setting for  Reminiscens is a Volunteering Program , for example within a senior center, that brings together young volunteers acting as listeners, with older adults acting as  narrators, in a 1 or 2 months program of weekly encounters to stimulate storytelling and capture the narrators' life stories.  Reminiscens should provide also a curators' interface that will allow older adults to explore and curate the stories that were initiated during the sessions, either by themselves or with help from the family. From our experience, Reminiscens works best when there is one narrator and at least two listeners, all collaborating in the preservation and exploration of the context of the stories. 

Similarly, the  Reminiscens Program could be followed in a more familiar context, with grandpa or grandma as narrators and the whole family as the listeners and curators of the final storybook. 

At the end of the program, the tool should export everything in the form of a  book, coauthored by both narrators and listeners. The book can finally published in an  ebook or  pdf format, allowing its sharing and/or physical printing.  

In a three months study with 10 different intergenerational couples of narrators/listeners, we have observed the potentail of this experience to stimulate intergenerational engagement, and to make people happy both with the process and the final result.

UPDATE 04-08-2014

Thanks to all the great feedback provided by all the people in OpenIDEO's community, below are some ideas about the target users of Reminiscens and about how to scale it up. They are all "raw" ideas still, but with the help from the community and potential collaborations with partners like AARP or other organizations, this could actually become a new, social, way for telling the story or our lives! 

UPDATE 15-07-2014

I wanted to share with all that at the end of this month and also during september, we will be running a second series of intergenerational  remniscence sessions supported by Reminiscens. At the end of which we will again produce  Reminiscens Books as shown in the new pictures I just added. I really believe this activity holds a great potential to motivate volunteering in young people. 

The pictures i just added show the books, each with covers of the narrator when he or she was a child and with the back cover showing the intergenerational couple that produced the book. Their happiness when they received these books was amazing!. Nobody expected that they would look so nice and that they would have produced so many beautiful stories... they kept saying "I didn't know I had this much to tell, no I want to write another book!". Notice also that both narrators and listeners are the "coauthors" of the books and that we printed 10 copies of each book, so that people could gave them away (they did so mainly to their family members, but it also encourage them to contact old friends that appeared in the stories).

There was also a special "compilation book" with stories from all the participants that was given to the senior Center community, which BTW is looking forward to organize these sessions again.

Who are the target users of your idea and how does your idea speak directly to their needs, life stages and goals?

From a general perspective, the main idea of Reminiscens is to support intergenerational conversations. The target users are therefore groups of young listeners (particularly, highschool and first years university students) and 50+ seniors willing to tell and share their life stories. On a more particular level, Reminiscens can potentially be suitable for three main contexts: Senior centers or retirement communities: older adults who usually visit a senior center or live in a retirement community, meeting young volunteers who come from nearby highschools, universities or other youth organizations. Elderly who are homebound or are living in assisted care facilities: older adults with mobility problems who are living in an assisted care facility could use Reminiscens with nurses or informal caregivers, to stimulate their conversation and capture their life stories. In this context, Reminiscens would mainly be tailored to the use by the caregiver as a tool to facilitate his/her interactions and conversations with the older adult, so that they can capture beautiful stories and the wisdom behind them. Families: last but not least, a third space for Reminiscens would be bringing together grandparents with their families (especially grandchildrens) in the exploration of family stories with the goal of creating the book of stories of the families. In all these cases, Reminiscens seeks to create opportunities for face-to-face social interaction, addressing elders' need for social engagement while giving young volunteers an opportunity to put their skills and expertise with technology at service of others. The experience will also give way wisdom exchange between generations. Moreover, we can think also think of "community reminiscence sessions" where a one person can bring together more than one narrator to talk and share stories around a particular topic (i.e., how were weddings in the 1950s, games you played when you were a child, etc.). In this mode, reminiscens would be used by the manager of the activity, to support the capturing of the stories while they are shared and to curate/select what multimedia content (e.g., songs from the past, pictures, etc.) can be used to stimulate everyone to remember. The multimedia content could be selected and projected to a screen that everyone can see.

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

There are two main elements of this idea: the (1) Reminiscence program (i.e., setting up the reminiscence sessions between older adults and younger listeners) and (2) the socio-technical system (i.e., the tablet app and the IT services that support the application). For scaling (1), the key comes from partnership with both volunteering organizations (like AARP for example) and specific senior centers or retirement communities. Another key partner can be StoryCorps, which is already working on this type of programs and might benefit from having a tool and a platform for supporting their work. For scaling (2), the services and the application must adapted for each of the different contexts where it is supposed to be used. For example, in the context of an assisted care facility, it might be useful to think about reminiscence in "groups" around a particular topic, and the nurse or the caregiver would in this case use the system to capture some stories and select multimedia to watch altogether on a big screen. Part of this is also the conversion of the stories into "books" that can be both physical or digital (i.e., ebooks). We will need to implement an "export service" that takes everything and exports it into a editable draft that can be modified to create the final layout of the book. Then, a PDF can be produced which can be printed through services like The most difficult part of the whole idea is to come up with ways of financing the social activities in (1) and the technical activities in (2). One potential revenue stream can come from the creation of "themed books". Imagine arriving to a community in wanting to explore what the local recipes are or what the local stories of a monument are?. Using the collection of "public" stories that are shared through reminiscens in the context of reminiscence sessions within that community, these books can become a nice souvenir for tourists coming to town. Families might also be interested in (and willing to pay for) creating and documenting the "book of the family". Reminiscens can be a "capturing" tool and serve as an interface between them and sites like, which are targeted to this need but do not offer yet the support for the experience of capturing the stories in face-to-face conversations. Another way of financing this would be to offer the entire program and the IT support as a service to institutions (e.g., a company, a community center, a volunteering association, etc.) or towns that want to tell their stories through the eyes of their members. Reminiscens could then become the organization that setups and manages the whole process for gathering stories through intergenerational reminiscence sessions, getting the stories from the people who worked at the institution or who lived in the town we are talking about.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to test any assumptions you might have about your idea?

An initial prototype of the tool (in its web version) is available at This is the starting point. There is much to improve in it to get to our vision. We have already experimented with it, but we plan to do it again during summer, bringing together seniors participating of a community center with local schools summer volunteers.

What aspects of your idea could benefit from the input, skills or know-how of our OpenIDEO community?

Fundamentally, we need to think beyond the tool, in the mentoring program in which Reminiscens will or can be placed. We think that the real value of this tool is not the tool in itself, but the type of collaboration that can support. And we think this type of interactions will best occur in the context of volunteering programs within senior centers or retirement communities. Designing this program is a task where we believe the OpenIDEO community can greatly help. On the more IT side, our current tool (and idea for that matter) is just an initial step. We have conducted an study that showed us the potential of these interactions and of the multimedia content to stimulate people to remember, but we still have to learn and do a lot: the tool needs a better search and navigation support, there isn't yet audio recording capabilities, we still don't have a good exporting function. Our current tool is also completely oriented to italian-speaking communities, so there is a lot of work to do in both translating the tools and extending the knowledge base with multimedia content that can stimulate memories of people in other countries and cultures.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Chris Heron

So have you done this or would you like to do it?

Photo of Cristhian Parra

Hi Chris! We have done prototype of the tool and conducted a pilot of the whole experience last year in september. The idea here is built upon that pilot, and was looking to improve both the prototype and the whole experience of intergenerational interaction.

Right now, we are looking for collaborations and ways to keep the project alive as I am in the process of moving out of Trento to the Bay Area for 1-year postdoc research position. So things are going slowly, but the whole idea is still there and the prototype is ready (although offline for the moment, while we look for a new server to host it).

On the technical side, all the code of the backend services ( and the UI ( are all available as open source and my intention was to make the next version in such a way that it would work completely offline (removing the backend support), but have just not found the time to do so. On the social side, we started another series of participatory design workshops with another senior center (a "Daily Care Center" in Trento) to explore with them how would a community version of the experience look like, one where the nurses and volunteers of the center can help to collect stories in order to create all sort of materials to share with both residents and families, taking reminiscence and social interactions to a community level. This work is currently ongoing with the help of some students, and I will be following from remote.

In general, the challenge lays in finding the time and, more importantly, the resources to invest on the idea to move forward, so for the moment is only a prototype and a great experience we had with the pilot :-)

Photo of Chris Heron

Could we make this a privat exchange, my business email is I am interested and could potentially commercialise this as part of a project we are about to launch.

Photo of Cristhian Parra

Hi Chris,

Yes, sure. You can write me at my professional email address:

You should also include my Ph.D. Advisor, Vincenzo D'Andrea,, because this was done as part of my Ph.D. together with him.

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