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A Digital Shoebox Project to Build Empathy & Digital Skills

Youth grow up in front of and behind the camera; every moment is captured on a chip and uploaded to cyberspace. For the elderly, Kodak moments were captured less frequently, and one would have had to do the proverbial uphill climb to develop a roll of film. But regardless of the technology used, photography is a medium that captures human experience--and the stories of human experience are not all too different across generations. The project will engage youth to help the elderly organize their photos in a "digital shoebox," using media to create an online archive, slideshow or video. This collaboration will create empathy among generations by surfacing personal stories, while also building digital skills for the elderly.

Photo of Jenn Yoo
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How would you describe your idea in one sentence?

Youth mentors guide their older counterparts through a digital shoebox project to organize photographs, keepsakes and scrapbook items in an online archive.
Every generation bemoans the detrimental effects of technology on the youth of its day, and the youth roll their eyes at the obsolete technologies their parents prefer. We forget that the elderly were young not long ago, and today's youth will worry about tomorrow's in not too long either. 

The idea is to bridge this chasm of perception by bringing young and old to the same table, looking over artefacts of memory and helping to bring them online. Because my mother keeps her childhood photographs stuffed in a shoebox, I haven't seen them since I was a child myself. But now, with #TBT popularizing quick-onset nostalgia, everyone's rummaging in their closets for pictures from back when, and there's room to remember that Colin Powell was taking selfies before I was born. 

The Digital Shoebox Project could take various forms, depending on the skills and time commitment / constraints:
  • A lighter-weight social media campaign that takes advantage of the #TBT trend; youth mentors help their "mentees" scan photos and send them to family or post them online. 
  • An archival project that simply sets up online storage of photographs and digitized letters, postcards, etc.
  • A narrative project that includes digitization and culminates in a longer-form scrapbook, slideshow, video or other media project (along the lines of StoryCorps).

Assumptions to test:
  • The project & mentorship parameters will build rapport. Are photographs & a defined outcome enough to open up personal stories? Is there willingness on both sides to share and listen, or is training needed to facilitate this?
  • Youth mentors have the digital skills required. What is the best medium for creating an archive, slideshow, or video? What tools or software do they have access to, and show the project have guidelines for which ones to use or should each mentor choose what they're most familiar with? 
  • Older people want to store their photos in a digital format. Will they be willing to share their personal keepsakes? Will they have concerns about storing or posting them online? 

 

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

The first step to test these assumptions would be to talk to people in both target groups. I would probably start by looking up programs at the local public library that work with the elderly and try to do user interviews. (I've seen StoryCorps banners at my local branch, so I think that would be a great place to start especially.)

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

- Recommendations on tools to use for digital archiving / storytelling

29 comments

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Photo of Leigh Cullen
Team

Great work Jenn. As I mentioned to Cristhian, who has a similar idea to yours, the concept is lovely!
Best of luck!
Leigh

Photo of Damien Lapray
Team

Hi Jenn,
I find this idea particularly brilliant.
I know for sure that my grand-parents cherish there pictures and it could be a great link between generations.
My only concern is the motivation for the young ones to participate in such project. I am sure that once a relationship would start the curiosity of teenagers will be fuelled by the elders stories. But what could trigger the initial step?

Photo of Jenn Yoo
Team

Thanks Damien! I agree, I was thinking through the same questions. The first is, how to engage youth to want to participate in a project with the elderly? Is there an interest in this, and if not, how might we pique their curiosity and motivation to get involved? Secondly, once they're signed up, how much structure and training would they require to be able to work effectively in the mentorship role? How would we gauge their emotional intelligence and/or train them to ask probing questions and be effective listeners?

I don't have answers to these questions yet, and I think they'd certainly need to be explored through interviews before even getting to the prototyping phase.

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Great questions, Damien – and, Jenn – here's some prototyping tips you might want to check out: http://ideo.pn/pr0t0type Often a lightweight prototype starts to throw up opportunities around questions like Damien's. You might also want to give the Experience Map a whirl and sketch out some user journeys through your idea.

Photo of Annie Valdes
Team

Damien and Jenn, I wonder if there are groups of young people you could tap who are particularly interested in storytelling. Initially I think of students studying film or writing, but I bet there are other possible groups that might be a good fit.

Photo of Damien Lapray
Team

Dear Annie,
I see where you go with finding people that would be naturally keen on storytelling but as you indicated yourself they might not be a good fit. They are not necessarily the most interesting public since they might be too formatted and not enough if the grand idea is to touch as many people as possible. I believe, and that engages only me, that high school kids can be extremely efficient and task driven if we find the key motivator. I also think that they might take their mentoring responsibility with more pride and heart. They are also the one emerged in the last available technologies. I might of course be completely wrong. It could be interesting to ask teachers how such project would be perceived by youngsters. Maybe a “crash test” could be done with teenagers and their own parents. It might be easier than with unknown elder people and parents could be easier to teach (not so sure about that).

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Perhaps we might consider status as a motivator? If there was a central website for Digital Shoebox, could young mentors earn badges? Might there be alternative fun takes on certification / badges? And given our findings in the Research phase around how college students are becoming keener to communicate their achievements from giving back to the community – what are savvy ways we might help them do that?

Though again – we'd encourage some form of lightweight prototyping with the issue of motivation in mind. There's nothing like building an idea with potential end users in the mix, over speculating from our computer screens :^) Damien – we wonder if you might be up for trying out your own very lightweight experiment around these assumptions in your own community and sharing back what you learn? Could throw up some exciting opportunities we haven't even thought of yet?

Photo of Damien Lapray
Team

Meena you are perfectly right, theory cannot replace action.
I would be happy to try a lightweight experiment but I have no idea where to start.

Photo of Christine Valerio
Team

Hi Jenn,
I really love your idea. A few things came to mind when I was reading through your concept and the comments. Regarding how to get youth to want to participate, I wonder if this is something that youth sign up for to mentor an older adult that is already close to them. Older adults would be gaining digital skills, while also getting to tell the story of their lives. Younger generations would be gaining knowledge of past stories from their elders that might never be told. I remember finding old photo albums of my grandparents after they passed away and wishing that I knew the stories that went along with what I was finding. By helping to create their elders' digital shoebox, they're also learning about their past and connecting on a level that sometimes gets lost. Just a thought!

Also, it might be worth it to check out the organization Elders Share the Arts (http://www.estanyc.org) for some inspiration. There are already organizations out there where youth volunteer with older adults. A program like this could be another type of offering in already existing youth/elderly programs.

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Damien, we're big fans of folks coming up with their own experiments but perhaps a lightweight way to start would be to pair a couple of younger folk in your community with older folk to do some story-telling (you could try Avi's story board as it's a simple format) The interview them about how they found it – what did they enjoy, what did they find difficult, what suggestions do they have? You could especially focus in on the younger folks around what might motivate their friends to get involved. This highlights 2 things we're quite big on here at OpenIDEO:
Real insights start with real people
Design *with*, not for people

So as always, we're amped to hear from anyone in our community who's up for trying some part of idea out in order to learn towards improving it.

Photo of Damien Lapray
Team

Meena, thanks a lot for this explanation. I am unfortunately a bit remote from any friend or family here but I just contacted some teachers and they are happy to interrogate their students about the motivation aspect of such relationships.
I have read this "design with people" before but it still did not go through completely. That's the problem of working alone in a lab. Thanks again.

Photo of Annie Valdes
Team

Damien: It's great to hear that you've reached out to a few teachers; I was just about to suggest the same thing based on your response to my comment!

Jenn: Another angle to consider on this might be what groups might help support this idea. After giving your post another read, I started thinking about whether insurance companies might want to support a project like this in order to build goodwill with their members and communities. After all, if something were to happen to my house, I would most miss the photos and keepsakes that you're talking about. I suspect older adults might feel similarly.

Photo of Jenn Yoo
Team

To Christine -- thanks for the link, ideas and personal example. I totally agree with you -- the potential to tap something deep and personal is really profound. I suspect though that it would be more effective / scalable to go through established networks, even if there were to be an emphasis on personal relationships. In some ways, I even wonder if it would be harder to mobilize reverse mentorship out of existing family relationships -- because sometimes it's hard to get out of status-quo thinking. But the byproduct of completing a digital shoebox project would be enabling conversations to happen among families.

To Meena -- I love that quote, real insights start with real people. It would definitely be valuable to come up with a lightweight test / prototype of the idea. It's just a matter of being able to find the time! Might need to join efforts with Christhian who's got a lot of very robust thinking & testing already lined up.

Annie -- I think that's a great idea, and that certainly resonates with me as well.

Photo of Cristhian Parra
Team

Hi Jenn! Wonderful idea! I was working on a tool for just what you are proposing, although there is still a lot to improve/learn. What I did was the initial prototype that helped me in conducting an study (as part of my phd on ICT), but which allowed me to observe the potential of these type of collaboration programs around storytelling and memories preservation.

Here are some links on the topic:
- http://blog.1000memories.com/ (this was a tool for scanning and preserving physical pictures, which is no longer available)
- similar idea and name of a research project a Microsoft Cambridge: http://research.microsoft.com/pubs/101946/p35-banks.pdf
- another from Msft Cambridge: http://projectgreenwich.research.microsoft.com/
- And finally, what I was working on for my phd: https://openideo.com/challenge/youth-mentor/ideas/reminiscing-together-an-it-supported-mentorship-program-that-bridge-generations-through-memories-sharing-stimulation-and-collaboration-in-its-preservation

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

We're super excited at the potential for collaboration to grow this idea between you both. That's what OpenIDEO is all about!

Photo of Jenn Yoo
Team

Hi Christhian, thanks so much for your post and encouragement! I've been rather swamped lately so haven't had a chance to look up your materials yet but definitely look forward to doing so and responding with more substance soon!

Photo of Cristhian Parra
Team

Same here Jenn! Having a couple of busy days too, but will be following the development of this idea with great interest and I think there is really a potential for integrating our ideas (and others I have seen in the challenge that follow the same line of using the practice of social reminiscence to drive engagement). In the meantime, here is another place where you can for studies and programs related to this topic:
- The International Institute of Reminiscence and Life Review: http://69.195.124.63/~reminis8/ (they also edit a journal on the topic: http://www.ijrlr.org/ojs/index.php/IJRLR/index)

Photo of Cristhian Parra
Team

BTW, what do you think of using a tablet as the "shoebox"? do you think this can be somehow combined with what I was working on? https://openideo.com/challenge/youth-mentor/ideas/reminiscing-together-an-it-supported-mentorship-program-that-bridge-generations-through-memories-sharing-stimulation-and-collaboration-in-its-preservation

Photo of Jenn Yoo
Team

Hi Christhian -- Here I am again with apologies for not tracking this super responsively, but I'll try to get read up on connect with you this week. As it happens, I'm going to Korea this week and hoping to see my grandmother while I'm there. She's quite elderly and I've only ever seen her twice in my life before, so this topic is especially & personally relevant to me right now!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on your idea being one of the Top 20 shortlisted ideas, Jenn. Way to go! There is such a rich conversation happening here already and we can’t wait to see your idea take flight. Have you thought about forming a team yet? We definitely encourage you to reach out to the folks who have expressed such enthusiasm to help support your idea take shape. During Refinement, we’d also encourage you to really think about testing the idea out through rough prototyping. There are many online prototyping tools available such as http://proto.io – but sometimes even just drawings stuck to cardboard tablets is a great way to gather user feedback. We loved your idea of gathering insights from StoryCorps at your local library branch. What other groups might you reach out to as you begin testing your idea? Even the lightweight #TBT campaign you’ve suggested could be a easy enough place to start. For more tips for this Refinement phase, check out http://ideo.pn/ym-refine-tips and catch our Lowdown on Refinement at http://bit.ly/oi_refine

Photo of Jacqueline Morgan
Team

Jenn,

This is a beautiful idea. Really it is !

The challenge seems to be in answering the WIIFM from the youth side of the equation ( what's in it for me).

It made me think of a comment Ashely made in a separate stream on Nick's idea - leveraging the Boys/Girls Scouts as a engagement channel. Would the Digital Shoebox be the type of specific project that the BGS organization would consider implementing ? Kids earn badge for service, digital citizenship, videography etc and the aged population receives the "shoebox".

It feels like that might create the interdependency that this idea needs to gain legs... thoughts ? comments?

Photo of Jenn Yoo
Team

Yes, how to get youth signed up and motivated to do a project like this is an open question I haven't mined yet. Your idea is a great one -- to partner with an existing organization/network that has the structure in place, as well as citizenship values that may align in terms of mission. This would definitely be worth exploring -- thanks for the input!

Photo of Paul Reader
Team

Marvellous (also cool and awesome) idea Jenn!
As with so many of the ideas here so far it involves sharing and learning at both ends of the age spectrum (as it should).
While many of us will have adequately documented film and developed photos there are also many who have not. Photographs become more valuable with time, whether print or digital but often we don't appreciate that until its (almost) too late. Whether it be shoebox or pristine album there is merit in digitising then (if desired) adding the narrativethat belongs with them.

Photo of Jenn Yoo
Team

Agreed! Thanks Paul!

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Awesome idea, Jenn! As you develop your thinking further, we thought you might find some inspiration in this project from our Research phase: https://openideo.com/challenge/youth-mentor/research/echoes-from-the-past-to-enable-intergenerational-engagement-the-reminiscens-project Sme cross-pollination opportunities lurking there :^)

And here's a friendly tip: update your OpenIDEO profile so folks can dig who they're collaborating with here. Think skills, experience, passions & wit! Looking forward to seeing more of you across conversations on this challenge...

Photo of Jenn Yoo
Team

Thanks Meena! I've added it to my "Build On" list so that I can refer to it. And yep, I should freshen up the profile -- I'd joined a while ago but hadn't engaged much previously. So great to see an active community online here!

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Nice one, Jenn. The other great thing about using the Build Upon feature, is that the author of the Reminiscens project will get an email notification – and might be inspired to come join the great conversation you've started here. (We're geared for collaboration and fuelled to make a difference!)

Photo of Cristhian Parra
Team

And here I am! :-) Just posted above another comment and looking forward to collaborate further... This has really a great potential!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!