An Innovation Framework for Age Friendly Cities
As cities take on disruptive challenges, in particular harnessing technological disruptions and managing aging populations, this note suggests a five-stage framework to guide cities along their innovation journey. It’s designed to be more descriptive than prescriptive – each city will implement in its own way and in line with their other age-friendly priorities.
Five Stages for building an innovation agenda for age-friendly cities
Stage 1: Community Building
A broad-based interdisciplinary community of local people interested in innovation in ageing, made up of: older adults themselves, startups (separated from industry in general), industry, governments, investors and academics and NGOs / CBOs. Events are often the easiest, tangible steps to galvanize the community and create deadlines. An online-community enables the conversation to continue and people to share profiles and interests. Hubs & spaces provides year-round, visible gathering places, and offer an excellent opportunity to drive intergenerational engagement.
In spite of the remarkable progress in video networking and virtual reality (or perhaps because of it) in-person meetings seem to have become more, not less, important. Physical meetings provide energy, inspiration and serendipitous connections outside of one’s echo chamber that algorithms and digital channels have not (yet) been able to match. Events can also serve as a deadline for a process and force consensus. There are now a myriad of events focused on innovation in aging, some of which include:
- Aging2.0 OPTIMIZE and local Chapter events.
- Ageing and senior care events around the world such as the Senior Living Innovation Forum, NIC, Ageing Asia, NOBEL Dialogue event on Ageing, LA’s Aging into the Future, D.Health Summit, Helsinki’s SLUSH, which has the Digital Silver event, the Boomer Venture Summit, events by the European institutions, and others.
- Most regions are now hosting innovation events focused on showcasing local talent and connecting with a broader audience. Some examples include North of England VentureFest and the Great Exhibition of the North in Newcastle, UK, Oslo’s Innovation Week, and Singapore’s Switch.
While events come and go, a online stakeholder communities maintain connection during the gaps. An online community lowers the ‘acquisition costs’ of attracting attendees to one-off events and getting new initiatives up to speed. The goal is to support connection between different parts of the ecosystem, help determine key strategic priorities and support implementation. Examples include:
- Age-friendly world is a website run by the WHO to allow age-friendly cities and communities to list their initiatives (though doesn’t run as an online community with member profiles and messaging etc).
- Aging2.0 Chapters are volunteer-run groups in 50 cities in 20 countries and are focused on connecting local people around innovations and showcasing local talent on a global platform.
- Facebook, with its 2bn members and coverage is in many ways the default online community for everything. According to Pew Research, 67% of older Americans are online and 62% of those (so roughly 4 in 10 of every person over 65 in the US) use Facebook. Its recent push for blood donors in India created 6m new donors in a single day, testament to the incredible potential of its 2bn person membership.
- Locally focused social networks such as Next Door, the 200-strong Villages movement, or the Iris social network, focused on ‘perennials’ in Orange County.
- Other senior-focused organizations (AARP, Age UK), or volunteer groups that skew towards seniors (e.g. Rotary Clubs, Freemasons). In additional there are health-focused communities such as Health2.0 and regional-focused efforts (such as the Innovation Supernetwork in the Northeast of England) which could have ageing as a local priority.
Hubs & spaces
While events gather people together for a focused day or two, an ‘hub’ for innovators in aging provide a very visible and tangible platform to bring people together throughout the year. Intergenerational innovation hubs – those that bring together startups of all ages with older adults – are still more theory than reality but we expect to see the first examples launch in 2018. There are already many local hubs for seniors – across the US there are approximately 11,000 senior centers which act as local hubs and service providers, while PACE programs, pioneered by OnLok, provide a full set of services including healthcare for a capitated payment. Promising platforms that could become intergenerational innovation hubs include:
- Senior Planet is a thriving tech-focused hub for seniors created by non-profit OATS in the center of Chelsea, Manhattan.
- Louisville’s Thrive Center is a 7,500 sq ft space to showcase innovative technology and run educational programs for the community.
- Badalona, outside Barcelona, has developed a intermediate care for the elderly concept that is based on a physical hub in the center of the community.
- Finally, a number of new prestigious senior care communities are being created in Manhattan that will redefine senior care in the city: Inspir by Maplewood (who have just launched a Center for Aging Innovation) and Welltower. Some CCRCs are taking the lead on community initiatives too and would be natural local innovation hubs.
Stephen Johnston MBA is a co-founder of Aging2.0 a global innovation platform for aging and senior care, founder of Fordcastle, an innovation consultancy and a member of the Future Agenda, the world’s largest open foresight initiative. He has an MA in Economics from Cambridge University and an MBA from Harvard Business School where he was a Fulbright Scholar.