SOLIDARITY NETWORK INITIATIVE IS NOMINATED AT THE SWISS DESIGN AWARD

With its new prize category ‘Design Leadership Prize: Focus Ageing Society’, Design Prize Switzerland has brought the urgent issue of our ageing society into the limelight of the Swiss design industry. The prize is designed to honour projects and products which offer innovative and concrete answers to the challenges associated with demographic change.

We are very proud that the EPFL+ECAL Lab’s initiative Solidarity Network, led in collaboration with Pro Senectute Vaud, the Leenaards Foundation and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, has been nominated within this new prize category.

Loneliness in later life is a social problem that continues to be underestimated despite the knowledge that a lack of social contact can be as detrimental to health as smoking or excessive alcoholic consumption. Solidarity Network explores how digital technology can improve social connections in real life. It is based on an existing initiative, supported by the Swiss national organisation for older people, and more specifically the Vaud region, who instigated the Quartiers Solidaires or Solidarity Neighbourhoods for older people 14 years ago.

This project investigates the question of how digital communication and the necessary interfaces – of mobile phones, for example – need to be planned and designed so as to make them user-friendly for older people. 

Although the research is still a work in progress, an important finding has already emerged – contrary to common opinion, older people are actually very much capable of getting to grips with new technology and are willing to do so, if suitable solutions are offered. Indeed, new communication technologies can provide unexpected opportunities to combat loneliness amongst older people. That’s why the digital service Solidarity Network has been created to support and complement the existing Solidarity Neighbourhoods and thus, to maximise its impact within local communities. 
 
Developed by EPFL+ECAL Lab, the Solidarity Network app and website provides older people with extensive and clearly designed information about activities happening in their community. It gives practical details about upcoming events and shows reviews, photos and accounts of past events. Importantly, this digital solution seeks to enhance real life interactions, not virtual friendships or digital performance. Transparent and efficient, it preserves information only for people who belongs to these existing communities in real life, and limits its function to what help real events and gatherings to happen. It uses the qualities of technology and the internet that are most relevant to older people, working alongside existing systems to provide more up-to-date, flexible and comprehensive information.  

The project is grounded in the results of extensive contextual research which took place over several months. The EPFL+ECAL Lab’s team conducted observations and interviews with the members of the Solidarity Neighbourhoods in Ecublens, Prilly-Nord and Grandson-Onnens-Montagny, discovering their aspirations, interests and needs. Several workshops were held with older people to refine the desired features, interactions and usage scenarios. During these sessions, the participants could express their opinions on the proposals devised by the engineers and designers of the EPFL+ECAL Lab.

The Solidarity Network initiative brought together several different partners alongside the EPFL+ECAL Lab. As the local representative of the Swiss national organisation for elderly people, Pro Senectute Vaud has leveraged its fourteen years of expertise in the development of community processes with the Solidarity Neighbourhoods method. The project is supported by the Leenaard Foudation, through its commission for age and society. 

In order to provide a more diverse research base, the project also involved the study of communities in London. The research in the UK was led in collaboration with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, a post-graduate research centre of the Royal College of Art which specialises in Inclusive Design, with a particular focus on design for ageing. With the involvement of the School of Communication, they also worked on how to include people who are not digitally connected in the Solidarity Network.

This project is now moving on and a full prototype will be tested by different communities over several months.

Find out more on the early stages of this project: here