SAM3 INNOVATION HUB: Bringing Critical Age-Related Research to the Ottawa Ecosystem

The Sensors and Analytics for Monitoring Memory and Mobility hub (SAM3) Agewell National Innovation Hub in Ottawa, a joint initiative between AGE-WELL, Carleton University and Bruyere Research Institute, focuses on creating sensor based smart technologies that monitor older adults’ health and well-being where they live. As people age, mobility and memory may be affected, and in more severe cases, may result in  individuals  needing assistance to live in their home, or with more severe impairment, to live in institutional care where they may experience reduced  independence and quality of life. The higher costs to provide institutional care, and the development of intelligent assistive technologies that improve quality of life and possibly reduce the cost of care are being tested at SAM3.

Dr. Heidi Sveistrup speaking at the Bruyere Research Institute

Dr. Heidi Sveistrup speaking at the Bruyere Research Institute

The (SAM3) Innovation Hub is currently located at the  at the Bruyere Research Institute, and brings researchers, healthcare providers, industry stakeholders and older adults together to collaboratively conceive and develop age-related technologies. Research will be conducted onsite at Bruyere and in the new Carleton Advanced Research and Innovation in Smart Environments building. Teams will investigate issues such as  cognitive impairment, screening for balance or strength, and decreasing the risk of falls. Projects that are already underway include investigating pressure-sensitive mats that fit under a mattress with a system to alert seniors about vital signs, activity and mobility. Research is also being done on home sensor systems that provide support to carers as well as monitor cognitive abilities, sleep quality and the ability to use everyday objects. Data can be instantly analyzed to detect and report problems before they become serious. The SAM3 research teams focuses on investigating the use of technology that can lower caregiver burden.

Dr. Heidi Sveistrup, co-PI of the DRiVE project, Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa, and interim CEO and Chief Scientific Officer at Bruyère Research Institute is one of the three founding members of the SAM3  Innovation Hub. Dr. Sveistrup is excited that the SAM3 “represents real opportunities for Canadian companies with sensor products that can be incorporated into sophisticated and complex systems to support quality of life.” She adds: “We are delighted to be working with diverse stakeholders in this initiative. Helping older people in the community live better and maintain their dignity is a priority for Bruyère.

The SAM3 Innovation Hub is starting up in one of the more mature innovation ecosystems in Canada. The 2017 Global Startup Ecosystem Report highlighted Ottawa’s active culture of entrepreneurship particularly in the software sector. Specialized accelerator programs like LSpark, the activities of Invest Ottawa- a non-profit, focused on supporting economic growth and job creation in the region and now anchoring the newest city hub at Bayview Yards, the proximity to the federal government and many industry and non-profit head offices- makes Ottawa a truly unique ecosystem. The presence of international embassies and foreign delegations, as well as two highly regarded universities, means that Ottawa startups’ Foreign Customer rate, at 41%, is markedly higher than the global average of 23%.    

The pressing issues associated with an aging population, and the presence of world-class healthcare institutions in the Ottawa region, has focused many local researchers on developing technologies that improve the processes, efficiency and quality of care in the health system. Ottawa has been known as one of the emerging, albeit smaller, biotech clusters in Canada (Gertler & Vinodrai, 2009) and has also developed some expertise in non-therapeutics, including medical and assistive technologies. This is important for SAM3 - the presence of anchor companies and a vibrant cluster of researchers, and suppliers and local demand for products are crucial indicators of an ecosystem that will be sustained over time. Furthermore, with a focus on physical technologies, the presence of accessible community fabrication facilities, patient investment capital, and access to successful entrepreneurs and mentors: SAM3 is well positioned achieve its goals.

More and more, innovators and builders globally are recognizing the potential from developing medical and consumer products for older populations. Innovation hubs around the world and across Canada are increasingly conducting research in and developing assistive AI devices that help older adults live more independent lives.

The Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, situated in Toronto is a hub that develops innovations to help seniors safely settle into the home of their choice, while maintaining cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being. It focuses on brain health and solutions in the clinical setting. Overseas, Israel’s first Innovation Lab launched in Beersheva is helping to reduce everyday challenges experienced by older adults, by taking a 360 degree view of the issues. They’re not just looking at hardware; social projects are also being explored where teenagers are connected with older adults to address loneliness and depression.  There is also a model home that fully simulates senior citizen’s living environment and aids in developing prototypes that can be implemented around the home to aid in better quality of life.

Clearly, Around the world, and in Canada, there is increasing interest in helping older citizens to live more independently. However, innovations do not occur in any systematic way without the resources, mentoring and infrastructure associated with a health regional ecosystem. The SAM3 innovation hub will inject innovation capacity in the Ottawa ecosystem over the long term, and will help drive interest in, and development and testing of, novel age-related technologies

"It's challenging out there": Gender, Innovation, and Ecosystems

Things got WEiRED on June 15th and 16th. At the invitation of the WEiRED (Women Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Regional Ecosystem Development) research group, over 50 women representing an international consortium of researchers, government and industry representatives, start-up founders, and students met at Communitech to share the latest research on and discussion new areas of research that will advance women’s entrepreneurship and innovation. The research was supported by a SSHRC Connections grant entitled “From Exception to Rule: Advancing the Role of Women Innovators and Entrepreneurs in Regional Innovation Ecosystems”, as well as Wilfrid Laurier, AGE-WELL, the Lazaridis School, and Communitech.

The goal of the project was to understand how women entrepreneurs impact and are impacted by regional innovation ecosystems.

Dr. Josephine McMurray, DRiVE co-PI, welcomes attendees to symposium

Dr. Josephine McMurray, DRiVE co-PI, welcomes attendees to symposium

Day one started with an inspiring welcome by the incoming president and Vice-Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, Dr. Deborah MacLatchy. The morning theme “Women entrepreneurs & innovators: An international perspective” included international researchers to set the tone and spur discussion for a lively group activity (pictured below).

Samiyyah Somji, WEiRED student volunteer leads her small group’s discussion on insights and research questions

Samiyyah Somji, WEiRED student volunteer leads her small group’s discussion on insights and research questions

Dr. Heather McNeil, Post Doctoral Fellow with the DRiVE team, leads a group brainstorming activity

Dr. Heather McNeil, Post Doctoral Fellow with the DRiVE team, leads a group brainstorming activity

Building on the morning’s learnings, the afternoon theme, “Women entrepreneurs & innovators: A regional perspective” highlighted the importance of ecosystems for collaboration and growth in local clusters. Day one of the symposium ended with an opportunity for an exercise that allowed the group to come to consensus on which issues were most important.

After lively discussions over dinner with new friends, day two opened with an address from Catherine Fife, Member of Provincial Parliament for the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo. The theme for Day 2, “Women and Entrepreneurship from a sectoral perspective: health and agetech” generated some fervent discussion. Most participants were in agreement around the need for innovation in the health and aging sectors. They hear from experts in aging, practitioners running women’s entrepreneurship programs in incubators, and professional schools that encourage women and workers in gendered professions such as nursing.

Dr. Katherina Kuschel, Visiting Research Fellow, discusses topics from the morning’s session with AGE-WELL researcher Judith Sixsmith

Dr. Katherina Kuschel, Visiting Research Fellow, discusses topics from the morning’s session with AGE-WELL researcher Judith Sixsmith

Dr. Heidi Sviestrup, DRiVE co-PI, leads group consensus building activity

Dr. Heidi Sviestrup, DRiVE co-PI, leads group consensus building activity

The organizing team is working on next steps, including future collaborations on grants and partnerships. DRiVE is grateful for all the support from partners as well as the student volunteers who worked to pull this amazing event together.

WEiRED

Check out #weiredproject #weired2017 #kwinnovation on Twitter for participants’ perspectives throughout the symposium.

 

 

And now for something really WEiRED!

Gender equality has been an issue for western governments as far back as the 70’s (despite laudable activism prior to that in many regions). Now, if it was as simple as passing a bill, you’d expect to see trampled barriers across the traditionally gendered disciplines and professions.

But we don’t. Statistics Canada’s 2011 report “Gender differences in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) programs at university” points out that the majority of university graduates are women. Yet despite years of acknowledging the wasted opportunity that this inequality represents, amongst graduates 25-34 only 23% of students graduating from engineering are women, and 30% from math and computer science. So what, you say? Women are rocking it in the arts and social sciences. Here’s the rub. The median wages of engineering and computer science graduates exceed those of others. Catalyst reports that women in these fields are more likely than their male colleagues to leave the industry within a year if they do get the job. And this gender gap follows women right to the top - in 2013 Credit Suisse reported that 41% of technology companies had NO women directors.

You have to believe that those women who DO persevere would be sought after representatives of where the industry is going. Not so fast. If you relied on tech industry panels as a place where women might pop up, think again. They are predominantly…well, male. Deloitte generously refers to this and other practices as unconscious bias, others as outright sexism. Either way it’s time to act. Diverse teams perform better. Period.

On June 14th and 15th a number of DRiVE researchers and colleagues, in partnership with the Fierce Founders group at Communitech, are bringing international experts on women and entrepreneurship/innovation to Kitchener/Waterloo, along with invited stakeholders from government, research, industry, civic groups and the health and agetech sector, to discuss women innovators and entrepreneurs, and the barriers and enablers of success that they experience within their local regions. Our second day will be devoted to a deep dive into the health and agetech sector where the likelihood that our systems will survive the onslaught of a rapidly aging and ailing population without mobilizing ALL the human capital in them, is slim.

Dr. Barb Orser (Canada), author of Feminine Capital, Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs, Dr. Tatiana Manolova (US), author of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and Growth of Women’s Entrepreneurship, Susan Marlow (UK), will help lead our thought process, along with members of the WEiRED research team (Women Entrepreneurs, innovation and Regional Ecosystem Development) who are organizing the symposium, and a crowd of key stakeholders. Our goal is to build a research consortium, in partnership with other invited partners, that will help provide international evidence of programs that work and those that don’t to improve gender parity in the pipeline that produces then commercializes disruptive innovations.

For more information on this symposium please contact Dr. Josephine McMurray at jmcmurray@wlu.ca

Aging innovation in Boston: “A 1,000 piece puzzle”

There is a lot of talk about innovation in the health and aging sector. With population aging and fiscally restrained government budgets, it seems like everywhere you turn someone is talking about the importance of innovating in this area. But, which communities are actually diving in and doing the work?

Over the past year, our DRiVE has been actively seeking a range of communities at different stages in the development of their Regional Health Innovation Ecosystem (RHIE). It was a tough decision, but we selected four locations and have visited each over the past 18 months to learn from and better understand their journeys.

Our latest exploration took us to the internationally recognized and mature RHIE in Boston, MA. From April 17th to 21st 2017, two of our DRiVE researchers, Drs. Kuschel and McNeil travelled to the Boston area to explore the ecosystem and conduct key informant interviews..

As many of you reading this blog will know, Boston IS health. Everyone we spoke to described health and health care as central to the region of Boston, with one key informant sharing, “health is just what we do here”.

What may be less well known by those of you reading this, is that innovation specific to the aging process and focused on the improvement of quality of life across the life course is emerging within this RHIE in a substantial way. What we were told is that understanding Boston is like “putting together a 1, 000 piece puzzle”. Translated…this is WAAAY more complex that you think.

When trying to describe the key players in the ecosystem, and the work that is going on to connect institutions, governments, industry, non-profit groups and individuals within the RHIE, many key informants used the word “complex”.  Ironically they consider that complexity both a potential challenge, but also a key component of the success of the RHIE in aging innovation.

The challenge comes because of the sheer volume of players in the space. Imagine the work of bringing diverse players and resources to work together … one person said that brokering the relationships amongst those who need to be engaged to make the ecosystem work, can feel like “drinking from a fire hose”.

On the flipside complexity is also key to the success of the aging innovation space within the Boston RHIE. One benefit of complexity is the diversity of the innovation occurring in the ecosystem for aging. To bring this complexity alive, and to showcase some of the incredibly exciting work that’s happening in and around the Boston region, here are a few examples that really struck us as being blog-worthy!

Pulse @MassChallenge

As an engine for the innovation community in Boston, Pulse@MassChallenge bring organizations together to focus on “wicked” problems – this year it’s aging. Their program supports local start-ups in Digital Health such as Cake and CareAcademy. Check out the links – these new startups are doing important work and have young, dynamic leaders who are facing health challenges health on.

Northeastern School of Nursing’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Northeastern School of Nursing’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship initiative is an innovative approach to encouraging leadership in nurses. We were grateful to meet with program director, Rebecca Love who is spearheading the events, programs, and new educational pathways that are making innovation, entrepreneurship and business central to the training nurses receive. Programs like these will effect real change in the health and aging space by helping to unleash the creativity of thousands of nurses who are experts in working around healthcare systems designed in the 19th century.

The Village of Beacon Hill

Socially, Boston has been innovating in aging at a community level since the 1990’s with the establishment of a grass roots movement driven by older adults supporting each other to age in their communities. Some of you may be familiar with the Village to Village project (we even had a chance to speak with the original village in Beacon Hill, Boston!).

Another key piece of the Boston RHIE puzzle for aging innovation, is leadership. We saw this at multiple levels, from the city through their Age Friendly Boston Report highlighting the diversity of the older adult population, to the state which is actively providing support for issues related to aging. Right before our visit to Boston, the Governor, Charlie Baker, announced a council to support aging through policy and innovation. We were also delighted to meet, Secretary Alice Bonner of Elder Affairs whose vibrant leadership in this area was noted by many of the people we spoke to in the ecosystem.

Exploring the aging and health innovation ecosystem in Boston energized us. We are looking forward to analyzing the wealth of information we came home with and staying connected to those who are doing this important work putting the 1,000 piece puzzle together.

 

 

The Myth of Swans and Ugly Ducklings

Maeve Binchy, the noted Irish novelist with a bent for portraying women as everyday heroines not so much looking for a hero, but quite capable of living without one once said

“There are no makeovers in my books. The ugly duckling does not become a beautiful swan. She becomes a confident duck able to take charge of her own life and problems.”
Source: http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/naturelibrary/images/ic/cr edit/640x395/a/an/anatidae/anatidae_1.jpg

Source: http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/naturelibrary/images/ic/cr

edit/640x395/a/an/anatidae/anatidae_1.jpg

She might have noted the irony that SWAN (Scientific Women's Academic Network) is the acronym used by the British Equality Challenge Unit that recognises those who are working to implement practices that advance gender equality through more balanced representation and professional advancement.

Most women working in the STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine & Mathematics) fields will tell you that the single emerging swan remains a myth. Systemic barriers to women entering and most importantly remaining in many (not all) of these fields remain deeply entrenched despite decades of acknowledgement about the issue and many, often unsuccessful, policies and programmes intended to address it. Perhaps, rather than the myth of the an ugly duckling emerging into a swan, a flock of confident ducklings is what’s required from which gaggles of ducks can emerge whose roles are normalized, and accepted. Protective policies, and regional ecosystems that provide networks and mentors, and the resources for the ducks to develop resilience and produce many swans, are what’s needed.

Here in Cambridge (UK), DRiVE was alerted to the Athena SWAN network by Dr. Michael Wakelam, the Director of the Babraham Institute. Babraham was awarded an Athena SWAN award in 2015. Dr. Wakelam recognized that there was gender parity in their programs to the postdoctoral level, but beyond that the numbers of women applying for and securing junior faculty positions was limited. The institute has committed to broad policies and practices to address this imbalance. From standardizing job applications and recruitment questions to providing cover for postdocs taking maternity leave. While policy and women-friendly cultures are important in the graduate programs, the pool of applicants is determined by the success of recruitment into undergraduate STEMM programs. In 2014, women made up only 27% and 24% of the students in engineering and math, unchanged from 2011. Their acceptance into computer science was an abysmal 16%, though admittedly this was up from the 2.9% just three years earlier.

Clearly, the pace of protective mechanisms to ensure that women in STEMM have the support of a critical mass that’s required to start producing swans, must pick up. STEMM careers are increasingly abundant. Cambridge, in an effort to mitigate any post-Brexit human resource short falls in the popular software development and business analyst positions, might look to gender equity in their STEMM programs as a solid insurance policy.

The Cambridge [Health Innovation] Phenomenon

Regional innovation ecosystems...

encompass a set of interdependent factors working together that allow innovation (and its corollary entrepreneurial activity) to occur in a sustained way in a region. These ecosystems, much the same as their ecological equivalents, follow a lifecycle model of development. This week DRiVE team members Josephine McMurray and Katherina Kuschel are in Cambridge, in the UK, gathering data in preparation for a global survey that will attempt to build a model to explain innovation ecosystem development in the health and ageing sectors. 

A narrow street in Cambridge

A narrow street in Cambridge

Cambridge, situated in the eastern region of the United Kingdom in Cambridgeshire, was considered something of a rural backwater in the 50’s but grew a manufacturing base as firms left the increasingly congested London in search of a cheaper and non-unionised labour base. In 2017, it is known as one of Europe’s fasting growing entrepreneurial ecosystems. You can’t help but notice, as you drive into the city, the horizon is dotted with construction cranes. With what is reported to be some of the fastest rising real estate prices in the UK, many note high demand for residential property but also waiting lists for commercial real estate, science parks and incubators. And despite having one of the highest rates of cycling in the country, road congestion and lack of parking now slows movement around the city.  Cambridge’s success in attracting industry and driving start-ups and small business growth, is now challenging the very geography that has contributed to its success.

So other than its location, what other ‘push’ factors have driven the innovation agenda? One needn’t look far beyond the ubiquitous presence of the renowned Cambridge University which ranks in the top three universities in the world for Nobel Laureates. Established in 1208, the university has been the research engine behind what is known as the Cambridge Phenomenon that refers to the large and growing number of high technology firms that have been established in and around the town since the early 1980’s. Our data gathering is offering a rare look inside a mature innovation ecosystem that has a rich, and lengthy history of novel research and award-winning discoveries in technology, the biologic, life and health sciences.

Babraham Research Campus  

Babraham Research Campus

 

Our visit to the famed Babraham Institute and Research Park and meetings with both Derek Jones and Michael Wakelam reflects Cambridge University’s approach of allowing ‘100 flowers to blossom’. There the federation of colleges supports independence of thought for the faculties as well as their faculty members. A virtuous cycle of hiring the best, allowing them to succeed, then using their reputation to hire quality faculty, students and post docs, has driven the innovation agenda.

Now we turn our attention to questions such as, what spillovers from this world-class research and innovative discoveries have on the local population with respect to health and ageing? If the reason for investing millions of public and private funding into research in this region is the improvement of the health and quality of life of its residents, how is that working out? And if not yet, how long does it take for these outcomes to be achieved? We’ll keep you posted.

Health Ecosystems Research

Researching health ecosystems - how do we do it?

The DRiVE team are gathering information about global technology and innovation entities that invest in and research health and aging. This information is available to you! We have entered the entities into a database which has been uploaded on our website through Scribble Maps. On the map we have the main contact information of these organizations which include hubs, clusters, institutes, networks, ecosystems, incubators and labs. Our map is consistently updated and expanded as we continue researching and contacting new entities.

Within Canada, approximately 25 organizations were included in our research and were contacted. While innovation in health technology is a focus for many of these organizations, very few of the entities have a specific focus on developing health technology for the aging population. Currently, the areas of focus include general medical research, patient-oriented care, and general health care technology. It is interesting to note that while Canada is currently expected to have a much larger elderly population within the next two decades, there is not a large focus on technological innovation specifically directed towards this demographic.  

Different South American entities that focus on health using technology have been contacted in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay. Many of them are startup accelerators and universities that organize competitions, programs, and calls for projects that foster and support entrepreneurship in health and aging, as well as including them in their portfolio for continued investment on research on these specific fields. Moreover, some of the entities have developed research around pathologies that are associated with aging, or that target problems that generate an impact in their society.

Europe and the United States have also been extensively reviewed, with approximately 70 entities that were originally contacted for more information on their specialities in health technology. The large geography of the areas allowed for us to pinpoint specific hotspots for innovation in health and aging, such as Boston, MA and Cambridge, UK.  

So far, the data that we have collected and inputted in our database has been available on our website, and presented at a conference focused on aging innovation, where researchers in the field interacted with it. This was an excellent opportunity for us to gather their feedback on where else to look for entities and point out any institutes that we might not have come across.

We are very excited to continue our data collection and build a comprehensive map highlighting organizations who are leading the way for innovation in health and aging.

If you are from an innovation entity such as a hub or accelerator, and don’t see your site listed on our global map, please get in touch and provide us with some basic information. We would be delighted to add you to our map and to promote your site amongst our growing network.

What’s in a name? Taxonomy for innovation in the health and aging sector

Innovation hub, innovation cluster, innovation system, regional innovation ecosystem, accelerator, living lab, innovation milieu… Have you googled any of these terms lately?

With the emergence of conversations on innovation in Canada, aligning with trends globally, these terms have been used (often interchangeably) to describe what regions, provinces and countries are working to achieve.

In the health and aging sector, the DRiVE team, working for AGE-WELL, investigate the partnerships and linkages among researchers, policy-makers, practitioners, industry, and citizens that are required to support health-tech and age-tech development, evaluation, commercialization and implementation. We have found ourselves perplexed by the lack of consistency in the terminology in this space.

We are working to resolve this confusion by building a taxonomy of innovation in the health and aging sector.

What we know at this point is that many of these concepts are nested and possibly hierarchical. However, some of these entities can stand alone- for example, it is unlikely that in the health innovation sector you would find an innovation hub, without a regional innovation ecosystem (RIE) or regional innovation systems (RIS) (which we know are synonymous terms).

We have reviewed the literature in this area and are now reaching out to self-described innovation hubs, clusters, and systems globally who are working in the health and aging space. We plan to learn from them about the decisions they make in the language they use to describe their actions and objectives.

So, are you like us and tangled up in all of this terminology? Are you tired of just googling around and want to have your say? We’d be delighted to hear from you.

Understanding the relationship between women’s entrepreneurship and regional innovation ecosystems!

An international team of researchers (Canada, Germany, Chile and the U.K.), including Drs Josephine McMurray, Katherina Kuschel, Heidi Sveistrup and Judith Sixsmith from the AGE-WELL NCE, have just completed an application to SSHRC for the Connection Grant. If successful, the Women Entrepreneurs, innovation and Regional Ecosystem Development (WEiRED) collaborative project will bring together international experts with an interest in women in entrepreneurship, health and age tech, and regional innovation ecosystems. The project has its genesis in the AGE-WELL DRiVE project led by Dr. McMurray and Dr. Sveistrup, and will address the critical gap between our theoretical and empirical understanding of systemic barriers to women’s participation in innovation and entrepreneurial activities.

Symposium and workshop planned for the summer

The grant will sponsor an event entitled “From Exception to Rule: The Role of Regional Innovation Ecosystems in the Development of Women Entrepreneurs” that has received inter-continental institutional support. If funded by SSHRC, WEiRED will conduct a two day symposium from June 15-16, 2017 in Waterloo, Ontario. Day 1 will focus on international perspectives concerning the role of regional innovation ecosystems in the opportunity-driven entrepreneurial activities of women, and Day 2 will address the question “Why in female-dominated sectors such as health and aging, is the entrepreneurial gender gap so evident?”  

Who is part of the organizing team?

Drs Josephine McMurray (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada), Katherina Kuschel (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada), Kerstin Ettl (Siegen University, Germany), Vesna Mandakovic Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile), Judith Sixsmith (University of Northampton, U.K.), and Heidi Sveistrup (University of Ottawa, Canada) are the symposium organizers. As leaders in related disciplines (regional innovation ecosystems, women and entrepreneurship) these researchers have developed an impressive network of external partners from other universities and research institutes, government, industry, non-governmental organizations and civil society. Their facilitation of this symposium will play a vital role in not only enhancing research collaborations, but also in furthering the international discourse on women entrepreneurs and regional innovation ecosystems. A post-symposium workshop on June 17th will bring together partners interested in pursuing new areas of research identified at the symposium.

And in the meantime...

WEiRED has prepared a scoping review for the 2017 DIANA Conference (USA), a conceptual paper for the Conference of Economic, Technological, and Societal Impacts of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (Germany), and a PDW proposal on women techpreneurs for the 2017 Academy of Management Conference (USA).


If you are interested, please follow our WEiRED project updates here, or drop us a line at kkuschel@wlu.ca

EngAGEtechKW: A workshop on understanding older adults' experiences of technology adoption in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region

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On Wednesday November 9th 2016, two groups of researchers from AGE-WELL partnered with Communitech, to host a workshop that brought together older adults, their caregivers, and other stakeholders working in this area, with those who are developing innovations for health and aging. 

This event took place at the Tannery at Communitech, which for those of you who don`t know about Communitech, check out their website- they are an industry-led innovation centre that supports, fosters and celebrates a community of about 1,000 tech companies.

As an HQP in WP7 with a passion for engaging older adults in health and aging innovation I was excited to partner with WP1 to bring their hands-on and interactive workshop to the Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) region to provide an opportunity for older adults to interact closely with technologies currently in development, providing developers with valuable feedback on its usability and older adults an opportunity to have their say.

From WP7, researchers and students from Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, and from WP 1, representatives from Ontario Shores Center for Mental Health Sciences partnered to achieve the following 6 workshop objectives:

1) Understand how older adults make decisions regarding technology acquisition and use;

2) Identify the obstacles or barriers to adoption of technologies by older people;

3) Work collaboratively with a variety of stakeholders;

4) Develop an understanding of Waterloo Wellington region’s innovation ecosystem from the perspective of a variety of stakeholders, and how it fosters the development of technologies that support health and aging;

5) Contribute to the creation of a model to guide active collaboration with older adults and their caregivers in regional innovation ecosystems; and

6) Provide an opportunity for a variety of stakeholders to comment on policy and regulatory issues relevant to new technologies and innovation to support health and aging.

We were delighted by the overwhelming community response to bring older adults, caregivers, researchers, decision- makers, folks working in the health and aging sectors, and the tech community together! As we in the AW network know, a key part of the AGE-WELL mission is to involve those folks who we are working to innovate for. The projects coming together for this workshop are great examples of this engagement.

In WP 7, PRITECH aims to understand the regulatory and policy environment for aging technologies and innovation by collaborating with policy makers and those working in industry to better understand this environment. In the DRiVE project we are working to understand the regional environment or ecosystem that is needed to support the innovation process by collaborating with the stakeholders who are important in these communities.

In WP 1 they are working to understand the role of older adults in technology design, development, and commercialization by involving older adults in their work.

As much as this workshop was a research activity, we were also able to have some fun! During the lunch hour, our Communitech partners arranged a tour and put together a selfie booth- complete with silly hats and a giant plush giraffe- for participants to enjoy.

Preliminary review of the evaluations have been positive, with one participant commenting:

“I was intimidated before I arrived given that I don't consider myself a techie.  However, I didn't even think of that especially when I started listening to others with the products they tried and just trying "gadgets".  I confess to being a gadget junkie - can't afford to buy a lot of them but love getting to learn to use them.  …  I look forward to more of these types of sessions and am spreading the word among my friends and acquaintances.” (Older adult workshop participant).

As we wrapped up the day, a participant asked “how can we keep in touch and maintain the connections we have made today” … to me, this was the best feedback we could have asked for. My vision is for older adults and their caregivers to be meaningfully engaged in innovation ecosystems for health and aging. There is so much potential in the KW region to open the door to the possibilities and market development that comes from a growing segment of people over the age of 65 who are willing and eager to adopt new technologies that will help them live better lives more independently. We see this event as beginning a relationship between stakeholders in the KW region and are excited to keep the momentum going as the ecosystem develops!

As a start to keeping the connections made between folks, we have created a community space on our website for folks to post pictures, comments, links, etc. related to the workshop and follow up opportunities. Please visit this space here to help keep the momentum going:

https://www.drive-health-ecosystems.com/community-health-innovation-ecosystems/

A final note of thanks to the researchers, students, and of course participant support from both within the AW WPs involved and beyond.