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Tech coalitions -- small steps to the start of a community service? Last week was the start of a new Forum category, Community Coalitions About Aging Technology, with San Diego County as the first entrant - 'to help local organizations become more familiar with technologies that could help seniors in the county.' Soon to have their first meeting, Denise Nelesen spoke about the intent, which is to bring local organizations up to speed on what products are out there. She is particularly interested in moving beyond 'computers in libraries' to other categories of products that could be useful to seniors. If others have similar local initiatives and ideas about how to do this, please post in the forum.
A tech coalition can be the sponsor of tech fairs. People need to see (and hear the price) of products. Tech fairs can be held in conjunction or as part of another aging services (including home care, Alzheimer's, healthcare) event. A tech fair can provide assemblage of booths and product demos, inviting local dealers/resellers to bring multiple products and brochures to show -- across multiple categories (computers and software, caregiving, monitoring and safety-related, health and wellness -- see newly updated Market Overview for possibilities). Why dealers/resellers and not manufacturers and product developers? Those who want to research and buy off the Internet will already know how to do this -- otherwise, tech for seniors, family and professional caregivers benefits from local knowledge and the ability to train and support.
Local coalitions can learn what people need -- and what vendors should do. One of the problems with an emerging market is the 'if we build it, they will buy it' mentality of many product developers with a history of innovation. But willingness to buy a product is dependent on many factors, including fit with existing lifestyle ('I see myself or someone I know using this'), initial price and payment options, support services, reliability, features, and compatibility with other useful tech (see 'what dealers want from vendors' for a view on the characteristics that make products appealing to integrate and resell.)
Community tech coalitions must include deep knowledge of whether products are useful. When talking to aging services organizations, I often hear a reluctance to be specific about product vendors, fearing that this will be a conflict of interest for them -- showing preference for a particular vendor to the exclusion of another, for example. Today that perspective is a liability -- to educate organizations about technology, someone involved must get it, know and try. Also, new products and services are emerging on a regular basis -- some better than previous versions -- and some not so much. But which is which? What's a reasonable price (or even better, what is the real price that others have paid?) In the area of tech to support an aging population, today there is no Consumer Reports review of home monitoring, for example, recognized by the organization and much-needed per the comments in this 2008 Consumer Reports blog post. But in the meantime, tech coalitions must find a local, interested and tech knowledgeable person or company to help separate the useful from not.
The whole may be bigger than the sum of the parts. Community coalitions (like the one starting in San Diego) can bring together organizations that see a need and want to address it. With strong leadership and commitment, they will collectively be able do more to help older adults learn about useful technologies than any one individual group. Given partnerships and engagement of tech-knowledgeable resources, these communities will be ready as their populations age.
If you know of local tech coalitions, please post in the Forum or as a comment here for me to re-post. And if you have ideas about what these should do to advance awareness and adoption, it would be great to hear about them!