Shaping connections: How older Australians use technology to combat isolation

Project leads: Dr Bernardo Figueiredo and Dr Torgeir Aleti, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing

Project Summary

We aimed to help establish a stronger partnership with a non-for-profit organisation to jointly understand the lived experiences of older Australians and technology. By establishing this partnership, the team expects to generate new knowledge in consumer socialisation by investigating experiences of isolation and connectedness, their relationship with different forms of technology, and the consequence of interactions with technology for building supportive, collaborative networks. Expected outcomes of the larger project will assist in reducing social isolation, thus improving health and well-being among senior citizens.

Focus groups were conducted with 30 members University of the Third Age (U3A). This enabled the research team to identify key themes and recruit some of the U3A members to participate in a video interview.  Eight extended video interviews with members of the University of the Third Age have been recorded at the RMIT studio.

Project outcomes

Grant applications:

  • Linkage grant application is being prepared now
  • We applied to ACCAN grant for an extension on this project.
  • We are applying for the AXA grant for another extension on the is project. The College of Business and Law selected our project to represent the College

The ECP funding we received at the beginning of 2019 allowed us to establish a strong relationship with the University of the Third Age. They were so excited about the videos that we were able to secure a small contract with them to conduct more videos and to build the website to host the videos and the ideas around the project. From here, ‘Shaping Connections’ was born.

Based on co-creation and co-design, Shaping Connections has allowed us to align our research goals with U3A’s and secure them as partners for future grants. The ECP funding was truly a seed fund as it allowed us to begin a long-term relationship with an important partner. We have been contacted by different organisations interested in partnering with us. One of them is even using part of our research instrument in their current research.

In addition to hosting the videos on the website, we also produced an extensive report as well as an engagement booklet about the program. We presented two conference papers at the ANZMAC Conference in December 2019, and we had a paper accepted for the CCT conference in the UK in June 2020 (included in the digital proceedings due to COVID). Further, we conducted a workshop about engagement for impact at our annual CCT symposium, as well as a presentation about intergenerational friction and technology in the school-based forum ‘miniMAPS’. Finally, we wrote two articles for the Conversation in addition to one RMIT press release:

Staff sitting around a table
Staff on their laptops

Future plans for the project

We prefer to refer to Shaping Connections as a research program as opposed to a project. This is because we focus on building long-term sustainable relationships as opposed to approaching this with a limited timeframe in mind. In partnership with U3A, we have detected three areas that are important to continue researching:

  • Better manage threats and the perception of threats associated with how seniors engage online. This includes understanding what the perceived threats are, and then building frameworks and toolkits to overcome these perceived threats.
  • Understand the role of community connectors in helping others in their networks to engage with the digital environment. This includes understanding the needs of social connectors and building a toolkit for how to best support them to purposely engage with their networks to improve connectedness in seniors.
  • Understand and foster intergenerational support to help engage with digital environments. This includes understanding the often complex and multifaceted intergenerational relationships seniors have and how new knowledge and skills about technology is transferred between generations.

The project and COVID-19

The COVID19 pandemic has highlighted that digital engagement is crucial for fostering social inclusion. The situation has further highlighted the need for seniors to obtain basic computer literacy in order to stay connected online when face-to-face meetings are no longer an option. This has propelled our work into mainstream interest. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have appeared in four interviews on ABC radio as well as in two print media interviews (ABC & The Guardian):

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torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer