Social innovation for the ageing population
Britain’s population is getting older with one in three people in the UK today aged over 50. The impact of the ageing population is already placing new and significant demands on the public sector, especially in health and care services. To address these demands we need to seek innovative and bold ideas for public services. But innovative services mean ideas that are yet to be tested, and for funding bodies investing in such services can be risky.
This was the challenge for NESTA, an independent endowment body that invests in and stimulates innovation in the UK. In 2009, NESTA set up Age Unlimited, a programme to identify and develop social enterprise for innovative services that tackle issues of an ageing population. Age Unlimited wanted to provide a unique process that would both support and invest in social entrepreneurial ideas. thinkpublic was commissioned to help NESTA create and lead this process.
The process aimed to get the best out of social entrepreneurs by helping them develop prototype plans using design thinking, co-design and mentoring. thinkpublic designed the tools to guide, encourage and challenge social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to develop their projects and ideas to reach their maximum potential and secure funding. The Age Unilimited process worked to help 30 applicant teams:
- view their ideas critically
- understand the wider impact of their ideas on service users
- use co-design and prototyping to rigorously test their ideas.
Applicants were offered support in the form of intensive prototyping workshops and tailored mentoring.
Intensive workshops: These workshops helped participants develop robust applications that would give funders the confidence to invest in their ideas. The workshops focused on training participants in prototyping. Prototyping enables the testing of ideas quickly and cheaply with users to reduce the cost of errors in implementation. It is an iterative process that also develops ideas to be more user-focused and fit for purpose.
Mentoring: After the workshops, participants spent several weeks working on their submissions with continued support from thinkpublic and NESTA in the form of mentoring. The mentors imparted their learnings and experiences in a wide range of areas related to social innovation and design to help finalise the prototypes for funding.
At the close of Age Unlimited, NESTA invested in more projects than they had initially planned. They said: “We’ve seen a shift in the innovation and the robustness of the applicant’s ideas.” Today around half of the applicants from the Age Unlimited programme are turning their ideas into reality.
The programme demonstrates the many ways in which thinkpublic supports social entrepreneurship among citizens. Using creative and design-based tools social ideas, projects and enterprises can realise their maximum potential in addressing society’s most critical social challenges.