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Connecting at Local Level: Exploring Opportunities for Future Design of Technology to Support Social Connections in Age-Friendly Communities

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jenny Liddle, Dr Kyle Montague, Professor Barbara Hanratty, Professor Thomas Scharf



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Social connectedness in later life is an important dimension of an age-friendly community, with associated implications for individual health and wellbeing. In contrast with prior efforts focusing on connections at a distance or online communities where the digital technology is the interface, we explore the design opportunities and role of technology for connectedness within a geographically local community context. We present findings from interviews with 22 older adults and a linked ideation workshop. Our analysis identified shared concerns and negative perceptions around local relationships, connections and characteristics of the geographical area. However, local connectedness through technology was largely absent from day-to-day life and even perceived as contributing to disconnection. By uncovering how older adults use and perceive technology in their social lives and combining these findings with their ideas for improving local connections, we highlight the need for thoughtful consideration of the role of technology in optimising social connections within communities. Our research highlights a need for design work to understand the specifics of the local context and reduce emphasis on technology as the interface between people. We introduce an amended definition—‘underpinned by a commitment to respect and social inclusion, an age-friendly community is engaged in a strategic and ongoing process to facilitate active ageing by optimising the community’s physical, social and digital environments and its supporting infrastructure’—to conceptualise our approach. We conclude by suggesting areas for future work in developing digitally connected age-friendly communities.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Liddle J, Pitcher N, Montague K, Hanratty B, Standing H, Scharf T

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Year: 2020

Volume: 17

Issue: 15

Online publication date: 31/07/2020

Acceptance date: 28/07/2020

Date deposited: 03/08/2020

ISSN (print): 1661-7827

ISSN (electronic): 1660-4601

Publisher: MDPI AG


DOI: 10.3390/ijerph17155544


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Funder referenceFunder name
Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewals (NISR)
Newcastle University Institute for Ageing (NUIA)