Before 2020, ‘digital engagement’ and ‘aged care’ were two phrases we never thought we would use in the same sentence. Consultation with older community members was typically carried out face-to-face, with digital engagement techniques reserved for younger, tech-savvy audiences. With the advent of COVID-19, communications professionals need to look to new, digital engagement techniques to safely consult with vulnerable stakeholders. While many older people are tech savvy and embracing of new technology, others need help transitioning to the digital space. This is particularly true of the aged care sector where residents can often have accessibility challenges.
Older people have a wealth of invaluable wisdom and experience to offer consultation initiatives, and social distancing requirements should not preclude them from having their say.
Elton Consulting was recently engaged to consult with residents at an aged care service that was closed to visitors, due to state-wide COVID-19 restrictions.
Most residents were over 80, and broadly speaking, most were not (yet!) confident with technology, making our established digital toolbox of online forums, webinars, survey applications and websites unsuitable.
To bridge the digital divide, we tailored our digital and traditional engagement approaches to conduct considerate and inclusive engagement with the residents – even if we couldn’t meet with them face-to-face.
The lessons learnt from this engagement were many and varied. We identified a range of tools and techniques that could be adopted by any organisation looking to engage with older people in the COVID-19 age:
Keep it simple
Where possible, use familiar engagement techniques such as letters, paper surveys and feedback phone lines to give people who aren’t tech savvy an avenue to ask questions and provide feedback.
Set-up for success
While some older people may not have the skills to navigate digital platforms themselves, that does not mean they can’t participate in digital engagement. Think about innovative ways for them to participate. For example, set up communal Zoom stations in common areas where groups of residents can gather to participate in an online workshop. Zoom stations can have screens and microphones set up to allow participants to engage. Remember that support staff will need support, advice and guidance to set these up.
Make it accessible
Accessibility is critical when engaging with aged care residents and older people, and technology can have accessibility benefits. For example, captioning online presentations or focus groups with large text supports those who are hard of hearing.
Acknowledge that this kind of engagement is new and unfamiliar for some. Provide clear instructions to help participants through the process, and remind them of some of the more traditional opportunities on offer for them to have their say.
Digital engagement with older people can be challenging, but it is far from impossible. There are a range of opportunities, tools and technologies to make digital engagement as simple as possible, and in some cases, more accessible than in-person approaches. In the current COVID-19 climate, innovative approaches to digital engagement are critical to ensuring vulnerable groups can safely have their say on issues and projects that interest them.