The progressive ageing of the population is a social challenge that must be addressed from various perspectives: in terms of public finance, competitiveness of related markets and quality of life of citizens. In 2060, one in three Europeans will be over 65 years old, with an increase in social and health care costs that is estimated will stand at about 9% of European Union GDP in 2050. Inevitably, this creates additional pressure on a public welfare system, which for years has had difficulty in responding to the growing needs of social assistance.
Digital innovation can be the key to successfully facing this challenge.
With the support of web technologies and dissemination of the digital culture , it can, in fact, generate that disruptive innovation necessary for bringing about a radical paradigm shift in the traditional supply and demand relations of social services and for enabling business models that can generate new economic and social value.
Data sharing, open collaboration, active participation, co-creation of services, social inclusion and economic sustainability become musts for producing real innovation in service models for persons, orienting them towards proactive management of social welfare and health needs.
This is the context for the experience of ALL4ALL – Digital and solidarity ecosystem for social inclusion, an Italian research project, funded under the”Internet of Data (IoD)” – POR FESR 2007/2013 tender of the Piedmont Region.
ALL4ALL has defined innovative service and business models related to the sphere of support for elderly and persons with physical disabilities, developing an ICT platform that provides remote support, remote health monitoring and social inclusion services.
The innovative elements of the ALL4ALL approach
ALL4ALL promotes the comprehensive taking charge of the beneficiary, combining aspects of both health management and social inclusion, in view of the fact that there is often a very fine dividing line between “psycho-physical discomfort” and “social distress”.
A bottom-up approach to the definition/delivery of services makes beneficiaries and the different actors in social welfare chain (family, friends, caregivers, specialised operators) active parts of a supportive and sustainable ecosystem.
ALL4ALL fosters the creation of a virtual space where beneficiaries can easily get in touch with caregivers and professional operators to receive appropriate assistance through the real-time availability of health data collected through wireless medical devices. ALL4ALL also supports the construction of communities of “friends”, where the beneficiary can share needs and interests with other users. Users are involved in cultural entertainment and leisure programmes, becoming “prosumers“, that is, consumers and providers of the digital content of such programmes.
One of the strengths of ALL4ALL has been to validate the activities of the project on the ground right from the initial stages, through the engagement of real users (subjects aged 60-85 years, with needs for home health care and/or at risk of social isolation) and the active participation of various stakeholders in the social assistance domain, according to the logic of Living Labs.
Datum management in the ALL4ALL ecosystem
In ALL4ALL, the data generated by medical sensors, web applications and services connected with each other through the Internet are varied in nature: health-type data collected through the use of wireless medical devices, but also audio-visual and textual contributions generated by the social activity of users within the ALL4ALL Community .
In particular, for the collection of health data, Smartdatanet – the cloud platform of the Piedmont Region – has been used. This is an open platform and is available for PAs, businesses, research centres and private entities, which offers itself as a “digital ecosystem” for the sharing and aggregation of data and information derived from the Internet of Things (IoT), the Internet of People (IoP) and public and private open data, with the aim of fostering the growth of an economy based on data. Within ALL4ALL, Smartdatanet has been used at two levels: on the one hand, giving the regional platform health data as a private stream (used by the ALL4ALL platform to provide the care services and clinical monitoring envisaged by the project) and, on the other, as a public stream, giving part of those data, suitably anonymised, in open mode in order to make them available to third parties for statistical analysis or for the development of new services for persons.
Digital culture, IoT and Open data – drivers of innovation in the social welfare field
The web and digital technologies available today make it possible to activate a positive energy based on the interactions among persons and the various stakeholders in the area concerned, which triggers virtuous and sustainable mechanisms of social care and helps to improve the quality and efficiency of models of delivery of social welfare services.
Although this is a short-term pilot project and applied to a limited geographical area (Ivrea and Chivasso), the ALL4ALL experience has made it possible to acquire some important lessons learned.
From the feedback received from users and professional operators involved in the pilot, it has become clear that the real-time sharing of data, information and knowledge among the different actors of the social welfare chain is able to generate benefits in terms of:
- decreasing the distance between beneficiaries and the care/welfare team
- minimising the need for hospitalisation or home care support, leading to a rationalisation of social and health personnel working in the area concerned
- simplification of the management activities of professional operators
- improving awareness of the importance of checking their own state of health (self-caring) among beneficiaries.
The virtuous collection, sharing and exploitation of data generated within the ALL4ALL ecosystem leads, on the one hand, to improving the quality and efficiency of social welfare services, commensurate with the real needs of the beneficiaries and, on the other, to promoting territorial care policies and interventions, guided by the evidence of data.
The conferment, in the form of open data, of the data collected in ALL4ALL (suitably anonymised) to the Smartdatanet platform contributes, in fact, to reinforcing a major information patrimony, encouraging reuse. For example, it allows public decision-makers to have updated data in order to plan the most effective assistance and prevention policies.
Ultimately, ALL4ALL can be considered a best practice to be replicated at national and European level.
The adoption of similar large-scale initiatives can, in fact, contribute to achieving the triple win advocated by the European Union: a better quality of life for European citizens, supporting their active, independent and healthy ageing; more efficient and sustainable social welfare and health systems; innovation and market-related growth through the development of innovative products and services.