Empire State Development: Senior Planet North Country

The challenge

Improving broadband access in underserved areas is a priority for New York State’s economic development agency, which has invested millions of dollars to expand broadband infrastructure in the rural North Country region of the state.  In order to increase its return on investment, the state agency commissioned OATS to design and implement long-term on-the-ground programming that would boost broadband adoption and use among older residents of this isolated region.

The strategy

Survey hundreds of older residents regarding their technology use and personal goals and priorities. Adapt the existing OATS catalog of courses, workshops and lectures to account for local needs, develop new strategies for outreach and program delivery, and create new tools to measure program impacts.

The solution

With support from Empire State Development and the New York State Assembly, OATS launched two new state-of-the-art technology centers in the North Country region, enrolled hundreds of seniors in training courses, partnered with a variety of local community partners, adapted program models to suit local preferences, and developed a new, data-tested model for serving isolated older adults living in rural communities. One important innovation was the Tech Spot, a patented solution that provides a range of technology and other powerful tools to local senior centers and other sites. The Tech Spot can be installed quickly and provides a turnkey solution for providing access to devices and training delivery. OATS also developed Senior Planet @ Home, a new training program designed to reach isolated and homebound seniors, supplemented by content hosted on OATS’s online learning platform, Senior Planet U. By 2019, membership in Senior Planet North Country had reached over 1,000 older adults. The program continues to grow across the sprawling region, and serves as a proven model for technology-based program design for older adults living in rural areas anywhere in the nation.