Start a Longevity Explorer Circle
Want to Start a Longevity Explorer Circle in Your Community?
We are ready to help you do that.
The Longevity Explorers are a unique sharing, evaluation, and ideation community — made up of older adults (in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s), and their friends, families, and caregivers.
If you haven't already read up on the Longevity Explorer initiative, and what we do, you can learn more here (we especially encourage you to watch the 15 minute video of Richard Caro introducing the Longevity Explorers in a talk at the American Society on Aging in 2018). You can also listen to an in-depth interview of Dr. Caro by Geriatrician Dr. Leslie Kernisan on the topic of "Putting Older Adults at the Center of Technology Conversations").
Table of Contents
- The Longevity Explorer Initiative Thus Far
- Circle Leader Training & Support: The Cohort Model
- How Longevity Explorer Circles Work
- What Does Circle Leadership Involve
The Longevity Explorer Initiative Thus Far
As you will hear in Richard Caro's talks (above), we started the Longevity Explorer initiative as an experiment back in 2014. We thought it might be possible to combine two separate themes into one initiative. Briefly, those two themes are:
- a widespread desire among older adults to find ways to "be useful", and not to be just "put out to pasture"; and
- the idea that it should be possible to come up with all sorts of clever new ideas, products, and services that can improve the quality of life of us all as we age. And that older adults themselves should play a key role — identifying unmet needs, discovering emerging solutions, evaluating, disseminating, and in some cases co-creating.
The very first Longevity Explorer circle we started back in 2014 is still running, and is one of our most vibrant circles. And along the way we have started a number of additional explorer circles. For several years we ran 5 separate explorer circles in the San Francisco Bay Area, all run with our original model that involves Richard Caro personally leading the circles and facilitating the discussions.
As the word spread about this initiative, we started to get requests from people who wanted an explorer circle in their geography. And for several years we had to say "Sorry. We are still refining our model, and anyway Richard does not really have bandwidth to take on more circles than we have".
In early 2018, we decided we had a pretty good "formula" for leading the explorer circles. In particular, we think we have learned how to make them really enjoyable for the members, and to run them in ways that make people want to keep coming back and keep taking part. In many cases our core circle members have been coming regularly for years.
But, it was clear we needed a different model to unleash the potential of the explorer initiative to grow, and that the new model needed to be less dependent on Richard Caro's hands-on leadership of individual circles, while still maintaining the key strengths of the "formula" for running the circles. In particular, we have learned that the cross-pollination of ideas between the individual circles is a big source of depth and intellectual richness, and we think it is important to maintain that.
So, we designed a new model for the explorer initiative that involves individual circles being run by a small group of "circle leaders" — explorers who want to take a leadership role in their circle. The individual circles are still tightly coupled into the larger Longevity Explorer community, with sharing of learnings, and two-way flow of ideas and discussion topics between circles being an essential ingredient.
We spent the first 9 months of 2018 testing out this new model on three separate new circles, with the most distant one being in Providence, Rhode Island. We learned a lot about what worked, and what did not. And now we think we have an expansion formula that we are ready to share more broadly.
So now, when people ask if they can start a new Longevity Explorer circle in their community, we can say "We can help with that".
Goals and Purpose: Why Explorers Participate
When we started thinking about expanding our explorer initiative, our existing Longevity Explorers told us we need a sort of "Goals and Purpose" document that we could share with people so they understood more about what the explorers stood for, and what they wanted to do together, and why participating was a good idea.
Two of our explorer circles worked to create the content for such a document, and then we pulled it together and turned it into a synthesis of the ideas generated by the explorers themselves.
If you are contemplating getting involved, we recommend you read this description of our purpose, goals, and activities — developed by Longevity Explorer community members.
Circle Leader Training and Support: The Cohort Model
We have found that there are several pretty fundamental elements of the formula for building a successful and vibrant Longevity Explorer circle that are not trivial, but which can be taught quite successfully. And we have found that it takes about a year for a new circle to really "gel" and take on a life of its own.
So, Tech-enhanced Life and Dr Caro have signed up to provide an initial training and coaching program for a limited number of new circle leader teams, and then to provide on-going support as the new circles develop.
From our experience to date, we have found that a great deal of the power of this initiative comes from the active engagement of the explorers themselves, especially in the form of peer-peer interactions. And we are building that concept into the training program too.
We are going to be doing circle leader training in small "cohorts". We accept a small group of new circle leaders into a cohort, and then train them together and help them all get their circles started at the same time. We expect there will be great opportunities for sharing of insights between members of a cohort, and that this approach will go a long way to making the whole process of starting a new explorer circle easier and more rewarding.
How Longevity Explorer Circles Work
There are two components to the operation of a Longevity Explorer circle. One, the regular monthly Club meeting, is essential. The other, Sponsored Explorations, is optional.
Monthly Face-to-face "Club" meetings
The core activity of every Longevity Explorer circle is a monthly, face-to-face Club Meeting. Circles typically have about 10 of these a year, with breaks over the summer and during the year-end holiday season. The club meetings involve a group interaction at a time and place of convenience to members. We have found 90 minutes is a good duration for these meetings.
The fundamental purpose of the Club meetings is for the members to engage in face-to face interactions in which they explore topics of interest to them, and to other circles in the explorer community. The Club meetings are run solely for the benefit of the members.
What We Discuss
Different circles find different types of topics interesting. Part of the meeting is devoted to discussion topics members bring. And part of it is devoted to common "community-wide" topics, that are provided to circle leaders each month.
These "community-wide" topics get selected for a variety of reasons. They might have been especially interesting and fruitful when discussed at another circle, or they might represent topics on which we think as a community we can help to make an impact. As we grow, we hope to engage circle leaders in helping to select these circle-wide topics. At present Richard Caro does this.
There is no obligation for circles to discuss any specific topics. But so far, most circles like the blend of "topics brought by members" and "community-wide programming". See examples of past topics here.
Lean Forward Interactions
A key element that sets these explorer Club meetings apart from other programming provided by various "older adult service organizations" is that this is meant to be "lean forward" interaction, and not "lean back interaction". The meetings are designed to be deeply participatory. We find members have ideas and opinions and welcome the chance to share them. So we don't typically have "lectures" or "expert presentations".
Learn From Our Mistakes
Running these types of meetings in a way that participants feel is enjoyable and productive is not trivial. It is easy for these sorts of meetings to degenerate into unproductive chit chat, or be dominated by a handful of people with pet topics, or go wrong in a whole host of other ways. We have spent four years learning how to run the meetings in a way that seems to work, and part of the point of the "training" is to share how we do that.
Individual circle leaders may decide to diverge from the way we "do things". And that is totally fine. But we at least want to expose you to what we have found works, and what does not.
Some explorers only want to take part in the regular club meetings, and that is completely fine. However for those explorers who wish to take part, we also run a quite separate set of activities that we call "Sponsored Explorations". All members of an explorer circle will be invited to participate in these Sponsored Explorations if they wish.
Sponsored Explorations are engagments with specific companies that want our help. Mostly they want help to ensure that they are developing products that older adults like our explorers will actually want and need. These sponsored explorations take a wide variety of forms, and if you are interested you can learn a bit more about them on our Services for Product Developers page.
Two key aspects of the Sponsored Explorations are:
- Unlike our Club meetings, the Sponsored Explorations are run entirely for the benefit of the company we are helping. Occasionally we do these for free, but mostly we think that we are adding great value to the companies, and that there should be a fee for that. The fee gets shared among those involved in the Sponsored Exploration, and explorers who take part always get a portion of that fee.
- We try and have Sponsored Explorations at a different time and place than the Regular Club meetings. We sometimes have combined the two, but we find there can be confusion about the goals and purpose if we do that. Keeping them separate allows us to be quite clear about who we are trying to benefit in each of the two types of interaction, and avoids mixed messaging.
For circle leaders, you can decide at the time of starting your circle how involved you wish to be in this aspect of things. You might decide your circle is not going to do anything active in regards to Sponsored Explorations, and that is fine. Although we do want you to offer to your members the opportunity to take part in community-wide sponsored explorations, should they wish to do so.
Alternatively, you might feel that the Sponsored Explorations are an exciting aspect of the overall explorer initiative, and that you would like to get involved in some hands-on way in helping to lead Sponsored Explorations, or be otherwise involved in this aspect of the initiative. We are very keen on collaborating on this side of things, and so if that is of interest to you, we will be discussing that during the cohort training too.
Cross-pollination and Sharing of Learnings
Members of each individual circle get significant benefit and learnings from their face-to-face meetings, and we find that as stand-alone interactions these circle Club meetings work quite well. But we find that there is a much greater benefit, and we are able to dig much deeper into topics, if we find ways to leverage the different experiences of members of multiple circles, and allow discussions to cross-pollinate between circles.
This cross-pollination between explorer circles is a key element of the overall Longevity Explorer initiative.
Related to that, one of the important goals of the explorer initiative is to be "useful", and one way we try and do that is to share what we learn. We share what we learn in our Club meetings with members of other circles. And we share what we learn as a community with older adults around the world by publishing our learnings on the Tech-enhanced Life website.
There is one important detail to mention here. Results from our Club meetings are designed to be shared widely. In contrast, when we do Sponsored Explorations for companies, that work is for the benefit of the company, and is not shared at all. In fact, frequently companies wish the results of our Sponsored Explorations to be kept confidential, and we are happy to agree to that.
Exactly how we share learnings and cross-pollinate our ideas between circles is a bit of a work in progress. How to do it is a key part of the cohort training, and one of the responsibilities of the circle leadership team. It is not terribly onerous, but does take a bit of effort on the part of the leadership team of each circle.
What Does Circle Leadership Involve?
Being a circle leader is a voluntary role. You need to feel the overall explorer initiative is an exciting and valuable one, and something you would be proud to introduce into your geography.
It is possible for a single person to be the entire "leadership team" for a circle. However we don't recommend it for several reasons.
First, for one person it does become a meaningful amount of work. More importantly, leading a circle requires a number of quite distinct skill sets. While it is possible to find all those skill sets in one person, we find that it is not very common. After trying several possible approaches to getting a new "leadership team" up and running, we have decided that we recommend a small leadership team (3 - 6 people) with a blend of complementary skill sets.
As part of the circle cohort training, we help you identify the skill sets you need in your team, and suggest ways to round out the team so all those skill sets are represented.
To take part in a circle cohort you don't need to have a full team. But you need at a minimum one person who wants to "make it happen". You can apply as an individual, or as part of a team you have already put together.
To be successful, we would like to see at least one of these two key skill sets represented in your team (or in you). You will need both of them before you start the circle (plus some other key skill sets you will learn about during the training), but if you have at least one now, we can help you figure out how to expand your team to include the other skill set.
- good at getting things started, and organizing things. Not scared to try something new and a bit different.
- good at facilitating group discussions among a group of peers.
If you have questions about the different skill sets involved, we are happy to talk in more depth about that. But see the "questions" section at the bottom of this page.
How Much Effort is It?
So long as you have a circle leadership team with the right blend of skill sets, and 3-6 people involved as part of the leadership team, we think you should each expect to spend "a few" hours a month on running the circle. It will likely take more than that in the first few months while you get things figured out, but we are trying to make this a relatively modest amount of effort.
One key aspect that is important to internalize is that it takes about a year for a circle to really "gel". So you definitely need to be signing up for a year of effort at a minimum. Some people we have talked to have the idea they can just "get it started", and then hand it off. That might work, but so far people have found that to be a bit tricky.
Part of the Larger Explorer Community
We think a key feature of this initiative is the idea of disparate groups of older adults in explorer circles around the world all collaborating to a larger or smaller degree on learning about ways to improve the quality of life of us all as we age.
So, a priority for us is to help start new circles that think this type of collaborating and sharing is a good idea.
We sometimes meet people who like the idea of an explorer group in their community, but don't really have interest in the sharing or collaborating part. We are not against this, and if this sounds like what you want we are still happy to help.
If you want your own "isolated" group that is not really part of the larger explorer community, you don't qualify for our regular explorer leadership cohort program. But we are happy to give you a bit of free advice. Or you can retain us for some more hands-on help if you want (for a fee). If you fit this profile, send us an email and we can discuss what might be most useful for you.
The Cohort Training
The core of the cohort training will involve a series of group interactions between cohort members and Richard Caro, during which we will step you though all the steps in getting a circle started. These will take place at mutually convenient times and will be online. All you will need to take part is a phone, or a computer or iPad or iPhone and some headphones.
If you already have put together a full team, then the initial training will be two group interaction sessions (for an hour or two each), after which you can get started immediately on recruiting your circle. We have a detailed formula for all aspects of this, starting with generating interest in your community, then moving to how to recruit explorers, then moving to running the first circle, and on to running the subsequent circles.
Once you have had your first circle meeting, there will be a regular monthly online interaction with Richard Caro and your cohort peers, designed to help head off problems before they happen, and learn from each other what is and is not working.
If you join the cohort without a full team, then there will be an initial set of interactions with Richard Caro where we help you think about the right team skill sets, and how to go about attracting co-leaders with those skill sets, and putting together your team. You will need to make some progress after that in putting together the nucleus of your team before you are ready to move on to the next steps of the training.
Most of our existing circles have roots in some type of existing community. Some of these are senior living communities of various sorts; some are members of the "Village movement"; one is associated with a current affairs club; and one is associated with a community senior center. Being associated with some type of community does make things easier. It provides fertile ground for recruiting explorers, and often the community is excited to help with things like a room to meet in, and assistance getting the word out.
If you want to start an explorer circle, but don't already have a specific community in mind, we can also help you identify the right places to get started and think about how to approach the community and engage their interest. This adds a whole set of extra steps to the training that need to come before you can proceed to the elements described above.
Are There Fees (The Economics)?
There are no fees to operate a Longevity Explorer circle. However we do require that you follow our general guidelines about the goals and purpose of the Longevity Explorer initiative, and that you run your circle in a collaborative and sharing way in the spirit of the overall explorer initiative. So long as you do that, we will support you.
If you are accepted into our Leader Cohort training program, there is no fee for the training either. We want to invest time and effort into supporting a limited number of strong circle leadership teams to get their circles off the ground.
If you want our help getting a circle started, but we don't accept you into the training cohort (either because we don't think you are an ideal fit, or because we just don't have room), we might still be able to support you, but in that case there would be a modest "training fee".
Some of our circles find that they want to create a small budget to do things like acquire interesting products to explore, or provide coffee and cookies to members. Those circles have typically found it pretty easy to do that using funding sources within their community. And several of our circles have run successfully for years without any type of budget, relying entirely on volunteer help from individual explorers. During the cohort training we will help you with examples of how different groups have handled this aspect of the circles.
Tech-enhanced Life does not make money from the "Club" part of the Longevity Explorer initiative. We are a Public Benefit Corporation, with a mission of improving the quality of life of older adults. As such, we are allowed to engage in initiatives that are aligned with our mission and which do not make a profit. We see the "Club" aspect of the Longevity Explorer initiative as primarily a social venture.
We are hopeful that eventually there may be ways to turn the learnings we are creating together into a modest revenue stream that can support the explorer initiative, and we are experimenting with different ways to do that. If we ever make a profit from these activities, we plan to share that with the explorer community. To date, the Longevity Explorer initiative as a whole has had costs but no profits, and those costs have been borne entirely by the founders of Tech-enhanced Life.
In contrast to the Club meeting part of the explorer initiative, which does not have a proven business model as yet, the Sponsored Exploration part of the Longevity Explorer initiative has a specific, straightforward, business model. Companies find value in our services, and pay for them. The fees are shared among those involved in the Sponsored Explorations.
If your circle decides they are not interested in Sponsored Explorations, that is fine. If you do want to get involved with this type of hands-on work with companies, then we do have some specific guidelines about how to collaborate, and how we generally think about sharing any revenues that are generated. We are happy to discuss this with you in as much detail as you wish, although we are finding different circles like to do this differently, and we don't have a "one size fits all" approach. If you want to discuss this, see the "Questions" section below.
If you think this sounds like it might be a fit for you and your community, we are guessing you may well have questions, and we would be happy to answer them in a discussion on the phone. However we prefer to do that after people have applied for the training cohort, and selfishly wish to limit the number of one on one discussions we have by focusing on people with a serious interest in being a circle leader. So, if you think this might be for you, but have questions, please go ahead and fill out the cohort application form (apply with the green button below) and we will circle back.
Ready to Apply?
If you are ready to apply to be part of our first training cohort of Longevity Explorer Circle leaders, fill out the short application questionnaire by clicking on the green button below.
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