Join NEST Day in San Francisco

By Phil Stafford

The other day, while exiting my pick-up at the little store down the road, a biker-friend noticed my bright chartreuse ASA NEST t-shirt. “What does NEST stand for?”, he inquired. I replied “It’s an interest group of ASA, my national association – called The Network for Environments, Services and Technologies.”

Smiling, he stated “Well that covers a lot of territory doesn’t it?”

I had to agree.

Indeed, those of us who participate in the NEST constituent group often struggle to identify the connections and bridges among these three elements. Perhaps it was created as a residual catch-bag; I don’t know.

I do know that each of these three domains can play a key role in the quality of life for older adults, their families and their caregivers. The challenge we face has to do with making sure these domains are not also silos.

Clearly, there are good technical reasons for thinking through the connections. For example, what kind of service is needed to support the use of new consumer technologies in congregate housing? Or, how can transportation service providers employ ride-sharing technologies to help seniors navigate the public world? Developing this way of thinking as standard operating procedure (in each domain) may help bridge the divides.

Within NEST, we have dug a little deeper to ask how seniors and other stakeholders themselves can help us cross these boundaries. Crossing-boundaries is more than a technical skill to expect of experts, it’s a new way to think about design and development that centers itself around the person(s) in everyday life. This person doesn’t chunk him/herself into compartments labeled transport, environment, service. She certainly doesn’t think of herself as the outcome of a “unit of service.”

We live unique, complicated, variable, and meaningful lives in meaningful places.  That’s how we hope to carry on. As anthropologist Clifford Geertz suggested, it requires “thick description” to interpret the everyday life of people. Generalizations from surveys are fine, but never complete.

Join NEST members in San Francisco in sessions that are informed by this notion of human-centered design. On Wednesday, participate in the NEST program day sessions. Watch for the flyer that identifies other NEST-endorsed sessions throughout the week. Sign up for the second annual Livable Communities Summit on Thursday. All of these sessions can help us, as professionals, develop greater context-sensitive solutions to the challenges facing older adults today and in the future.

For more information about NEST, and to get more involved, contact me at or visit the NEST link on the ASA website at:

See you there!

Phil Stafford is a cultural anthropologist with 40 years of experience that has focused on aging and community. He has been a leader of the age-friendly community movement and is a strong proponent and practitioner of citizen participation in community planning and development.