Our paper “You can’t always get what you want: Streamlining stakeholder interests when designing technology-supported services for Active and Assisted Living“ was accepted at OzCHI and is now online available. OzCHI is the Australian conference for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and I was very happy that this paper was accepted, especially because it was the first paper written by my PhD student Kira Oberschmidt as the first author. The article was written together with me and three other colleagues in the pilot: Lex van Velsen, Femke Nijboer, and Sefora Tunç. As first author, Kira was the one presenting our paper at the conference and she did a fabulous job both at presenting and answering all the interesting questions.
What is this paper about?
In this paper, we describe the difficulties of aligning the variety of interests and perspectives when co-designing with multiple stakeholders. The study was conducted in the Dutch pilot of the European Pharaon project, which aims to address challenges that older adults face by integrating existing digital services, devices, and tools into open platforms. The Dutch pilot aims to reduce isolation and loneliness and promote healthy eating and physical activity. The paper describes co-design activities with multiple stakeholders to identify challenges and opportunities in relation to healthy and active ageing.
How did we do it?
We conducted several co-design activities with older adults, technology and service providers, and researchers. The goal of the workshop with older adults was to understand their needs and wishes and develop scenarios of the challenges they currently face. With the service and technology provider, we idealen innovative concepts, technological ideas and use cases to address the challenges. Finally different interests of the involved stakeholders were identified and mapped to give an overview of congruent and incongruent interests between the involved parties.
What are our main findings?
In the workshops with older adults, we identified challenges (stage of life, personal circumstances, perception by others) and opportunities (range of available activities, acceptance). Following these insights, workshops with service and technology providers were conducted to develop ideas and concepts for services that could support older adults to solve their daily challenges. The analysis showed that next to the different perspectives and interests of the two groups (i.e. older adults and service & technology providers), the project aim and the researchers also introduce aims and interests to the project. While some of these interests are similar or align well, we also identified some dissonance between the challenges identified, the ideas that the providers wanted to develop, the ideas from the researchers and the overall project’s perspective.
Research projects often involve experts from different disciplines which is especially important when tackling so called “wicked problems”, as they are too complex and need to be address from different perspectives. Action research by definition follows a participatory approach, where multiple stakeholder collaborate. This project shows that the process of identifying and aligning stakeholder interests takes time and several iterations. We could also show that by mapping out the interests, potential conflicts can be identified. This process would benefit also if done in a participatory way, in which stakeholders can represent their own interests and identify conflicts with others.
What surprised me?
We tested our workshop setup with two older adults and asked them to describe their typical day related to food, movement, social contacts and outside activities and also asked them what they would like to change or do differently. Both were quite content with their life and initially did not have any ideas what they would like to change. They accepted that their life had changed with the years and that this is how it is. This made me reflect a lot on who is asking whom to change. There is an underlying assumption that people would like to change things in their life, but maybe it is also a value that one accepts how it is.
Learning that older adults feel ashamed and judged by peers or others also surprised me. I somehow had this maybe naive assumption that the older you get, the less you care what others think about you. Speaking of assumptions: Although we were very reflective on our assumptions and specifically aim to develop solutions that do NOT reinforce ageist stereotypes, we were made aware by a thoughtful reviewer of this article, that our methodological decision still embedded some implicit ageist assumptions. We applied a problem-solving approach in the workshop and focused therefore on challenges and not on strengths. Those kind of constructive reviews are the best: highlighting our contributions, appreciating our reflections, and showing what we missed.
I love those moments of learning: No matter how careful we are, there is always something that we could do better, something that we got wrong, where collaboration and joint reflection improves our thinking and our solutions.