Archives for posts with tag: older

Way back in one of the first meetings of term Kate made reference to a project called TRACE. Well, they finally revealed more about it! The Trajectories to Community Engagement (or TRACE) project has been running over the last 6 months, and is a collaboration between Kate and Eric from our lab and Dave Harley from University of Brighton (and also an alumni of an earlier incarnation of this group). The aim of the study was to examine the way that older people (as self-defined by the participants, but over retirement age) engage with community. This included both online and face-to-face community engagement, in an attempt to understand what drove people to become more involved in either and if there was any link between the two.

This has been accomplished by interviewing a number of older people recruited from a variety of different areas, including an online social network aimed at older people and a local community centre. When analysing the data from these interviews, the group found a series of overlapping themes emerged:

  1. Roles
  2. Loss
  3. Spaces/places
  4. Family

The roles of the individual change with retirement, whether that is retirement from a paid job or otherwise. With retirement there appears to be less repeated contact with people (when compared to going to the same workplace regularly) and the sense of purpose changes. However, many of the people interviewed had filled the voids, either by volunteering, joining societies or in other ways. There was a sense of people finding new roles coming through in the interviews, as trustees, or committee members and so on.

Loss is most obviously shown by bereavement, with this leading to many people wanting to get more involved in their community. However, bereavement is only one type of loss. Others that emerged included the loss of role discussed above, or the loss of mobility or other abilities. There was also a shift as people got older, moving from an active role to a more passive one.

The spaces or places that enable community engagement are varied, and may be online (e.g. some had apparently become friends via an online bingo site) or not (e.g. the local community centre). There were differences amongst the participants in their use of the word local too. Those who found friendship online used ‘local’ to refer to their familiar online forums or groups, whilst for others it was geographical local that was important, and for that group an online friendship couldn’t be as fulfilling.

A shared interest is an important aspect to engaging with a community, and for many this was spurred by family. Many participants were engaged with communities because other family members were, e.g. involved in a theatre group because their daughter had been. This was an area that was felt to have changed over the lifetime of the participants. Because family members often move away, the family was felt to be less important in the life of the community. However, some of those who were involved in online communities were able to be so only with the help of a family member (although many did report family members who were slightly less than helpful!).

The group discussion was interesting. Ellie found a lot of resonance with the findings of the group and having moved away from friends and family (sadly a long way from retirement!). Ben felt they had two distinct populations within their participants – those who had been familiar with the online world before retirement (an increasing proportion perhaps, but by no means all), and those who were not. This second group will now be needing to get more proficient with computers due to changes in government processes, whilst also dealing with the other changes identified. They may have interesting coping mechanisms.

Good to finally find out about this project, and hope the team manage to find more funding to continue working on it.


At today’s lecture, we managed to cajole Eric into telling us what he’s been up to recently. Eric has been sadly missing for most of the recent lab meetings, as it clashes with a Computer drop-in session at Age UK that Eric has been helping out with. This, as it turns out, is all part of Eric’s master plan (no evil chuckle required!).

Eric has been heavily involved with the HCT group for a fairly long time now, learning a lot about participatory design practices amongst other things. Simultaneously (inevitably?) he has also been gaining an increasing awareness of the difficulties faced by the slightly older individual (he cites his first pair of reading glasses as quite a defining moment in this). So he started looking to combine these two interests.

He quickly found that although designing for older people has been reasonably well-explored in academia, it has mostly been done from an external observation point of view. Very little of the work that he has found (in industry or academia) really seeks to engage with this audience, and get their input into the designs. He feels there are a few different reasons for this, such as different language and so on, but also that most designers are younger and find it easier to talk and spend time with their peers rather than their elders. He also feels it is not as easy to get access to the older generation for their views – channels such as twitter, facebook, and other social media routes are not as well used by this particular audience (although clearly there are exceptions).

So, Eric has created a website specifically looking to gather feedback on a variety of technical issues. posts news and reviews about various apps and pieces of technology, and solicits feedback via surveys. Eric then reviews the responses, and posts a follow-up post. He’s trying to keep the posts coming at a reasonable rate – aiming for one a month at the moment – and is using his contact with older people who (by turning up to the drop in centre) have an interest in technology to drive up interest. At the moment, his main aim is to build this site into a useful place for people to visit, but in the longer term he is hoping to link this with industry. He has a couple of ideas for this, from potential access to older, tech-savvy people, or potentially as a way to source panels of more naive users for companies to talk to (clearly all with the participants’ approval, and sharing any income generated!). This is still in the very early stages.

Eric is also talking about trying to reach out to older people who currently don’t use technology at all. This is a hard audience to reach, but could have some really key insights into the barriers they feel exist for them. He has already identified two types of problem that he sees most regularly: the accessibility issue – accounting for the physical and cognitive deterioration that comes with advancing years, and the more difficult problem of technical solutions not matching the outlook of the older population. It is probably this second category of problems that could be most helped by a more participatory approach. Jim also asked if he’d thought of offering a service for re-writing instructions, and Eric agreed that a lot of the time it’s not that they don’t want to use the technology, but they are scared off by the initial setup.

A proposal has also recently been submitted to look more closely at some aspects of this work, so fingers crossed for that!

(Eric also tweets on these issues. Anyone interested can find him there!)