Tuesday, 6 October 2015

CATCH researchers take their work to the community in Vancouver

Professor Arlene Astell discusses evaluation
concepts with the AAL-WELL team.

Myself (Tim Gomersall) and Professor Arlene Astell returned this week from a successful final meeting of the steering group for the AAL-WELL study in Vancouver, Canada. AAL-WELL is a study about the potential for the new class of so-called ‘ambient assisted living’ (AAL) systems to support older people to maintain everyday activities and meaningful social roles, and our group brings together software engineers, psychologists, occupational therapists, and social scientists to examine the issues from multiple perspectives.

In the meeting, we discussed several key issues about AAL that have yet to be addressed in the research literature. Our colleagues from the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden) spoke about the activities and social roles older people want to master in everyday life, the technologists from Toronto brought their insights on user-centred design along, and the Vancouver-based social scientists and modellers discussed the ethical issues around AAL. For our own part, Professor Astell and I led a discussion about current controversies in evaluation theories and methods for AAL. Evaluation approaches for these technologies are in their infancy, but it is crucial to have a sound basis for understanding their value if we are to gain the promised benefits of the AAL revolution – and we certainly had some lively discussions on how we each understood evaluation from our varied research perspectives!

We didn’t just talk among ourselves while we were in Vancouver. On the fourth day of the meeting, we led a knowledge cafĂ© in which we presented our research ideas to a residential community of older adults living just outside the city boundaries. This was an especially valuable part of the experience – not only did we get a chance to take some of our ideas out into the wider world, we also got some interesting feedback on them from a community group. In fact, a lot of our assumptions were upended by their comments – for example, it is often said that AAL will help people to live independently, but the residents spoke about the concerns they would have about becoming dependent on technologies, and the problems this would cause if the technologies broke down or became unreliable. If ever there was a clear illustration of how important it is to include the views of older adults when considering how best to support them, this was it.

We were privileged to have met with such great colleagues and participants in this beautiful, rainy, lively city – our discussions framed by views over the Pacific and the sweeping forests and mountainsides of British Columbia. And now, we can’t wait to tell you more about our next research outputs from the study. Watch this space…

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