Research Projects

Developing interactive tools to encourage older adults to use new technology and services

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Close up of older gentleman's hands and walking stick

This project was funded by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) – now Innovate UK – Assisted Living Innovation Platform (ALIP).

What was needed

The Challenging Obstacles and Barriers to the Adoption of Assisted Living Technology (COBALT) project required us to develop a set of novel interactive tools for the ALT industry and service providers to engage with older adults and staff to develop and improve adoption of new technology and services.

The project aimed to:

  • Obtain a reliable understanding of the barriers to adopting assisted living technology, including an understanding of the needs of all end-users.
  • Devise, disseminate and evaluate a package of practical strategies for addressing these barriers.

Who did it benefit

COBALT developed methods which should help and support service providers and product designers to create, produce and deliver better products and services for older people.

Design and development

As well as coordinating Pioneer Groups, we used our design engineering expertise to support the building of prototypes for dissemination.

Traditional approaches tended to engage separately with different end-user groups or take the views of clinicians and caregivers as interchangeable with, or proxies for, those of older people.

In this project we started with end-users, in this case older people and health and social care professionals, and working with them at all stages of the project to produce the project deliverables. Unlike traditional methods, our approach allowed older people to participate fully and guide the direction of the research as experts rather than passive research subjects or patients.

Additionally, we worked with organisations that support these groups to understand their decision-making processes and the concerns of front line staff who provide and support technology for older adults.

Designability constructed two versions of an automatic lighting system that was invented by older people from the Pioneer Groups.

User Involvement
Designability’s Head of Mechanical Engineering, Dr Tim Adlam and Occupational Therapist, Nina Evans assisted with planning and running Pioneer Groups with older people in Sheffield and St. Andrews. The groups modelled a fictitious company as a way of analysing the entire product development process from beginning-to-end.

Research Findings
Through the project the partners have developed several methods for engaging older people in the design of products and services.

Free Interactive workshops for industry, local authorities, and older people’s groups were held in Sheffield, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Swindon. We organised the workshop in Swindon.

What we found

A.J. Astell, E.A. Williams, F. Hwang, M. Norton, T. Adlam, K. Lethbridge, D. Wright, S. Harney-Levine, M. Ellis , “COBALT: Challenging obstacles and barriers to assistive living technologies”, Gerontechnology 2012; 11(2):151, June 2012, doi

The first working paper summarises findings from an analysis of data gathered from qualitative research with older people, health and social care professionals and commissioners.