Blog - Understanding informal networks of care with older adults
Design Informatics designed the CareTree Cultural Probe study to explore how participants perceive the informal networks of care which support them in everyday life. Cultural probes are physical toolkits or packages sent to participants in their homes or communities, enabling contextual reflection through physical artefacts and a variety of prompts.
This blog originally featured on Design Informatics in 2021.
There is a vast amount of care in later life which is invisible – networks of people, things and contexts which support older adults in informal ways – on which there is heavy reliance but little formal recognition of or support for. Therefore, research is needed to capture the social, health and care benefits of an ageing ecology within the informal networks that can support wellbeing and health. Data-driven technologies present opportunities to support such networks, however, they are often designed without the foregrounding of the lived experience of older adults. Our work at the ACRC looks to make visible these informal care networks, to understand where value lies within these and how these networks can be supported through explorative co-design. Further, we look to imagine futures with older adults and to envision what their desired care networks may look like, in the rich and nuanced socio-ecologies in which all humans and non-humans exist.
It has been a strange time for qualitative participatory design researchers, particularly those interested in working with older adults, who have been among those most devastatingly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. We, like many, have attempted to move our practices online and undertake rich qualitative work remotely and safely. We’ve used design approaches to understand complex contexts from afar – one of which being the CareTree Cultural Probe.
We designed the CareTree Cultural Probe study to explore how participants perceive the informal networks of care which support them in everyday life. Cultural probes are physical toolkits or packages sent to participants in their homes or communities, enabling contextual reflection through physical artefacts and a variety of prompts.
- Video: The CareTree
- A video overview of how the study works
The CareTree is a tangible, tree-shaped artefact which is sent to participants who are asked to place it in-situ in their homes for one month. During this time, participants are sent a daily text which encourages reflection on instances of care in everyday life, clarifying, challenging and provoking their existing concepts of care. Participants add thoughts and reflections on their care by taking short notes on the a ‘leaf’ and attaching this to the Care Tree. Over time, the CareTree buds and grows – the leaves reflecting the care experienced over the month-long deployment in-the-wild and the resultant CareTree metaphorically representing the networkedness of trees and care in the natural environment. Following this, participants and researchers discuss the experience in interviews.
At present, we are wrapping up an in-depth pilot study with a convenience sample and we hope to undertake the study with older adult participants early in 2022.
Stay tuned for early findings and next steps!
Dr Cara Wilson
If you’d like to get in touch with about what the DI team is doing on the ACRC research project, please contact Cara Wilson at email@example.com
Learn more about the ACRC on our website, www.designinformatics.org/research_project/advanced-care-research-centre-acrc/