Work Package 3: Exploring the role of Building and Design

Investigating the process designing, constructing, and adapting houses to support healthy cognitive ageing.

Where the research in Work Package 2 focuses on the home from the perspective of the older people who live in them, work package 3 changes gear to explore the process of creating and maintaining supportive homes from the perspectives of the professionals involved in that process. 

The four research activities in Work Package 3 are expected to take place across 2022 and are designed to capture the expertise and experience of professionals involved in the housing cycle, while balancing their input against the needs, desires, and experiences of older people. 

To do this, the DesHCA team will: complete a topic-orientated ethnography of design and architecture practices; develop Virtual Reality models of new home designs that support healthy cognitive ageing; and hold a series of workshops to give volunteers the chance to feed into the design process and influence future versions. 

If you would like to find out more about these activities, or volunteer to take part in a virtual reality design consultation or stakeholder workshops, either as an older person or as a professional, please do not hesitate to reach out and contact us for more information.

Professional Interviews (led by Dr Vikki McCall)

What is a Professional Interview?

Directly interviewing participants about their experience and expertise is one of the mainstays of qualitative research. Talking directly to people about their own lived experience is one of the best ways to gather in-depth qualitative information about a topic.

The word ‘professional’ in this context refers to the person taking part, as these interviews will involve talking directly to people who have experience in working in positions where their role gives them an insight into how home adaptations are planned for, assessed, installed, used or maintained.

What is DesHCA doing?

The DesHCA project will invite professionals to talk directly to one of the research team about their experiences around supportive design and home adaptation. Interviews will last around an hour and involve a member of the research team asking questions about the participant’s experience around issues of supportive design and adaptation.

These interviews will often focus on the different factors that make designing or adapting homes to support older people more or less difficult, as this will help us understand the real-world challenges involved in designing supportive homes for older people.

Insights from these interviews will be used to refine our designs for new homes, as well as informing our conversations with other stakeholders so that we can better understand what needs to change, and where, in order for more older people to be able to live in houses that support them in the future.

Topic-Orientated Ethnography (led by Professor Fiona Copland)

What is a Topic-Orientated Ethnography?

If you have ever heard a researcher talk about using ethnography as part of their study, you probably heard them talk about a particular type of ethnography. They may have said they did a rapid, focused, or topic-orientated ethnography, or took an ‘ethnographic approach’. 

This is because the use of ‘ethnography’ of a method, is old, well established, and sometimes very rigid in terms of what it means. 

Traditional ethnographies might, for example, involve a researcher going to a different country, or a different community, and living there continuously for a year to gain a deep insight into their topic. Modern ethnographies rarely involve the same process, however. It’s more common now for researchers to use ethnography to look at groups, organisations, or events- and to do so without moving away from home for a year or more. This can lead to some tension within the academic community, about whether these new ethnographies are ‘real’ ethnographies, leading many researchers try to avoid these arguments by acknowledging they are doing a specific kind of ethnography- such as a topic-orientated or focused ethnography. 

Doing a topic-orientated ethnography involves taking a focused approach to answer a specific question or investigate how a group engages with a particular process or event. It also means that the researcher goes to the person or people taking part, rather than having the participants come to them. This allows the researcher to get an idea of how things really work in practice, rather than relying on what people say during interviews.

Researchers who are doing a topic-orientated ethnography will often use a variety of methods to capture the data they see, including taking pictures, recording conversations and interviews, or taking notes. This data is then taken back and analysed by the research team to uncover patterns and connections that may not have been captured using other, less intensive methods.

Members of the DesHCA research team will visit three organisations involved in designing, procuring, or constructing houses in the UK. Researchers will spend about 10 days total in these organisations, shadowing professionals and learning about how the design and construction process works in practice, and how this influences the choices around supportive design and adaptation. 

What is DesHCA doing?

Different professionals within these organisations will also be invited to take part in ‘check-in’ interviews, where researchers ask questions about particular topics or processes they’ve observed.

Our goal is to gather solid, real-world information about how the complicated processes involved in designing and constructing new homes influence the decisions that might make a home supportive for people as they age. Gathering this business-based perspective will help DesHCA to create tools and recommendations that work not only for the older people living in the home, but the businesses and organisations involved in creating them in the first place.

Virtual Reality Design Consultations (led by Ms Lesley Palmer)

What is a Virtual Reality Design Consultation?

Many businesses use offer design consultations as part of their process. These consultations usually involve inviting a client or customer to talk to a member of the team so that the client can ask any questions that they have, and give feedback on whatever the team has produced for them so far.

Depending on the business, these consultations could involve looking at a product that is being developed or checking in to see whether the service being provided is meeting the clients needs. As a result, these meetings might involve presenting that information to the client in a variety of ways, including bringing physical objects, paperwork, or designs to the meeting to go over together.

A virtual reality design consultation, then, involves following this process, but presenting the information to the ‘client’ using virtual reality technology.

What is DesHCA doing?

Virtual reality design consultations will form an important part of the DesHCA project because while the research doesn’t have ‘clients’, it does have stakeholders from a variety of industries, businesses, and groups that it wants to hear from throughout the design process. 

DesHCA will invite 60 people to take part in a virtual reality design consultation as part of this process. This will include 30 older people who are living with cognitive change (whether this is related to dementia or another health issue) as well as 30 professionals working in the housing and design sector.

Everyone taking part will be supported to explore models of homes that have been designed to be dementia friendly using supportive design principles to support people as they age. Taking part may look different for different groups, however, as some people may prefer to wear the Virtual Reality headset themselves, while others might prefer to watch live images with the researcher wearing the headset, or pre-recorded videos of the space. 

Each of these options are equally valid, and DesHCA will support participants to take part in the way that works best for them. 

Rather than have all 60 people give feedback on the same designs, we will invite participants to take part in three waves. 

In the first wave, volunteers will explore two pre-existing home designs: one developed by previous work at the University of Stirling, and the other representing the SilviaBo house developed by our Swedish partners SilviaHemmet, IKEA, and BoKlok. 

We will then analyse the feedback from older people and professionals, adapt the models, and repeat the process with wave two and wave three, with the models becoming more refined every time. 

Our goal is to end up with virtual designs which represent homes that older people want to live in, while also taking into account the expertise and needs of the professionals involved in designing and building them. This will allow us to make recommendations based on the real-world needs of everyone involved, rather than prioritising one group or the other.

Stakeholder Focus Groups (led by Dr Vikki McCall)

What is a Stakeholder Focus Group?

Focus groups are one of the most commonly used methods in social sciences research. Running a focus group gives people the opportunity to come together and discuss a particular topic in a way that allows them to bounce off what each person is saying, rather than relying on one person to communicate all of that information alone (as in a one-to-one interview). 

The world ‘stakeholder’ simply refers to a person, group, or organisation that has an interest in the topic being discussed. This means that every project or organisation will have different stakeholders, each with their own interests and perspectives. 

So holding a stakeholder focus group simply refers to having a group of people from different groups come together to talk about and respond to a particular topic.

What is DesHCA doing?

The DesHCA project will hold stakeholder focus groups in order to give people an opportunity to discuss the new designs in a collaborative way. This will allow the project to see how different groups respond to the designs, and how they talk about the challenges or benefits they can see coming from using these new designs. 

These focus groups will help the DesHCA team capture not only the perspectives of people from different groups, businesses, and sectors, but highlight places where their perspectives work well together, and where they come into conflict. These insights will then be used to refine our designs and our resources so that they are more likely to be useful to the people who will use them in practice in the future.