Assistive Technologies for Healthy Living in Elders: Needs Assessment by Ethnography

What is ethnography?


Ethnography refers to a qualitative research practice in which researchers spend long periods living within a culture in order to study it. The researchers spend time (hours, days or weeks) observing and/or interacting with participants in areas of their everyday lives. The purpose is to provide a detailed, in-depth description of everyday life and practice. This approach can reveal things that would be overlooked through other qualitative methods, such as interviews and focus groups, in which interaction with participants is limited in time, and often takes place outside the their own environment.

Ethnography has been widely applied to healthcare settings to acquire a better understanding of the patient, clinical teams, and healthcare service delivery. This allows decision makers to proceed with more reliable and detailed information to improve and develop new solutions to address complex challenges within health and social care.

What are cultural probes?

Pursuing ethnography in domestic settings raises practical and ethical challenges. Cultural probes offer a relatively unobtrusive way of providing insight into how technology could fit (and why it sometimes does not fit) into a particular home environment

The cultural probe method includes open-ended and evocative activities for participants to pursue in their own time to help narrate and depict their lives to researchers and technology designers. It applies digital cameras, diaries, wish lists and other artefacts. This approach has been used fairly extensively in design research, and has begun to be applied in domestic settings for design projects where access for conventional observational study methods is problematic.

Cultural probes facilitate collection of visual, narrative and material data, and can generate high levels of engagement from participants. During the ATHENE study, participants were given a set of cultural probe materials, including a digital camera and the 'Home and Life Scrapbook' to complete in their own time for one week. Participants could use the camera to take any pictures during the week. Activities within the Home and Life Scrapbook included maps (drawings to indicate their relationships to people, places and objects), lists (writing their likes, dislikes, things they are concerned about and things they are comfortable with), wishes (writing three things they would like to change or improve), body outline (indicating symptoms or impairments), home plan (drawing room layouts of their homes to indicate spaces and objects used) and diary. After one week, the researcher and participant reviewed the digital photos and content of the Home and Life Scrapbook as part of the home visit interview.

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