Landscapes of cross-generational engagement

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This proposal responds to the NDA call for ways to enhance people's experiences of growing older through a better understanding of the technological, social and cultural issues of ageing in the twenty first century. It will use the design of technologies intended to promote older people’s engagement with their physical and social environments as a way to encourage new forms of engagement with younger people and the wider community. In an expanding series of case studies, we will use participatory design to shape a variety of new technologies around which we will develop cross-generational communities and dialogues.

Much existing work on how new digital technologies might benefit older people has involved devices to ensure people’s safety to support ‘ageing in place’. Such work is valuable, but runs the risk of casting older people narrowly in terms of frailty and need.

In contrast, we will develop technologies and systems that create an occasion for intergenerational engagement with issues of place, environment, and community in a fashion intended to delight and connect people as well as to inform and support them.


  • Peter Wright, Newcastle University
  • Bill Gaver, Goldsmiths College
  • John Bowers, Goldsmiths College
  • Mark Blythe, University of York


Age Concern York

Contact details

Peter Wright


The proposal aims to answer three related questions concerning the roles and potential of emerging interactive digital technologies:

Question 1: How can emerging interactive technologies and media be used to facilitate older people's sense of locality and place which are key elements of identity and citizenship in old age, and how through the sharing of narratives and engagement with the wider public can older people be given a voice in the community?

Question 2: How can excluded older people be given a stronger voice and clearer representation in the process of designing new digital technologies?

Question 3: What are people’s experience of growing old and growing up and the changing relationship with their technological, physical, social and cultural contexts?


Our methodological approach is to focus our research questions on three case studies as follows:

Case study 1. Window-on-the-world (w-o-w)

Aim: To engage our volunteer user groups with reflection on the possible roles of technology in the process of ageing using w-o-w technologies as stimulus for participation and dialogue. “W-o-w” focuses on engagement with the locale to explore issues of mobility, sense of place and connectedness with the physical environment and with the community. Novel technology will be used to bring the near environment into the home of the user. For example, video cameras might be used to bring scenic views into the home, and small screen-based devices may be used to present ambient information about local issues, groups and events. The intention here will be both to stimulate greater engagement with the local environment, and to raise community issues for further discussion as part of later participatory design meetings.

Case study 2. Digital place

Aim: Expand from home and environs to the issue of cross-generational communication and community and adopt virtual environment applications to the needs of the group for multi-generational dialogue. “Digital Place” focuses on virtual environments as a medium for older people to work together with younger people. There are now a range of technologies that are readily available on-line that support communities of usually younger people. These include You-Tube, My-Space, Second Life and so on. We will bring our older participants together with younger volunteers who have some familiarity with these technologies and work with them to design and build their own ‘meeting place’ in a virtual environment. The adaptations required to make older users feel comfortable with these forms of engagement will be an important research question. In addition, observing this process of engagement will allow us to explore the construction of a community and the appropriation of technology.

Case study 3. Engagement in the public sphere

Aim: To provide the community with innovative technology for public engagement with issues of ageing in 21st century. “Public Sphere” will focus on providing our group of older and younger people with a presence in the local community. We will develop artefacts that embed not only public displays but allow for some form of interaction with the viewer (e.g. bulletin boards, simple wikis). These will be sited in places likely to stimulate different kinds of viewer e.g. youth club, city centre square, school, cinema. In this way the technology will explore active engagement between older people and differently placed others. One of the sites will be a gallery where we will mount an exhibition. This will serve not only as a study in public engagement but also disseminate our project work.


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