The STAGE project focuses on providing older people with an easy-to-use application to watch videos of cultural events and museum exhibits online. One of the main challenges, therefore, is understanding the needs and preferences of older people when using software and enjoying culture.
In a research project like STAGE, the work is structured in so-called work packages. The first work package (WP1) of the project, has the specific purpose of collecting and analysing the aforementioned needs so as to provide indications to developers in order to adapt them into the STAGE platform. This principle is called ‘co-design’ and is one of the main foundations of STAGE that consists in engaging the elderly people in designing our ICT platform with cultural content for them.
The activities of WP1 started at the very beginning of the project and were carried out by CNR with the support of end user organisations (MATERIA, ANCS, PBN) and technological partners (SIVECO, GEORAMA). They are needed as a preliminary step for the pilot trial that the project will conduct later by directly involving older people in a test of the STAGE platform.
The first task required organising meetings with older persons in the three countries where end user organisations are based, that is Italy, Cyprus and Hungary. The meetings involved people who said they were interested in finding out more about STAGE, when end user partners had informed them about the possibility for them to participate in the undertaking.
A first series of meetings was therefore organised in order to better illustrate the objectives and features of the project. Those people who were still interested in participating, after having listened to the partners’ presentation of the project, were asked to fill in a specifically prepared questionnaire, with their agreement of course. This had the purpose of collecting general information about them, as well as their preferences and habits in relation to cultural participation and technology.
This information was instrumental in producing the first report detailing the analysis of these preferences, abilities and needs and their implications for the project.
A second phase of meetings followed, where prospective participants were shown pictures of how the platform would look like. These pictures (technically called ‘mock-ups’) were prepared by GEORAMA and had the purpose of simulating the user experience in STAGE.
End user organisations explained to the older participants how the platform would work based on the pictures, and asked them to express their opinions about it. Their preferences were indeed surveyed using another questionnaire, where they could say, for example, if colours combinations, font size and contrast were comfortable enough, and suggest possible changes they would like to be made.
The information from this questionnaire was analysed in a subsequent report, and was used by GEORAMA to produce a second set of ‘mock-ups’, which will form the basis for the development of the graphical interface of the STAGE platform.
The preferences and needs of the older people that took part in the meetings were then ‘translated’ by developers into technical specifications for software development. The results were described by the project partners in the next report, which detailed user requirements for the STAGE platform.
This is an example of how the principles of co-design are applied in the STAGE project.
When the pilot trial will start in June 2017, this approach will continue to be carried out by collecting feedback from older participants about the actual usage of the platform. Eventually, all this data will be used to produce the final version of the STAGE application, that will be released at the end of the project.
Recent activities within WP1 were concerned with researching ethical and privacy issues to ensure that users’ rights will be appropriately protected throughout the project. A first step in this process has been the drafting of an informed consent document. It will be distributed to prospective users before the pilot trial starts, so that they can make an informed decision, considering whether or not they would like to actually participate.
A set of ethical guidelines to be followed during the trial will also be prepared by end user organisations, who will be in charge of monitoring this aspect.