As a team I admit that we joked about our up and coming gig in a village hall in the depths of Gloucestershire – we’d been advised to bring all our own kit so arrived with a projector and screen as well as speakers to ensure we could introduce some of our co-researchers to the audience.
We’d been invited to participate in a regional University of the Third Age (U3A) conference and as I’d worked with U3A members on a previous research project I knew they’d be a lively and engaged audience for our work. I wanted to pursue with them whether some of their members might be interested in being involved as potential volunteers to test our technologies in more care home settings.
We quickly realised that this audience would be our most engaged and interested yet! I kicked off the presentation talking about objects and memories and in particular raised the idea of ‘de-cluttering’ and the many ethical and practical issues that can arise in the process of moving from ‘home’ to ‘a home’ or ‘the home’. As I spoke I sensed the audience were itching to comment so opened up the presentation to questions and comments much sooner than I’d planned. Our audience had many interesting things to contribute from personal experiences of having to clear relatives houses following death to professional experiences of working in auction houses and care home settings. It felt as if we could have talked all day about the issues that were being raised however Lucy and Barney (Stand + Stare) and Pete still had to speak so we were forced to close down this discussion. I was keen to reiterate our desire to work with them to enhance the scalability and sustainability of the project.
Lucy and Barney outlined our main prototype ideas and then talked in detail about the interactive book idea that they are co-designing with residents in our care home settings. They demonstrated some of the visual recognition software that they are using and talked about both individual book projects and the fantastic group book project that was instigated by one of our residents, a gentleman at BWC. Again it was obvious that the audience were itching to comment and ask questions and again lively debate ensued, including discussion about how the process is managed, the importance of working with care staff and the applicability of the idea more broadly outside of care home settings.
Pete then took to the stage, further stimulating our fantastic audience using metaphors for our design ideas including ‘genies in bottles’ and mind reading magic. Again rather than turning the audience off with talk of the use of virtual reality and harmonic resonance his presentation created even more of a buzz and again much debate ensued. Some were concerned about how older people might be able to use the technologies Pete talked about in terms of physical difficulties as well as inexperience with technologies. Pete talked about the need to ensure that there are various ‘entry points’ for different users and the need for personalisation of the device and the prompts depending on the particular needs of individual older people.
We ran over and we’re sorry that this meant there was less time for our audience to enjoy coffee, tea and biscuits. However conversation and discussion continued in the coffee break and many audience members approached us to offer help, support and further ideas.
Two learning points stand out from this for me:
- U3A is a great organisation – pioneering new, self organising forms of learning and new ways for older (mostly professional) people to be involved in society in meaningful ways after they have retired.
- Don’t make assumptions about audiences and the kind of reaction/understanding you might get from them – the openness to new ideas at this event put many more ‘academic’ audiences to shame.