Scenario planning, the elderly and ICT

Draft of an academic article (pdf file 482kb) by Belgian researchers published in 2006 in Poeisis and Practice: International Journal of Technology Assessment and Ethics of Science 4.3 (2006) available online for those whose institutions subscribe.

The researchers use scenario planning, the methodology in use in the Outside the Box project. The paper describes the results of ‘Colourful Flanders Turns to Grey’, which dealt with the interaction between two important trends for future Western societies, i.e. the greying of society and the technology-induced transformation of everyday life. The scenarios generated were turned into theatre plays and performed for the elderly participants in the study. The paper gives a reader-friendly summary of the scenario planning approach.

I found the article particularly interesting because it focused on an often neglected but crucial audience for television: the elderly. Statistics tend to show that the that people over 65 watch the most television in all developed countries (plenty of stats show this, Productivity Commission cites research from 2000, BBC Commissioning also cites similar research as well as research showing that more than 25% of UK population are over 55, and this will rise to about 33% in near future, and over 55s are most affluent age group. There is also the ageing Australia aspect, with population skewing older in coming years and high growth in 85+. These factors will undoubtedly affect the look and feel of TV, particularly as the boomer generation retires, but from what i can gather this is not really a major research focus. There are bits and pieces of research in a variety of areas, but nothing comprehensive and little on Australia . From preliminary research I have found the following:

* some research on the representation of ageing and old people on television, but not much recently and not much on Australia .

* anecdotal commentary and concern rather than research about the drift of programming and the sense that it doesn’t ‘speak to’ elderly people; this was one of the factors behind the creation of US cable channel ‘Retirement Living TV‘ last year, but their focus seems to be on health and services issues and infotainment rather than, for eg., serious drama

* some research on media use of elderly, mostly American uses and gratifications stuff, nothing substantial on Australia

* ratings research does break down by demographics, but nothing (other than broadcasters’ inhouse research, if that) on what elderly viewers would like to see on TV, or really on differences between 55-75 and 75+

* a growing body of research on the elderly and ICT, including some interesting scenario planning stuff. What this Belgian research shows (though this is not its focus) is that there is a large proportion of older people who are on the wrong side of the digital divide (or what in UK is called ‘digital exclusion’) and don’t use Internet but do rely heavily on TV

* some British research on digital switchover and elderly, conducted by Age Concern. I can’t find anything on that here, but will become an issue as switchover comes closer. It was interesting being in UK while first switchoff happened – in Whitehaven , Cumbria – and still much confusion and uncertainty about value of digital tv for elderly. Anecdotally, my mum has just bought a new tv with built-in digital tuner, so has access to many more channels but still watches what she’s always watched.

* a little research, mostly journalism, on the use of gaming platforms utilising tv (eg. nintendo wii) in retirement homes although there are downsides

* this last point ties in with an interest in dementia therapy (as proportion of pop with dementia will increase too) – there is art and music therapy, but can’t find anything on media therapy

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Gary Hayes is the head of the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production (LAMP) at AFTRS. He is a former head of BBC interactive, and has made a huge difference not only to students’ and colleagues’ understandings of the uses and potential of everything from blogs to Second Life, but also to the strategic planning of digital content producers and the creative imagination of big business.

In his blog he takes on academics, and charts – with pictures – the evolving media landscape.