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


2 Responses

  1. This is fascinating stuff.

    Particularly when added to the ABS Life Skills Survey (see below)

    For ageing, the relevant Australian figures from ABS are:
    “Between 30 June 1987 and 30 June 2007, the proportion of Australia’s population aged 15-64 years has remained relatively stable, increasing from 66.6% to 67.5% of the total population. The proportion of people aged 65 years and over has increased from 10.7% to 13.1%. During the same period, the proportion of population aged 85 years and over has doubled from 0.8% of the population at 30 June 1987 to 1.6% of the total population at 30 June 2007. The proportion aged under 15 years decreased from 22.7% to 19.4%.”

    That means about 2.7 million Australians are currently over 65 and that number will increase by 2012 which is the mooted switchover date (God help the Bush).

    But the add in the results of the alarming ABS Life Skills survey which explores the possession of skills sufficient for people to operate effectively in modern society. The release says:
    “46 per cent of the population, or seven million people, would struggle to understand the meaning of newspaper and magazine articles or documentation such as maps and payslips.
    And 53 per cent reached just the second of five levels in a practical numeracy test, while 70per cent, the equivalent of 10.6million people, only managed to progress to level 2 in a series of problem-solving exercises. “Level 3 is regarded by the survey developers as the minimum required for individuals to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work in the emerging knowledge-based economy,” said the ABS report, Adult Literacy and Life Skills.
    The survey of almost 9000 people, which included a written life-skills test, was also done in seven other developed countries. Switzerland and Norway came out well ahead of Australia, while the US ranked much lower across all age ranges. Italy was the poorest-performing country of those participating.
    One stark difference in Australia was gender. Women were stronger at understanding written material than men, but males were better at understanding documents such as maps.
    And when it came to numbers, women did considerably worse.
    While 53 per cent of men achieved (the acceptable) level 3 or higher, only 42 per cent of women managed the same. And almost twice as many men as women reached the top levels of the numeracy test.
    Management consultant and social commentator Wendy McCarthy said the results were further evidence Australia was becoming a society increasingly divided into two classes.”

    These two Reports raise formidable implications for the ways in which a quarter or more of our current tv “audiences” may use aduio-visual media post 2012.


  2. An understanding of both these areas (the needs of the elderly and life skills literacy) is important for adding depth to the scenarios and stories this project on the future for Australian Television is embarking on.

    In terms of method, I found a concluding comment in the Belgian research pertinent, that despite a number of creative interventions “ people find it difficult to leave their contemporary perspectives and go beyond particular experiences with present day technologies” when envisaging possible futures. The four scenarios that emerged in many ways reflected this. For example, the four major scenario themes of a) access and the health/wealth divide b) a push for non ageist based empowerment c) resistance to the technologisation of the everyday and, d) intergenerational divides resulting in the disempowerment of older citizens, are all forces in play/conflict in the current environment. But at the same time, the scenario development process was a good way of highlighting, pulling apart, examining and “extreming” tendencies and directions already embedded in the social/technical context.

    And what I found most interesting from that exercise was the “backcating” policy development process that followed, where policy makers and the focus group worked together to design a possible roadmap to achieve a future vision. What particularly interested me was the inclusion of “reflection” in this process. That is, rather than just come up with a set of recommendations based on a final draft future vision, the group examined the major concepts and conversations that had lead to this vision in considering their proposals.

    In terms of Television programming, the traditional “soap” was suggested as having some strong relevance for the future in the Belgian report (p.13) – as a way of talking about technologies and seeing them being useful in addressing the needs of older people.

    But “Little Brother” (one of the scenarios characterized in the senior citizens project), might have the final say?? (I found this script from him in the Guardian).,,2244114,00.html

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