Designing Technologies with Older Adults: Ethical Tensions and Opportunities

  • Jenny WaycottEmail author
  • John Vines


In this chapter, we reflect on our experiences of designing and evaluating new technologies with older adults. We describe encounters from two projects that have prompted us to reconsider our research in two ways. First, we highlight ethical tensions: situations where we have had to adapt our research approach to account for unexpected ethical challenges that emerged in specific situations with older participants. Second, we note how collaborating with older adults brings a wealth of ethical opportunities: older participants often challenge simplistic technological solutions to complex problems and help us question and critique the values and ethics embedded in the technologies we set out to design. We argue that researchers working in this space need flexibility in the way research ethics is approved and managed, and need to be supported in recognising and responding to ethical encounters during the conduct of research. Meanwhile, researchers developing technologies for older users have an ethical imperative to engage older adults in the design and evaluation of new technologies. This, again, requires flexibility: researchers need to be able to thoughtfully respond to emergent issues in order to empower older adults to shape the direction of the research and to critique and iterate proposed designs.


Research ethics Collaborative design Older adults Oldest old Fieldwork 



The research reported here involved the two authors working in multiple collaborations with many great people. In particular, we wish to thank Mark Blythe, Andrew Monk, Paul Dunphy, Roisin McNaney, Patrick Olivier, Frank Vetere, Elizabeth Ozanne, Sonja Pedell, Lars Kulik, John Downs, Alan Gruner and Amee Morgans. The main projects described were funded by a range of sources, including the EPSRC funded “New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old” project (EP/H042911/1) and the Australian Research Council funded “Growing Old, Staying Connected: Touch-screen Technologies for Ameliorating Older People’s Experience of Social Isolation” (LP120100022). As always, we would like to thank our participants for their time, commitment and help with all our projects.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Northumbria UniversityNewcastle upon TyneEngland, UK

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