Seniors as co-designers: combining participatory action research with ethnography
Tiina Suopajärvi (University of Helsinki)
Paper short abstract:
I will discuss the methodological benefits and the challenges we faced in our collaborative workshops where seniors acted as co-designers in the process of designing public services. How well did ethnography and participatory action research work together; what did we learn; and what did we miss.
Paper long abstract:
In order to follow the ideology of participatory action research (PAR), I organized collaborative design workshops where the problems to be solved were identified together. In the workshops, senior city dwellers of northern Finnish city Oulu, city officials and university researchers/designers identified the main problems between seniors and the city to be the lack of cross-generational community and the lack of two-way communication. The idea to resolve this problem was, for instance, to organize computer courses at schools where pupils could teach computer skills to seniors, and to combine this with workshops where the aged could teach adolescents housekeeping and handicraft skills. Another idea was to create links between offline media, like newspapers or city magazines, and online media, like city's internet pages, when the city aims to inform its senior citizens. This would include possibilities for two-way communication, too. In this paper, I will focus on the meanings and effects of the methodologies that I used in organising and analysing our workshops. As an anthropologist, I am used to leaning on ethnography, but how well does it go together with the principles of PAR? In which situations should we give up ethnographic perspective, or at least mould it substantially? And if we do this, what kinds of new epistemological or ethical questions should we consider? Reflexive ethnography may of course also benefit the PAR process, but in which ways? And finally, and most importantly, what can we learn with this methodological arrangement about ageing in the city of Oulu?
Imagining an old future: anthropological perspectives on age and ageing