Value and Values for Design of Technologies

This project focuses on a study of how Values (ethical principles) and Value (resource allocation priorities) influence the design of solutions in smart and connected communities. The problem points to an intriguing set of concerns that scholars have grappled with across a number of domains including philosophy, critical studies in technology, technology design, engineering design, and design practice. In spite of these investigations, solutions for smart and connected communities continue to be viewed primarily as efficiency-enhancing or convenience-maximizing, as opposed to direct contributors to improved quality of life in domains such as health and education. Without the benefit of an endogenous perspective, primary influences on design tend to be resource constraints and the designers’ understanding of a particular problem. To address the problem, this project focuses on (a) one specific problem for (b) one specific community: (a) managing health-related information for (b) the elderly, living at home, in an urban setting. Our work takes place primarily in Waltham, Mass, in collaboration with the Council on Aging in Waltham, and the City Officials, starting with the City Council. The research team is working on two fronts: empirical work to understand values and value priorities of both, the elderly community and the city officials; and designing, building and deploying elements of a technical solution aimed at addressing the problem of managing health-related information.

Outcomes Report Submitted to NSF. 2021.

We face a crisis of care for individuals aging-at-home, many of whom must live with multiple chronic conditions. They face significant cognitive and motivational challenges. This makes it challenging to design technological solutions that support their self-management efforts. This project was aimed at understnding how the practices and values of this population segment may be surfaced, and how they may influence the design of appropriate technology solutions.

Through our work, we discovered the different self-management practices and tactics that the aging-at-home use, and attempted to discover what drives these practices and tactics. Our intent was to explore whether and how this understanding can drive the design of technological solutions for self-management. The project included exploring options for and iterative design of technological solutions that may support such self-management efforts. This is a difficult task because it requires translating the values and practices of the aging-at-home into design decisions. Through our efforts we found that self-management is a layered activity that must respect the heterogeneity of individuals, and find ways to overcome the cognitive and motivational obstacles.

Working with the elderly in two communities, one in Waltham, MA and another in State College, PA, we discovered the different practices that individuals aging-at-home use. Reflecting on our efforts to design a web-based tool, and a mobile platform, we explored different approaches for interaction that may be beneficial to overcome the cognitive and motivational obstacles. Finally, by deploying and tracking how the elderly use a voice-enabled device such as Amazon Alexa, we discovered differences in usage patterns, and explored the potential for use of such devices for accessing and providing health-related information, behavioral nudges and support self-management practices.

Together, our data collection efforts and design explorations lead us to identify different ways in which information technology solutions may allow the aging-at-home to augment their self-management efforts. The project resulted in several lessons for both, design of solutions and understanding of self-management that we will pursue as we attempt to translate our findings into more robust solutions with a greater potential for impact.

For further information, contact Sandeep Purao at