‘Ageing’ Category

A few things we learned thanks to the Issue Safari

December 21st, 2012

On December 12 2012, the EMAPS project organized its first Issue Safari.
Such workshop was an improved version of the seminar we organized in June 2012. In both cases the objective was to submit some of a set of maps we had prepared on the theme of aging in UK to the evaluation of a selected group of potential users.
The first workshop had been very interesting, but had also revealed the great difficulty of finding a common ground between mappers and users. Users were very critical on several aspects: from the choice of the research questions, to the datased employed, from the visualisations employed to the legibility of the maps (see emapsproject.com/blog/archives/1329).
In order to overcome this difficulty, we started a new process of interaction with the users (described here emapsproject.com/blog/archives/1701, here emapsproject.com/blog/archives/1728 and here emapsproject.com/blog/archives/1754). This process helped us to produce a more effective set of maps and to identify a groups of users potentially more interested in our visualisations. The December Issue Safari was the result of this process.

I think it is fair to say that the Issue Safari has been a success in the sense that we have greatly improved the adaptation between users and maps. Most users found most maps relevant and engaged with them in interesting ways. This allowed us to collect a richer user-feedback that we will now be able to re-invest in the case study of climate change adaptation.

Drawing on a very detailed set of notes collected during the Safari by the facilitator of the Young Foundation and compiled by Lucy Kimbell, I have prepared the following synthesis of the lessons we learnt during this workshop


A speculative blog post about changing how we engage with issue professionals in the design and production of issue maps within EMAPS

December 10th, 2012

Ahead of our two-day workshop in London later this week, I present some suggestions that follow on from our discussions in the project team about we can engage productively with people who might use the issue maps we are creating in the project. As I understand it, the role of The Young Foundation in the EMAPS project is primarily about helping to engage with people beyond the project team, specifically with the communities of issue professionals working on the two topics.

This post builds on recent emails and skype meetings between us; our small workshop in Oxford in October (see posts by Michele and Benedetta in Milano and by me afterwards, with comments by other EMAPS team members), as well as our June meeting in London (see posts by Tommaso) and discussions about the design process by Milano and Paris.

I will cover

  • a narrative about the project’s trajectory to date in terms of engaging with issue professionals, written from a personal perspective as someone working within YF on EMAPs since March 2012 (when I was employed there, and now freelance);
  • a brief introduction to some concepts and methods from the fields of Participatory Design and Design Research, which offer some approaches that could move EMAPS towards a more participatory mode of designing/using maps in the context of a research project;
  • a speculative description of what these concepts and methods might look like in practice, if the EMAPS team decided to use them.


What we learned from engaging with ageing issue professionals

October 18th, 2012


What are issue maps and what are they for?

The aim of this post is to share some reflections following our session exploring the most recent batch of maps with potential users in Oxford last Friday. Three of us who were there agreed to write posts: Michele Mauri from Milano who is leading the work on the design of the maps; Kat Jungnickel, a freelancer with a background in ethnography/STS who has been doing participant observation with an issue professional for The Young Foundation, and me. Mine will focus on the interesting and difficult questions that lie at the heart of the EMAPS project: What could the maps be (and for who), what are they for, and how do we work together to create them in an iterative process? My questions and attempts at answers are situated in the project’s work over recent months on the topic of ageing, and my own practice/research in social design and service design.

The Young Foundation’s role in the EMAPS project is about public engagement – helping identify and engage participants in the project who are probably not researchers (in the academy) but what Richard Rogers calls ‘issue professionals’, for whom research is probably part of their work. At our EMAPS meeting in mid-June 2012, we (my former colleague Jacques Mizan and I) brought together around 25 such people from the UK working in different ways in relation to the ageing issue, from different kinds of organizational context from consultants, public service managers, to volunteers, to care workers. We found it hard to work out who to invite (and get them in the room) because we were not sure what the proposed issue maps on ageing might be for. We know that the EMAPS project aims to design maps of controversies and explore their purposes in relation to complex collective issues. But in our day-to-day interactions we did not find it easy to summarise the project when talking to our colleagues within The Young Foundation or in discussion with potential participants. We did not understand how such maps might fit within the work practices of people who work within the ageing issue, which are of course diverse and shaped by different kinds of professional expertise and knowledge.

The EMAPS-wide project discussion that followed that workshop in June then lead to our next phase of work, which took us in a new direction: away from showing people the latest maps and asking for feedback, or asking what they might do with them, or what other maps they might find useful, towards understanding one issue professional’s work practices, and designing maps for her as a kind of lead user (von Hippel 1986). From Kat’s analysis of Maria’s work practices (documented earlier on this blog), the EMAPS team in Paris and Milano then created maps that aimed to help her answer her ‘research questions’. So on Friday, we created a workshop in two sessions. First we showed Maria the latest maps (lead by Kat and Michele and Benedetta) and got Maria’s responses drawing on her deeper knowledge of the project through her work with Kat. We also asked for her feedback about what we planned to do after lunch, when we broadened the discussion by bringing in three other ageing issue professionals, known to Maria. We (Kat and I) had decided that rather than asking for their feedback, we wanted to elicit responses to the maps by asking them to try to do some tasks with them – which we checked with Maria.

We thought that giving these professionals opportunities to try to use the maps to perform a task similar to the sorts of things they already do, and then watching and interviewing them as they did this, would give us insights into the research questions within EMAPS. After a brief introduction to Map 2 (the “milky way” map that shows linguistic terms drawn from a corpus of documents on ageing and dementia, we asked them to do the following tasks:


MAP 2: What are the public health and social care messages about ageing and dementia?

TASK (work together): You are developing a campaign aimed at people to increase awareness around the parents and neighbours having dementia. What are the core messages you want to communicate? Use the map to see.

Having presented a task relevant to their world, the participants then looked at the maps as they began to try to think through what the map was presenting them with. Quite quickly we moved away from the task. Later, we did not insist on using the task we had prepared for Map 1 as by then the conversations flowed well and also the sense of asking “What would I do with this map?” By they time we looked at the set of maps of type Map 3 (images from Google searches for ageing), we no longer needed a task to get them to engage, but we did repeatedly ask what they might use these maps for and how and when.

This approach draws heavily on a design/research field I will go on to explore a bit later. As well as actively participating in the session (Michele, Benedetta, Kat and I) we also documented the activities with audio, video, photography and taking notes.


Here are some of my initial observations – which may appear bleedingly obvious to some of our research partners – but are perhaps worth of noting down here, if only to show much work it takes to involve someone who is not a specialist in digital methods or issue mapping, in understanding what the maps might be (for) and what it takes for them to be of use. They may of course be completely different to the views of Kat, Michele and Benedetta although we of course discussed what we did, what we observed and participated in and what we made of it through the day.


Finding 1

The maps can only ‘work’ if these aspects come together:

-       An understanding of the user’s worlds and work practices and the purposes to which maps can be put

-       Data and their provenance, relevance and reliability that fit with the user’s requirements in relation to the things they want to achieve

-       A method that translates what the user might want to achieve in her world, into a research question, into a question that a map could answer, into a way to gather data and analyse it for presentation within a map

-       A visual presentation of the data/question/key/legend that fits within the understandings the user has about her world


Finding 2

The maps can be used for these purposes (and probably many others):

-       Understanding the ageing issue and how it is constituted

-       Reframing or thinking differently about the ageing issue based on what the maps show

-       Provoking discussion about controversies within ageing between different people looking at or using maps

-       Verifying or challenging an existing understanding of the ageing issue

-       Seeing new sets of relationships (eg between actors or linguistic terms or concepts) in relation to the ageing issue


Finding 3

We need to do more work to understand how these various purposes come into play in different professional contexts and through various disciplinary practices. From observing the four issue professionals in the room in Oxford we noted quite different responses to the same map, even though they shared some common projects and knowledge about the ageing issue and its actors. For example one participant said that the map of linguistic expressions from the corpus of documents (Map 2 – the milky way map) was not useful, whereas two others strongly believed it was and that it was something they could use for example to help them align their own grant-funding bids or proposals to funders’ or commissioner’s current concerns. While this is partly the result of the visual presentation of the data, it is also about how participants grappled with understanding what the map is, and where the data come from, and what the map offers them as a resource. We suspect that these responses are shaped by many factors including cognitive and learning styles, and disciplinary practices about how research and strategy are done in organizations of different kinds.

Other perspectives

I now want to turn to a field that I think EMAPS can learn from, and which has certainly shaped how The Young Foundation (through my interventions) has participated in the project. Participatory Design (PD) is a field that combines a Scandinavian political/social commitment to worker empowerment, with a practical understanding of collective design. Much of the research/practice in PD has focused on the design of software. One of the leading contributors to PD is Pelle Ehn (see Ehn 1988). More recently several researchers (who often design software as part of their research) are exploring STS/ANT in relation to this design work (eg Ehn 2008; Binder et al 2011; Andersen et al 2011).

Some of the learning in this field is:

-       How to understand and design for “use” (eg within existing practices) and how “design” relates to use by re-configuring practices or involving the creation of new practices (eg Ehn 1988; Suchman et al 1998; Redstorm 2008).

-       How design-work can be thought of as performatively constituting the new relations between actors involved  (eg Hartswood et al 2002; Andersen et al 2011).

-       How to understand participation in design work eg thinking of their active participation as language games (Ehn 1988).


How we go forward

At our EMAPS meeting in June, we agreed that The Young Foundation would host an ‘issue safari’ in November 2012 bringing together a wider group of issue professionals working on ageing, to explore the latest iteration of the maps. In my email to the wider EMAPS team a couple of weeks ago, I again proposed that we create some tasks that are meaningful within the worlds of such professionals. We prototyped this approach in Oxford last Friday, and it worked well enough to provoke a conversation that surfaced what would the participants do with these maps, from which we then meandered onwards and outwards. In response Tommaso pointed out that the EMAPS researchers will be on hand to guide participants through the safari, which sounds great – until we have to explain it to someone who is a busy professional.

I now think we have a couple of options to consider before we finalise what we do at the end of November:

1. Find someone with an existing task related to ageing, that we could work in relation to and modify/create some maps for. An example from one of our participants from Friday is working on the creation of a new ‘Joint Strategic Needs Assessment’– a framework for gathering, sharing and interpreting data about needs relating to older people in Oxfordshire (in social care and healthcare). However I don’t think this is going to work for two reasons. First, although this project is happening and could suit our project in some ways, the data they need are mostly regional, not national or cross-European, and are probably not available online and therefore not available easily to EMAPS. Secondly, the participant did not find the maps we shared on Friday to be that useful although they were ‘interesting’. Although very involved in the collective sharing and use of data in relation to ageing, this participant seemed not to value the purposes I suggest above eg provoking discussion about controversies within ageing between different people looking at or using maps; verifying or challenging an existing understanding of the ageing issue; seeing new sets of relationships (eg between actors or linguistic terms or concepts) in relation to the ageing issue. So we don’t propose following this up.

2. Create some tasks in collaboration with a couple of participants (eg Maria – but she’s about to leave the UK for three months) which are recognizable to them and others and draw directly on their work practices. Eg further developing the tasks we proposed on Friday. I have had discussions with my Young Foundation colleague Sue Nunn who is now going to work on the EMAPS project with us, and she can identify several issue professionals within ageing/social care who she thinks do the kind of work of pattern recognizing/strategic overviewing that we think the maps support. We suspect that this will lead to requests from us to Paris/Amsterdam/Milano to adapt the current set of maps and possibly use new data (eg possibly documents they can supply us with). We’ll get back to you next week with more on this.


Some wider questions

And finally, a series of questions for EMAPS going forward. Please accept my apologies if I have misunderstood some aspects of the project and these questions are already taken care of in different ways.  Below I used the terminology from the Participatory Design field (“use” and “design”) – which may not be right (especially as they separate out design and use) but at least offer a way in to helping understand what the maps might be for, so EMAPS can design better maps.


-       Understanding use before design. In this ageing project, we were able to recruit Maria and use Kat to work closely with her to develop a shared understanding of her work practices to support EMAP designing maps that are more closely aligned to the questions she has. Are there plans for years 2&3 to learn from this and work closely with users (in the way Kat did) to translate their practices into research questions for maps, before designing and producing them? I know there is a conversation between EMAPS and the weADAPT community which involves sharing maps (or right now, wireframes of future maps) with them and asking for responses. However I am talking about something additional and in more depth – which involves using an ethnographic approach to studying the practices of people within the weADAPT community – not just asking them what they think of maps, after we have designed them.

-       Understanding use after design. Much of the researcher effort in EMAPS seems to focus on designing the methods, gathering the data, designing the maps and engaging participants, but I wonder if there might be resources to focus on how the maps get used as boundary objects (eg Carlile 2002) in work contexts: This would add a focus on how they are used once we are finished.

-       Involving participants directly in fast participatory design. There is another possibility, which draws on the PD tradition in another way which would look like this: inviting people from the weADAPT community to take part in a practical workshop with EMAPS, in which we do a very fast cycle of understanding their work practices and research questions, translating this to a set of questions that EMAPS could answer, creating questions and gathering data, and producing maps, and then watching what they do with them – all over two days.

Apologies for the busy blog post but I felt it was time to synthesize a number of conversations we’ve been having at The Young Foundation.



Andersen, T., Halse, J., Moll, J. (2011): Design Interventions as Multiple Becomings of Healthcare. Nordes ’11: the 4th Nordic Design Research Conference – Making Design Matter. Helsinki, Finland, May 29 -31, 2010. pp. 11-20.

Binder, T. Giorgio De Michelis, Pelle Ehn, Giulio Jacucci, Giulio Linde and Ina Wagner. 2011. Design Things. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Carlile, P. 2002. “A Pragmatic View of Knowledge and Boundaries: Boundary Objects in New Product Development.” Organization Science, 13(4): 442-455.

Ehn, P. 1988. Work-Oriented Design of Computer Artifacts. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Ehn, P. 2008. “Participation in Design Things.” In Proceedings of the Tenth Anniversary Conference on Participatory Design 2008 (PDC ’08). Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN, USA, 92-101.

Hartswood, M., R. Procter, R. Slack, A. Voss, M. Büscher, and M. Rouncefield. 2002. “Co-realisation: towards a principled synthesis of ethnomethodology and participatory design.” Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, 14(2): 9–30.

Hippel, Eric (1986) “Lead Users: A Source of Novel Product Concepts,” Management Science 32, no. 7 (July): 791-805.

Redström, J. (2008). RE: Definitions of use. Design Studies, 29(4), 410-423.

Suchman, L., Blomberg, J., Orr, J., & Trigg, R. (1998). Reconstructing technologies as social practice. The American Behavioral Scientist, 43(3).


Preparing for the EMAPS workshop in Oxford

October 14th, 2012

Lucy and I have been preparing for the next workshop on the developing maps to be held in Oxford on Friday (12th October). In addition to our lead ‘user’, we have invited four health and social care professionals, who are all experts in their fields (policy, volunteer organisations, advocacy, arts).

The aim of the session is threefold: (1) elicit discussion about what maps are useful and for what purposes, (2) observe, listen, record and synthesize information about the use and purpose of maps and (3) ascertain “what these maps do” for these people and how they could use them.

The way we intend to achieve these objectives involves three stages:

- Present each core question on which the maps are based

- Discuss what this core question/issue means to health and social care professionals. ie.How it matters to their work? How and in what ways it matters to their colleagues?

- Show the map/s and set a group task in which participants are asked to use the map to ascertain directions/ outcomes. Further discussion will be encouraged.

We will be documenting the workshop in various ways; notes, audio, video and still photos.

Ageing Places Visualization Workshop

September 28th, 2012

During the past months we have worked extensively on “Ageing Places: Digital Methodologies for Mapping the Issue of an Ageing Europe”.  We have advanced a series of eleven mapping subprojects that share as a point of departure the ageing of the European population and the debate around the potential consequences of this coming demographic imbalance. We have been mapping this scenario from three different perspectives: ageing as a social controversy,  ageing as a risk and ageing as a placemaking issue. In order to produce these mappings we combined digital methods with strategies for debate and issue mapping. So far some our subprojects include cross-cultural comparisons of the issues associated with ageing, mappings of age-motivated migrations across Europe and, amongst others, the documentation of the evolution of specific issues over a given period of time (issue timelines).

Currently, we are concentrating our efforts to compile the case studies, our research questions and methodologies into a publication. Ultimately, our goal is to produce a practical companion book for issue professionals and students.  As a continuation to this ongoing process from the 24 to the 28th of September we held a visualization workshop. Throughout the week we shared our data and narratives with four designers from the Politecnico Milano, who we  invited to  collaborate with us, dig into the data and  visualize it. They are helping us to think about strategies that will allow us to better communicate graphically both our methodologies and results.
















To prepare for the workshop we compile a 45 page long design brief (Ageing_WorkDesign.pptx.) In this document we included the preliminary visualizations, the documentation of how we gathered the data and descriptions of the findings it has lead to. Additionally, the first day of the workshop was dedicated entirely to familiarize the designers with the sub-projects and with the story-lines and methodologies of Ageing Places.

Workshop designers are Alessandro Dondero, Giacomo Tradi, Alex Piacentini and Stefania Guerra. The workshop is coordinated by Marieke van Dijk and Natalia Sanchez Querubin from the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam)  and Aleksandra Kil from the University of Wroclaw.

Operationalization of research questions on Ageing

August 22nd, 2012

Here you’ll find some ideas on how to operationalize the question proposed by Lucy and Kat working with the test-user.

For each question, you’ll find below
a) one or more rephrased versions of the question that we can actually answer – the “actual questions” (as Michele calls them)
b) a short description of the data that can be used to answer each actual question
c) what we need to to do collect the data for the map and who should/could do it
d) some explanation of the above

As you’ll probably noticed, I haven’t made explicit which maps will be designed based on the data that I propose to collect. The reason is that this is something that London and Milan have to decide by discussing with the test-user.
What I need you to do ASAP:
- London: validate with the test-user that the proposed operationalization makes sense and tell me if you can provide the resources described below and when.
- Amsterdam: tell me if you can collect the data as described below and how long could these take.
- Milan: start thinking about the visualizations that you could draw with the data described below and tell Paris and Milan if you need the data to be collected in any ‘special’ way/format

1. What is living well as older person / with dementia?

1.A.i) Actual question: which are the resources (human/material/institutional…) that help people living well with dementia?
1.B.i) Data: hyperlink network of the websites cited by blogs of people suffering from dementia or caring for them
1.C.i) What we need: if London or the test-user knows some of these blogs please give Paris the urls (but we can easily found them ourselves). A part from that, Paris can do collect the data in three weeks from now.
1.D.i) Explanation: What I understand, drawing on Kat’s ethnographic work, is that dementia is much more than a medical disease – it is a whole way of life. Learning to live with dementia requires transforming many crucial relationships (with one’s house, with public institutions, with the city, with friends and family and so on). The map I would like to propose to provide some answer to this question is a classic hyperlink map. As I recently discovered, there are several blogs written by people suffering from dementia or caring for them. I think, it would be interesting to find out which websites are most cited by these blogs. Do they cite among themselves and recognize as a community? Do they cite institutional websites and if so which pages exacly? Do they cite commercial services, ngos, local communities…?

1.A.ii) Actual question: what are the aspects that are most discussed about dementia?
1.B.ii) Data: Heatmap of the modifications/reverts on the wikipedia pages: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dementia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aging – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alzheimer%27s_disease
1.C.ii) What we need: Amsterdam should be able to collect the data.
1.D.ii) Explanation: This is a difficult question for controversy mapping, because living with dementia involves many difficulties, but little explicit controversy. However, I think that it remains interesting to identify which issues connected to aging/dementia/alzheimer are most discussed about and I believe that Wikipedia is a good place to search for this information. The data we will find may be interesting or not, but it is impossible to know without trying. Therefore, I propose that we try.

2. What are the public health and social care messages about ageing and dementia?

2.A.i) Actual question: Which linguistic expressions are most frequently used by edifferent public health and social care institutions when talking about ageing and dementia?
2.B.i) Data: Occurrence of the most frequent expressions in a corpus of messages about ageing and dementia issued by public health and social care institutions.
2.C.i) What we need: London should provide Paris and Amsterdam a set of documents about ageing and dementia issued by public health and social care institution. This set does not need to be huge: 15-30 well chosen documents would be perfect. For each of the documents we need to know: who published it (which institution) and what is its the subject (ageing or dementia). After receiving this corpus, Paris can extract the data in about one week.
2.D.i) Explanation: Since the original question was about the ‘messages’ delivered on ageing and dementia, I believe that a classic text analysis exercise can provide interesting results. The results however will be more interesting the more the corpus is representative. Ideally, what we need is the one or two documents in which the position of a given institution is expressed in its most representative way. And we need to have all the relevant institutions. The documents should be equivalent in size and preferably not too long (rather than a 200 pages report on dementia where anything can e found, it is much better to have the 10 summary pages where the most important messages are delivered).

2.A.ii) Actual question: Which linguistic expressions co-occur most often with the words ‘ageing’ and ‘dementia’ in public health and social care messages?
2.B.ii) Data: Co-occurence of linguistic expressions in a corpus of messages about ageing and dementia issued by public health and social care institutions.
2.C.ii) What we need: same as 2.B.i but this time it is Amsterdam that should do the data extraction.
2.D.ii) Explanation: This data resembles a lot the data described just above, but with a crucial difference. Instead of focusing on which institutions use which expression, we focus on which expression appears next to the word ‘ageing’ and ‘dementia’ in the whole corpus. It is difficult to say know if both of the approaches will be interesting, but once again there is no other way than trying and see what comes out.

3. Are older people assets or deficits (ie a drain on society)? (A cross cultural comparison)

3.A.i) Actual question: In different European web-spheres, what are people talking about when they talk about older people?
3.B.i) Data: Issues associated with aging in different European countries.
3.C.i) What we need: Starting from the the map of aging-related issues for the first London test (https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B4a4mDb99e7Hc18wRjNKWFRzZEE), Amsterdam should decide for each issue is it is ‘positive’ (older people seen as assets), ‘negative’ (older people seen as deficits) or ‘neutral’. Also, it would be nice is Amsterdam could identify issues that are present in more than one country (or that are very similar in different countries).
3.D.i) Explanation: Since it is difficult to decide which expressions translate a given concept in different language, cross-cultural comparisons cannot be performed through an automatic text analysis. More than linguistic expressions. I think that we need to concentrate here on the ‘issues’ that are discussed in different countries. I can’t see a good reason we shouldn’t start from the work that Amsterdam did for the first London test on the map of aging-related issues. This was already a good dataset and it only need to be enriched as described above.

3.A.iI) Actual question: In different European web-spheres, which images are used to picture older people?
3.B.iI) Data: Images associated with aging in different European countries.
3.C.iI) What we need: If Amsterdam can mail me the exact queries they used for their map of aging-related issues, we can reuse them in Paris (but we can also do find the query ourselves). Paris can collect the data in three weeks from now.
3.D.iI) Explanation: Another way to avoid the multi-language translation problem is to focus on images instead. Images also have the advantage of being more easily and quickly readable. For the same European countries as above, we can use different national google and different query languages to obtain images that are representative of aging in different cultures. The results will be interesting especially if cultural differences are easily visible (but we will know only after trying).

These are the question that can be operationalized right away (and probably we can complete all the dataset collection in about one month).
Data collection on these questions could produce 6 different dataset (which will probably translate in more than 6 maps). This means that if all proposed operationalizations seem interesting to the test-user, we could stop here as we have enough material for the issue Safari.

However, there are other question in Lucy and Kat documents that are possibly interesting, and that we may consider to operationalize. They are listed below with some discussion. If Kat can provide more information, it would be helpful to decide what to do.

4. What is considered good evidence about the needs of older people and the impact of services/policy?
I am sorry but I still don’t understand this question. Kat, can you explain better?

5. Who is funding dementia research and who/what is funded ?
This is a very good question and one that is easy to visualize. However, I doubt that the data exist somewhere. Kat, if you know where to find these data, we’ll be more than happy to work on them.

6. What are the key research issues?
This is classic scientometrics question and we do have the tools to answer it by analyzing the scientific literature. However, the results risk to be very complicated to read because they will certainly includes a lot of scientific jargon. If this is not a problem and if the analysis of scientific literature is really interesting for the test-user, we can collect this data (but it will be difficult and it will take a lot of time). Kat, Lucy, this is your call.

7. How are health and social care programs evaluated? Methods? Outcomes? What metrics are used by key actors?
This is certainly an interesting and probably also controversial question, but is a very difficult one, as I see no other way to answer it then interviewing different institutions and asking them how they evaluate their programs. This operationalization, though interesting, would require too much time. I propose therefore to drop the question unless anyone has a better idea on how to operationalize it.

8. How are older people’s mobilities linked to wellbeing? Ie. loss of a driving license is a trigger point for isolation, depression, loneliness, ill health.
This is interesting. I propose that we keep an eye on the websites/expressions related to ‘driving’ when working on question 1 and 2. For the moment, I can tell if this will give something interesting, but it may.

9. How do/have different generations prepare/d for end of life/care?

This is a huge question. Even if we drop the inter-generational comparison (which is almost impossible to do on the web). Death is as an issue as big as Aging itself and the two overlaps but may also be very different (think of the death symbolism in music/movies). I propose to drop this question for it is to huge. However, if someone comes up with some clever operationalization (this is typically what Richard excel at), I am ready to change my mind.


Design process

August 9th, 2012

We’d like to share in this post our thoughts after the workshop at Young Foundation in London: it gave us the opportunity to think over the (communication) design process in the context of controversies mapping and the way this process should work in order to produce meaningful visualizations and to make the whole EMAPS project more effective.

The relationship between mapping of controversies and communication design is a recent one, and – in our knowledge – there are no documented case histories we can build upon. We’re experiencing since two years the application of communication design specific competences in cartography of controversies: we worked mainly with students so far, and with a limited scale both in terms of people/organizations involved and project duration, compared to EMAPS. So we really think that the EMAPS project in general, especially in this phase, is a great opportunity to discuss, define and test a possible model for our design process, through a typical learning by doing approach. We’re now finalizing the work on ageing and moving towards the next (and bigger) controversy; we’re now in the middle of a new iteration with new users and stakeholders: what better opportunity to refine our design process, building on what we learned in London? Well, evaluating workshop’s maps is difficult because the visual design criticalities are mixed with data ones: if a user, using a map, doesn’t find anything interesting, is it a design criticality (we’ve not been successful to convey the data richness) or a data one (the data is useless for user’s needs)? The same data, shown in a different way, would have been more effective?

In our experience, it is very difficult to answer these questions.

Why is it so difficult? During the map creation and the workshop, we identified two main criticalities that can be summarized in two main issues:

-       The “Why”: it is not clear to the user what kind of information data should convey (like the Wikipedia maps). “Why are you showing me this?” It should be clearer from beginning why a certain data is useful to answer a research question.

-       The “What”: drawing the maps, we found difficult to identify the data features we have to spot out. From the same dataset, we can focus on several features: which ones are useful to find an answer the research question? Before designing it, we must be able to answer this question: what the user must see with this visualization?

We strongly believes in data visualization potential. While our role is closely related to the final output, our involvement should not be only a “cap” on top of the research pipeline. Visual design doesn’t just make things more catching or sparkling – it makes things visible. Data errors, mistakes and criticalities will be more evident in visualization. This means that an effective visualisation, based on faulty data, will return a faulty interaction with the user.

As we are using protocols that often return uncertain data (due to the nature of the subject matter), it is important during the whole process to evaluate whether we’re still creating information that really answers the research question.

If the above information (why we are presenting that data, what should emerge from it) is clear and shared, the design process is more robust and simpler to evaluate.

As we saw during the first experiment (London) the process is neither standard nor linear. It is a process made up of many loops, which are difficult to predict. Our suggestion is to break it in four main phases in which design have a different level of involvement to evaluate the process effectiveness.

The description below is qualitative: phases are not temporally equals, depending from the context they can be longer or shorter, and sometimes can overlap. Our main objective, the one we’re asking your opinion, is to set a series of goals for each phase.

First phase: hypothesis

Dialogue between domain experts and data experts in order to identify research questions that is possible to answer using chosen methods. Both of them must keep in mind who the users are: will they be able to get the answer from the data produced?

Even if the data is not yet available, researchers should identify what kind of information they will create: which are the objects? Which are their properties? Are there links between the elements? Are there different kinds of objects?

Design won’t play an active role in this phase, but it must have a clear knowledge of the research question, the used protocol, and what kind of information should emerge from visualization.

The definition of the data architecture (elements and properties) is the base for a visual hypothesis: how can we visualize this kind of information in order to enable users to build their answers?

At the end of this phase, the designers should know:

-       The research question

-       The analysis method that will be used and the output (data) it should give back

-       Why that kind of analysis is useful to answer the research question (it must be explicit!)

Second phase: data extraction and validation

Data experts should identify what are the data sources, the analysis protocols, and set up the data extraction.

During this phase, it’s important for the design part to identify the data format they’ll need for the visualization, and the process to get it from raw data.

Moving from the raw data to visualization or interactive application implies lots of work on data itself: each visual model requires data builded in a specific way. Actions like data cleaning, normalization and transformation occupy much of the design process. These actions must be replicable as raw data can change (a new extraction, the identification of an error in the protocol…).

Objectives of this phase are:

-       Data format definition

-       Setup of data transformation process

Third Phase: sketching

Sketching in the framework of data and information visualization is not a linear process, but a cyclic one: depending on the complexity of the research questions and the data provided, it can require a different number of iterations.

As the data we’re using most of the times is unpredictable before the extraction, we have to proceed by trials and errors. We call “sketches” simple visualizations, produced on sample of real data, useful to evaluate the initial hypothesis. We want to remark the importance of using real data in this phase: the same visual model can be effective with a specific data but useless with another one. Just drawing an ideal case is not a valid proof.

Sketches validation requires the involvement of data experts and domain experts. Is the visualization respecting data features? Is it showing something real? Is the visualized data useful to the initial question? It’s useful to identify some research sub-questions to test the extracted data.

A second cycle of revision/validation is held with the final users. Can them find an answer to the research question with the visualization?

These two kinds of cycle help designers to correct the visual hypothesis to meet researchers, experts and users needs.

Fourth phase: production

This phase is the finalization and implementation of the visualization / interactive application. All the corrections and suggestions are already gathered in the previous phases, there is a full concordance on the shown data. Design can focus on communicative issues (perception, interaction features,…) having a clear vision of the visualization objectives. Revision cycles are focused on fine-tuning of visualization (readability, visual hierarchy…) and on interaction patterns (if producing an interactive application).

This post is an open proposition, we really need your help: tell us what you think about it, in order to define a shared model of our design process.


Ageing mapping – Next steps

June 14th, 2012

The ageing workshop took place yesterday. We have received a lot of interesting critiques to our maps (see my previous post for some lessons that I have learnt), which is precisely what we were looking for. And that is why I think we can call it a success. This does not mean, of course, that our maps were perfect. It just means that now we know how to improve them.

In particular, two critiques seem crucial:
1) examples on how to explore / make sense of the maps are necessary
2) the mapping process should be closely informed by the interests of its addressees
According to these two remarks, we made two main decisions concerning the following of the work on aging.

Development of a ‘demonstrator’ of how to explore a controversy

June 2012. London will ask one of the issue-professionals that participated in today workshop (and seemed more willing to engage in the project) to provide us a few (5-6) research questions that he/she finds interesting. London will provide these questions and a detailed description of the person and his/her activities to Paris and Amsterdam.

June 2012. On the basis of these information, Paris and Amsterdam will identify one or two methods that they think they can use to provide some element of answer to the questions of the issue-professional. These mapping ideas will be transmitted to London which will validate their interest with the issue-professional. Modifications may be proposed by the issue-professional.

July 2012. Paris and/or Amsterdam will collected the data, analyze them and realize a first sketch of the maps. The sketches will be transmitted to London, which will validate their interest with the issue-professional. Modifications may be proposed by the issue-professional.

August 2012. The sketches of the maps will he transmitted to Milan together with a detailed description of 1) how the data have been collected and analyzed to design the maps, 3) how the maps should be read and interpret to answer the questions of the issue-professional. Milan will re-design the maps and produce a little atlas conveying all previous information in a way that is adapted to its addressees.

September 2012. London will show the atlas to the issue-professional and accompany him/her and his/her staff in the exploration of the maps. A detailed feedback from the user experience will be collected.

October 2012. Milan (with the help of Amsterdam and Paris) will use the feedback from the users and the information collected throughout all the process to produce the final ‘maps exploration demonstrator’ (probably in the form of a short video).

Issue Safari

June 2012. London will identify 3 or 4 categories of professionals of the ageing issues. London will prepare a short description of each of these categories, specifying the kind of questions that they may be interested in and the kind of maps that they may find useful. If possible, this descriptions will be prepared with or validated by an exponent of each category.

June 2012. Discussing with London, Paris and Amsterdam will identify a few methods that they think they can use to develop maps that can be useful for each category of issue-professionals.

July-August 2012. Paris and/or Amsterdam will collected the data, analyze them and realize a first sketch of 5-6 maps. The sketches will be transmitted to London, which will validate their interest (if possible in collaboration with the issue-professional).

September-October 2012. The sketches of the maps will he transmitted to Milan together with a detailed description of 1) how the data have been collected and analyzed to design the maps, 3) how the maps should be read and interpret to answer the questions of the issue-professional. Drawing on the experience acquired working on the ‘demonstrator’, Milan will re-design the maps and produce 3-4 atlases (one for each category of issue-professionals) conveying all previous information in a way that is adapted to its addressees.

November 2012. London will organize 3-4 workshop (one for each category of issue-professionals). In each workshop, 15-20 issue professionals of a given category will be invited to a 3 hours ‘issue safari’. The safari starts with the display of the ‘maps exploration demonstrator’, which will give participants a first idea of what it is to explore an issue map. Then, divided in small groups, participants will be accompanied in the exploration of the atlas developed for them by a facilitator from the Emaps team. Feedback of the user experience will be collected.

Ageing workshop – lessons learnt

June 14th, 2012

This is a short list of lessons that I learnt in yesterday thanks to the fantastic ageing workshop organized by Young Foundation. You are welcome to correct/modify this list, this will be extremely useful for the rest of the project.

  • Visual difficulties are the first obstacles to engaging with the map. People ignore maps when
    • Font size is too little
    • Too many items are presented at the same time
  • People get frustrated when they don’t understand
    • Exploration should start from simpler maps (it is possible to move to very complex maps but gradually)
    • Examples of how to explore the maps should be provided
  • In order to engage with the map people need and ask for
    • Information on how the map has been designed (where data come from, how they have been treated…)
    • Explanation on why the map was designed (what is the research question)
    • Explanation on why the map is shown to them (some elements of interpretation must be provided)
    • Evidence that the maps is scientifically sound (within limits that have to be defined clearly)
  • People don’t want to look at maps, they want to explore them
    • In order to engage with the maps the people need time (the number of maps should be limited
    • People are willing to interact with the maps (ex. zooming, comparing…)
    • People are willing to correct/contribute to the maps
    • People would like to have more information on specific items of the maps
  • People finds visualizations more interesting when they map a territory that they already know
    • Local maps are more interesting than global maps
    • People with different expertise should be drawn to different maps
  • The most salient visual variables are (in the order)
    • Size (a lot)
    • Position (somewhat)
    • Color (not so much)
  • The map are appealing objects that capture the attention of the people
    • Beauty risks to distract from usefulness
    • Titles, captions and legends are generally ignored, attention has to be drawn on them

Speed Up Workshop in Milan | Visualising Ageing

June 6th, 2012

DensityDesign is one of the members of the European research project ‘Electronic Maps to Assist Public Science’ (EMAPS). From the 22nd to the  24th of May we organized a workshop with nine of our best students to work with the staff for the creation of several visualizations on the population ageing topic.

Workshop coordinator was professor Paolo Ciuccarelli (DensityDesign’s Scientific Director), with PhD students Michele Mauri and Azzurra Pini. Participants were: Benedetta Signaroldi, Carlo De Gaetano, Federica Bardelli, Francesco Faggiano, Gabriele Colombo, Giulia De Amicis, Stefania Guerra, Stefano Agabio and Valerio Pellegrini.

DensityDesign workshop comes after the Science Po one, which was intended to collect data about the aging phenomenon and provided the datasets for our visualizations. They identified the most useful data sources and created a specific protocol to gather data from each of them. The data format followed data behaviours, that is each topic was described by several data formats, such as tables, networks and unstructured text.

The aim of our workshop was to provide a prompt answer to some specific questions about ageing mutation. We tried to overcome the limits of traditional visual models by experimenting different solutions, in order to find the most suitable one. Our project focused on four main topics. In order to achieve the best solutions, we invited the students to work in small groups.

You can find here all the produced visualizations, as a PDF file.