This Is not Participatory Design - A Critical Analysis of Eight Living Laboratories

Stud Health Technol Inform. 2017;233:78-92.


Design of Health Technology for elderly and care personnel has a high priority because of a severe increase of elderly citizens in need of health care combined with a decrease of resources in the health care sector. Desires for maintaining and improving the quality of care while reducing costs has resulted in a search for approaches that support co-operation between technology designers, elderly persons and health care professionals on innovating future care technology. Living laboratories, where areas of a care environment are transformed into a so-called platform for technology innovation, are popular. Expectations for living laboratories are high but examinations of how such laboratories support the intended participatory innovation are few. This paper presents and examines eight living laboratories set up in Danish nursing homes for technology innovation. We present the notion of a living laboratory and explicate the aspirations and expectations of this approach, and discuss why these expectations are hard to meet both on a general level and in the investigated labs. We question the basic assumptions of the possibility of reconciling the different interests of the stakeholders involved. In our analysis we focus on users in the living laboratories. We use guiding principles developed within Participatory Design to reveal the role and participation of the users - the health care professionals and the elderly - in the eight living laboratories. In general, these users played a minor role, in the labs where technical problems turned out to be main activity. We conclude that living laboratories do not nullify different/conflicting interests and that a real-life setting by itself is no guarantee for user participation.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Technology
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Humans
  • Laboratories*
  • Nursing Homes*
  • Technology