Sakari Taipale

A digitalised everyday life is often also a shared life in which we learn from each other and support each other

Sakari Taipale
Doctor of Social Sciences (Social and Public Policy).
Associate Professor of Social and Public Policy and Head of Research Group at the Centre of Excellence in Research on Ageing and Care at the University of Jyväskylä.

What are you currently working on within the DigiIN project?

My research group is studying the use of digital devices and services by older people from a variety of perspectives. We are investigating factors that predict the use of digital devices at a later age, support the use of digital services and help to overcome barriers to use.
We are currently conducting, among other things, a follow-up study to see how the use of digital technology changes when people age, and we are looking at what factors predict increased and reduced use. We are also investigating the digitalisation of work with older people and, among other things, the use of the instant messaging service WhatsApp among elder care workers.
In addition, I teach a course on the digitalisation of society and communities in which we discuss the different topics of the DigiIN project and supervise theses at different levels.

Inclusion of older people in the digital service culture

What are the main objectives of the DigiIN project?

From the perspective of the sub-project I am running, the key is to identify those factors that support the use of digital services at later stages of life and encourage the formation of a positive relationship with technology based on one’s own needs.
It is also important to identify and recognise age-related factors that hinder or completely impede the use of digital services.

What are the key topics for your focus area?

The use of digital services by older people, with a particular focus on social and health care services, and the digitalisation of elder care work. Although older people are large users of these services, it is important to note that the creation of a positive relationship with technology and the development of digital skills often take place in other contexts. That is why we are also studying the use of different media devices and applications in leisure time and as part of relationships with family and friends.
In the best cases, enthusiasm for digital solutions transfers from one area of life to the others.

How is the research done and how are the answers found?

To get answers on the digital challenges faced by older people, we seek answers from and observe not only these people themselves but also their family members. A digitalised everyday life is often also a shared life in which we learn from each other and support each other. It is therefore also important to study those with whom the older adults share their everyday lives.
We apply a variety of research methods in the project, including questionnaire surveys, interviews and the elicitation method.

What results have been obtained?

Our research has shown that it is pointless to categorise older people simply as users or non-users because there is great variety in how they use digital devices and services. Their smooth use of one service does not guarantee the use of another service will also be a success.
Also, older people do not use digital services only on their own or in an independent manner, but also together with others.
The challenge often lies in applying previously acquired digital skills in a rapidly changing digital environment.

How do you see the future of digital services?

The use of digital services in social and health care services will certainly increase as the range of such services increases.
The use of services by older people will increase as the next generations reach old age. However, the rate of adoption can also be accelerated by taking better account of the special needs of older people in the planning and implementation of services.

Why are digital services important?

Digital services are not of value in themselves. However, they improve the availability and usability of services among user groups that have sufficient knowledge and skills to makes us of the digital service system. In some situations, remote services may also lower the threshold for accessing a service.
Is there a topic or activity that you think cannot or should not be ‘digitised?
Social welfare and health care services include many areas that are difficult or impossible to digitalise. A range of treatments and basic daily functions cannot be effectively implemented remotely or online.

What digital service do you use yourself (in your work or in your leisure time) and could recommend to others?

In my work and leisure time, I particularly make use of the digital services of libraries, and I also search for information about the sports services of municipalities and cities.

Have you had problems with any of the digital services you are using – how did you solve the problem or how would you like to develop the service?

‘Exceptional cases’ often present challenges for digital services. For example, the digital services of the Finnish Tax Administration are mostly excellent, but during the COVID-19 pandemic I have had to handle international taxation matters by telephone and sometimes even by post.
Around Christmas, I was able to obtain from the Posti chat service the solution to a problem I had. I was particularly pleased about this because I had previous not had much success when dealing with chat bots.

What do you do when you want to take a break from your job?

It is quite difficult to completely detach oneself from research work, but exercise and time outdoors seem to be the best methods for me. Water is for me the best element for washing away thoughts of work. In recent times, with the restrictions on swimming pool use, I have also taken up gravel biking and skating.