J Med Internet Res 25 (-) e45750 [2023-07-17; online 2023-07-17]
Participatory Design (PD), albeit an established approach in User-Centered Design, comes with specific challenges when working with older adults as research participants. Addressing these challenges relates to the reflection and negotiation of the positionalities of the researchers and research participants and includes various acts of giving and receiving help. During the COVID-19 pandemic, facets of positionalities and (mutual) care became particularly evident in qualitative and participatory research settings. The aim of this paper was to systematically analyze care practices of participatory (design) research, which are to different extents practices of the latter. Using a multiyear PD project with older people that had to take place remotely over many months, we specify different practices of care; how they relate to collaborative work in the design project; and represent foundational practices for sustainable, long-term co-design. Our research questions were "How can digitally-mediated PD work during COVID-19 and can we understand such digital PD as 'care'?" Our data comes from the Joint Programming Initiative "More Years, Better Lives" (JPI MYBL), a European Union project that aims to promote digital literacy and technology appropriation among older adults in domestic settings. It targeted the cocreation, by older adults and university researchers, of a mobile demo kit website with cocreated resources, aimed at improving the understanding of use options of digital tools. Through a series of workshops, a range of current IT products was explored by a group of 21 older adults, which served as the basis for joint cocreative work on generating design ideas and prototypes. We reflect on the PD process and examine how the actors enact and manifest care. The use of digital technology allowed the participatory project to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic and accentuated the digital skills of older adults and the improvement of digital literacy as part of "care." We provide empirically based evidence of PD with older adults developing digital literacy and sensitizing concepts, based on the notion of care by Tronto for differentiating aspects and processes of care. The data suggest that it is not enough to focus solely on the technologies and how they are used; it is also necessary to focus on the social structures in which help is available and in which technologies offer opportunities to do care work. We document that the cocreation of different digital media tools can be used to provide a community with mutual care. Our study demonstrates how research participants effectively enact different forms of care and how such "care" is a necessary basis for a genuinely participatory approach, which became especially meaningful as a form of support during COVID-19. We reflect on how notions of "care" and "caring" that were central to the pandemic response are also central to PD.