Trajectories to Community Engagement

Understanding older people’s experiences of engagement with online and offline communities

“Whilst the communal benefits of online communities and social networking sites (SNS) are now enjoyed by many Internet users, they remain of limited appeal to many older people. Given current concerns over social exclusion of the elderly in ageing societies such benefits are of potential importance for this age group. SNS can be used to augment pre-existing interpersonal and local community ties (Ellison et al, 2007), highlighting an important offline to online connection which remains largely unexplored for older users. In this project we will investigate what motivations exist at a local community level for older people to engage with online communities and consider the on-going effect on local community involvement. We aim to provide rich descriptions of trajectories into and between offline and online communities. These will directly contribute to our understanding of the impact of digital technologies on community, in line with the goals of the Communities and Culture Network+.”

(Harley et al., ‘Case for Support)



Read the final report for this Study:

Harley et al. 2014,  ‘Trajectories to community engagement: Understanding older people’s experiences of engagement with online and local communities‘. Working Papers of the Communities & Culture Network+ Vol.3 (April 2014).


Key Participants:

Dr Dave Harley (Principal Investigator) is a senior lecturer in Cyberpsychology at the School of Applied Social Science, within the University of Brighton. His research focuses on older people’s appropriation of emerging technologies (principally computers, the Internet and mobile phones) and considers the psychosocial implications of such technologies for the experience of ageing. Within this field he has a particular interest in addressing intergenerational dynamics and the empowerment of older people through participatory approaches to technology design. He completed his PhD at the Interact Lab, University of Sussex in 2011 and has published a number of journal papers on the subject. He has also worked as an academic consultant undertaking user experience research for organisations such as the NHS Library, MacMillan Cancer Research and Random House Books.

Dr Kate Howland (Co-Investigator) is a lecturer in Human-Centred Technology in the Department of Informatics at the University of Sussex. Her research examines the ways in which novel technologies can support users in creative, social and playful activities. Her PhD research involved the participatory design of software tools to support multimodal and interactive narrative creation. She has previously investigated the use of technology by over 50s for playful purposes through survey research, and recently contributed to a CCN+ scoping study looking at literacy and expertise in digital media across community groups, including museum staff, children and families, and older people.

Eric Harris (Research Fellow) has worked as research fellow over the past ten years, being focused on understanding what new forms of human computer interactions are afforded by new and emerging technologies. Most recently his involvement with the EPSRC funded Motivating Mobility project (EP/F00382X/1) looked at uncovering motivations which might exist in supporting the rehabilitation process of stroke survivors. To inform this he spent considerable time understanding the experience of stroke patients, their family/carers and their health professionals. Eric’s most current work concerns developing a project called ‘OlderView’. This work is an effort to actively seek the opinions and engagement of the older community concerning their experiences when dealing with new and emerging technologies. Website:; Twitter: @OlderViewTweets.

Cara Redlich (Research Assistant) is a PhD Student at the School of Applied Social Science, at the University of Brighton. Her PhD research concerns ageing, care and technology. By using qualitative ethnographic methods, she will explore how care is practiced and experienced in online social networking environments. She intends to focus her research specifically on the practices and experiences of older people and their caring relationships with others. She is particularly interested to understand how both the giving and receiving of care is facilitated by online practices and how this can fit into wider networks of informal care. Previously, Cara undertook academic study at The University of Manchester and later at The University of Sussex, as well as research placements at the Division of Health & Social Care Research at King’s College London.