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Refining the tools of the trade Read our latest interview on tools and methods, this quarter featuring Rob Shaw, Higher Scientist at the Health & Safety Laboratory, and Prof Marcus Ormerod, I'DGO

What research methods and tools do we use?

I'DGO has a multi-method approach to research. This means that we use a number of ways of collecting data, as well as measuring indicators of quality of life, allowing for the ‘triangulation’ (cross examination) of findings. Most of the work we do takes place in the ‘real world’; whether it be auditing a neighbourhood for accessibility, observing behaviour, interviewing participants or running focus groups, as well as equipping older people to collect their own data (via activity diaries, self-completed questionnaires and accelerometers). We also undertake literature reviews and - for I'DGO TOO - have worked with volunteers in the laboratory.

Our multi-method approach has helped us to take on board the perceptions and preferences of older people in their own words, as well as to assess outdoor environments and activities independently, thus producing findings that encompass both subjective and objective aspects. Our tools, some of which were wholly or partly created by us, are fine-tuned to individual preferences: a relative first in this subject area. Our use of ‘trade-off’ data, for example, has allowed us to examine older people’s preferences for environmental attributes through Choice-based Conjoint Analysis; generating and testing different design scenarios. The interactive nature of this work has helped to bridge an appreciable gap in built environment research and been instrumental in translating our findings into practical guidance.

I'DGO One Literature Reviews

In 2003, at the outset of the first phase of Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors, each of the three I'DGO research centres reviewed existing findings on the outdoor environment and older people’s quality of life, as well as the methods and approaches used to collect and analyse this material. This review of already-available data took in literature across a range of subject / policy areas - including environmental psychology, landscape architecture, gerontology and public health - and resulted, together with focus group findings, in the development of the table “Aspects of Quality of Life (QoL) Influenced by Outdoor Environments”. This review of already-available data took in literature across a range of subject / policy areas - including environmental psychology, landscape architecture, gerontology and public health - and resulted, together with focus group findings, in the development of the table "Aspects of Quality of Life (QoL) Influenced by Outdoor Environments" (see Theories: How have we conceptualised ‘environmental support’?). You can read a summary of the literature review findings on our theories page, under the heading How does being outdoors impact on independence, qualify of life and wellbeing? To view and download a full literature review on the benefits of access to outdoor environments for older people (prepared by Dr Susana Alves and Dr Takemi Sugiyama in December 2006), please click here.

I'DGO TOO Literature Reviews

Do gardens matter? The role of residential outdoor space (ROS)

For the residential outdoor space element of I'DGO TOO, WISE began by reviewing existing policy and guidance as to what features of residential outdoor spaces might be important for older people’s wellbeing. This resulted in a seven point summary of the factors most likely to have an impact. In tandem, after reviewing standardised measures of wellbeing, the team identified ways in which being in - or being able to see - a favourite residential outdoor setting could impact positively on an older person, again producing a point-by-point summary. To read more about this work, download our publication Do gardens matter? (published March 2010, pdf, 605kb).

I'DGO One Focus Groups and Workshops

For the first phase of Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors, I'DGO researchers held 15 focus groups with older people, during which a total of 86 participants told us about their wellbeing and quality of life, how often and why they went outdoors and what features of their local neighbourhood helped or hindered their activity. Eight sessions were facilitated by the OPENspace team in venues across Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cornwall; seven by WISE and SURFACE in London, Cheshire and Wales. In developing the schedule for these qualitative research groups - which included both frail and fit older people - we interrogated the literature on focus group best practice; taking on board policies such as limiting groups to around six people, holding sessions in accessible venues and ensuring that each lasted no longer than an hour. As well as being asked to discuss themes - such as the benefits of going outdoors - on a group basis, participants were asked to complete a ‘personal details’ sheet and, for the WISE and SURFACE research, to comment on photographs of environmental features; rating them for their impact on quality of life. Together with data from the literature review, the work led to the development of the table “Aspects of Quality of Life (QoL) Influenced by Outdoor Environments”. This review of already-available data took in literature across a range of subject / policy areas - including environmental psychology, landscape architecture, gerontology and public health - and resulted, together with focus group findings, in the development of the table "Aspects of Quality of Life (QoL) Influenced by Outdoor Environments" (see Theories: How have we conceptualised ‘environmental support’?).

In 2005, after OPENspace’s exploratory work with older people, the team held a focus group with landscape architects and urban designers. We invited them to discuss environmental characteristics that they thought might encourage or discourage older people to use open spaces and, additionally, to identify attributes of good design guidelines. The exercise helped us to interpret our research findings for one of our key outputs: the development of design guidance for practitioners.

I'DGO TOO Focus Groups and Workshops

Tactile paving design, siting and laying.

The tactile paving study completed by SURFACE under I'DGO TOO has involved three focus groups with 25 variously impaired people aged 65+. The sessions were held in Australia and New Zealand for the ‘international comparison’ element of the research. To read more about this work, download our publication Tactile paving design, siting and laying (published March 2010, pdf, 788kb).

During the first part of our study (2003-2006), we completed three surveys of older people using questionnaires: two by OPENspace; and one by WISE and SURFACE. Respondents who volunteered to participate further in the project were then interviewed to obtain more detailed data. The success of this approach fed into I'DGO TOO, with each of our studies involving questionnaire surveys and follow-up interviews as a means of data collection. Working collaboratively with the VivaCity research consortium, we have also surveyed design professionals by questionnaire.

I'DGO One Questionnaire Surveys and Interviews

The first OPENspace questionnaire survey was a cross-sectional study exploring the associations between the quality of outdoor environments - particularly neighbourhood parks and open spaces - outdoor activities and older people’s quality of life. The self-administered questionnaire was distributed by post to a sample selected randomly from 20 local authorities - 17 from England, 2 from Scotland and 1 from Wales - as well as older people in sheltered care and those from a minority ethnic background (who contributed via facilitated translated sessions). Of the 2218 people contacted, around 10% responded. For an in-depth description of this methodology - including details of how environmental support, quality of life, functional capability, health and demographics were measured - please view or download our survey profile (opens as a pdf, 276kb).

The second OPENspace questionnaire survey completed during the first phase of I'DGO was, again, a cross-sectional study conducted on a self-administered basis. Using a partial design, the research team constructed a Choice-based Conjoint (CBC) questionnaire in order to assess people’s preferences about the attributes of outdoor spaces. Participants were asked to consider 14 pairs of attributes (such as plentiful greenery, good facilities etc.) and state which, in each pair, they would prioritise, acknowledging that, in the ‘real world’, people do not generally have access to ideal all-round environments. For an in-depth description of this methodology - including details of the data collection procedure, number of participants and the range of measures and instruments used - please view or download our survey profile (opens as a pdf, 261kb).

572 participants across both OPENspace questionnaire surveys contributed valid responses to the research. Of these, seven were contacted to undertake accompanied walks (or ‘walk along interviews’) with I'DGO team members, having volunteered to do so at the questionnaire stage. In each case, starting at the participant’s house, the older person was asked to guide the researcher to a local open space, pointing out environmental factors along the route that made it easy or difficult for them to get outdoors. Seven walks were completed: two in Dundee; one in Edinburgh; two in Newcastle; and two in Ayr, where the weather was so bad on the day that ‘talk through’ interviews were all that was possible.

The questionnaire survey of older people conducted by WISE and SURFACE during the first phase of I'DGO was completed on a facilitated basis, with the questionnaire used to inform a semi-structured, conversational interview between researcher and participant. In total, 200 older people took part, drawn from a range of different types of location and housing tenure in the Greater Manchester, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire areas. Developed from the table, “Aspects of Quality of Life (QoL) Influenced by Outdoor Environments”, the five-part questionnaire was used to ask people how they felt about and experienced their neighbourhood as a pedestrian and what their preferences were with regards to both the general urban form and detailed design of outdoor environments. For an in-depth description of this methodology - including details of how we used photographs in the research - please view or download our survey profile (opens as a pdf, 273kb).

I'DGO TOO Questionnaire Surveys and Interviews

Do gardens matter? The role of residential outdoor space (ROS)

Surveying research participants by self-completed questionnaire was the principal means of data collection for the residential outdoor space study conducted by WISE. Developed and tested through pilot drafts, the five-part postal questionnaire asked respondents about both the residential outdoor space currently available to them and their ideal ROS, with particular emphasis on views from the home. As well as obtaining general data, such as length of residence, size of household etc., the questions invited older people to self-assess their health, independence and quality of life and comment on their satisfaction with the local neighbourhood. For a more detailed description of this methodology, which elicited questionnaire 2,558 responses and incorporated follow-on interviews with 30 older participants, please download our publication Do gardens matter? (published March 2010, pdf, 605kb).

Pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods

A five-part questionnaire was one of several methods of data collection used on the OPENspace study on pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods, which involved nine ‘intervention’ sites and nine ‘control’ sites across England, Scotland and Wales. The questionnaire then formed the basis of a semi-structured, face-to-face interview between researcher and participant that took place in the interviewee’s home. As the research was longitudinal - exploring changes to people’s environment and wellbeing over time-participants were invited to be interviewed twice; especially important with regards to questions such as how they rated their local neighbourhood, how satisfied with life they were and how healthy they considered themselves to be (using previously validated scales to explore a range of quality of life factors). For a more detailed description of this methodology - including details of how participants were recruited to the project - please download our publication Pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods (published March 2010, pdf, 1mb).

Tactile paving design, siting and laying.

For the ‘real world’ element of the I'DGO TOO tactile paving study conducted by SURFACE, the research team devised two toolkits: one for assessing crossing sites; and one for assessing step sites. Take-home questionnaires and on-site interviews with passers-by formed a key part of the crossing site toolkit, allowing the team to survey over 1,400 people with regards to their experience of tactile paving, as well as their health and history of falls (972 by questionnaire; 430 by interview). For each of the 48 UK crossing sites in the study, the researchers also interviewed the local authority highways department responsible for its implementation, maintenance and safety. For a more detailed description of this methodology - including information on the international comparison element of the study - please download our publication Tactile paving design, siting and laying (published March 2010, 788kb).

I'DGO One Behaviour Setting Surveys and Behavioural Observations

During the first phase of I'DGO, the OPENspace research team conducted natural observation of older people’s behaviour in nine UK parks (three in Dundee; six in Newcastle). Since the parks had previously been identified as examples of good practice, this allowed the research team to identify typical ‘behaviour settings’ - constructs relating to how a person behaves in a given, and appropriate, environment. It also allowed them to note any design features that seemed to facilitate and enhance the use and enjoyment of the parks by older people. The study complemented accompanied walks taking place in Dundee, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Ayr (see Questionnaire Surveys and Interviews).

I'DGO TOO Behaviour Setting Surveys and Behavioural Observations

Pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods

OPENspace researchers undertook a total of 4,643 behavioural observations across the nine sites involved in the I'DGO TOO pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods study. This allowed the team to independently record people’s activity - regardless of age - in the streets within the study area: both DIY streets (which were subject to Home Zone-type interventions between 2008 and 2010) and ‘control’ streets (which remained unchanged). The observations complemented other lines of enquiry - questionnaires and work with activity diaries and accelerometers - by objectively measuring the activities undertaken and social contacts made in outdoor environments. The methodology drew on a recognised protocol developed over twenty years ago by the Danish urban designer, Jan Gehl.

Tactile paving design, siting and laying.

To ensure consistency across the I'DGO TOO tactile paving study, SURFACE devised toolkits for ‘real world’ assessment which established a protocol for observation-led research at both crossing sites and step sites. In total, the protocol was followed at 66 sites in the UK (48 pedestrian crossing sites; 18 step sites) plus two step sites in Australia, amounting to 180 hours observation of 5,107 people. As well as observing people using the crossing or steps themselves, researchers looked at the routes to and from the sites, noting what appeared to be potential hazards and / or enabling features. This work complemented the auditing of the sites for factors that may influence pedestrian safety, the on-site interviewing of crossing or step users and the distribution of take-home questionnaires, as detailed in our publication Tactile paving design, siting and laying (published March 2010, 788kb).

I'DGO One Mapping and Auditing tools

For the first phase of Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors, WISE measured the urban form of 200 neighbourhoods; places within a 300 metre radius of the home of each participant in the interview stage of the research (see I'DGO One Questionnaire Surveys and Interviews). The audit was strictly limited to areas accessible by older people on foot and carried out during ‘off peak’ daylight hours using 1:1250 scale OS maps. A four-part ‘urban form checklist’ was adapted from similar tools designed by WISE at the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development (OISD); updated to incorporate findings from I'DGO One Literature Reviews and Focus Groups. For a more detailed description of this methodology - including the criteria measured in each of the checklist’s four parts - please view or download our audit profile (opens as a pdf, 252kb).

SURFACE audited the same 200 neighbourhoods as WISE at the level of ‘detailed design’; looking at the provision, design and condition of every-day features that impact on pedestrians, such as footways, shelters, seating etc. Again, the areas covered were those accessible on foot within a 300m radius of participants’ homes, with the audit taking place during daylight hours using 1:1250 scale OS maps. The tool used was a checklist designed by WISE at OISD; adapted to incorporate findings from I'DGO One Literature Reviews and Focus Groups, as well as the experience of the SURFACE team in undertaking work of this nature. For a more detailed description of this methodology - including the characteristics measured - please view or download our audit profile (opens as a pdf, 256kb).

I'DGO TOO Mapping and Auditing tools

Do gardens matter? The role of residential outdoor space (ROS)

Using readily available online tools, such as EDINA Digimap Carto, Google Earth and Microsoft Bing Bird’s Eye, WISE mapped the characteristics of the ROS available to each participant in the residential outdoor space element of I'DGO TOO. Particular emphasis was placed on the seven aspects of ROS most likely to have an impact on the wellbeing of older people - such as type, amount and layout - as detailed in the publication, Do gardens matter? (published March 2010, pdf, 605kb).

Pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods

For the pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods element of I'DGO TOO, OPENspace audited each street in the study area: both DIY (streets subject to Home Zone-type interventions between 2008 and 2010) and ‘control’ (unchanged streets). Based on a checklist of elements - from the pattern of street trees (if any) to the range of buildings and paving surfaces - the audits allowed the research team to independently record the characteristics of local street environments. They utilised an updated version of a tool developed by OPENspace researchers for measuring the ‘walkability’ of urban streets (by Millington and colleagues as part of the Scottish Physical Activity Research Collaboration - SPARColl). For further information, please download our publication Pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods (published March 2010, pdf, 1mb).

Tactile paving design, siting and laying.

The toolkits SURFACE devised for assessing the ‘real world’ sites included in the tactile paving element of I'DGO TOO incorporated a mapping feature that documented the context in which the tactile paving had been sited. Additionally, working with I'DGO partner, the Health & Safety Laboratory, the researchers refined both the means and the protocol for assessing the slip resistance of the paving, as well as other environmental aspects of the sites that may influence pedestrian safety. Provision was made for assessing the extent to which the tactile paving had been designed and laid in accordance with guidance and for recording hazards on routes leading up to - or away from - the sites involved (66 in total in the UK). For further information, please see our new feature on refining the tools of the trade.

I'DGO TOO Activity Diaries and Accelerometers

Pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods

Activity diaries were used by the OPENspace team to allow participants in the I'DGO TOO pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods study to record their activities and social contact in ‘real time’, independently of researcher-led observation. The diaries were kept over the course of one week, during which time each participant also wore an accelerometer during normal waking hours. The accelerometer counted the number of steps each participant made and the duration, type and intensity of each of their activity ‘bouts’ during different time periods (hour-to-hour, day-to-day etc.). For further information, please download our publication Pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods (published March 2010, pdf, 1mb).

I'DGO TOO Laboratory-based work

Tactile paving design, siting and laying

The laboratory-based element of the I'DGO TOO tactile paving study was carried out by the Centre for Health Sciences Research at the University of Salford. Based on participants’ use of a nine metre long walkway simulating a controlled pedestrian crossing, it focused on the relationship between tactile paving when laid according to the Department for Transport UK guidelines, the biomechanics of walking and the fear and risk of falling. Data was collected using optoelectronic cameras that tracked the position of reflective markers on safety-harnessed participants as they negotiated different paving scenarios (smooth, tactile and combination). For a detailed description of this methodology, including details of the laboratory protocol and data analysis, please download our publication Tactile paving design, siting and laying (published March 2010, 788kb).



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I'DGO - Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors. Last updated 30 Nov 2012

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