3 min

Social Participation in Rural Areas

St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences develops communication and service platform for older people

St. Pölten UAS

In an increasingly digital world, it is important to provide low-threshold access to digital offers of information and communication to everyone.

The platform UMBRELLO, developed at the St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences, makes this possible for digital services in communities: it offers everything from information provided on community portals, healthcare services and regional news to the opportunity of video-based communication via the television set.

The platform was recently presented to mayors in the Pielachtal region of Lower Austria and the research results regarding the development of the platform were published in the form of a white paper on “Digitale.Dorf.Dienste” (digital community services).

Participation in Digitalisation

The gradual digitalisation is changing the access to an increasing number of services. Be it the procurement of daily consumer products, the provision of healthcare, public transport, community organisation or contact with the authorities – new forms of participation are created all the time. This is relevant for older people as well. At the same time, the changing age structure of society and associated costs for communities lead to greater social and health-related challenges.

“We see an increased need and stronger demand for assisted living in combination with nursing services, psychosocial and preventive health services, and the easy and autonomous procurement of regional products and services”, says Johannes Pflegerl, Head of the Ilse Arlt Institute for Social Inclusion Research at the St. Pölten UAS.

The objective of the platform UMBRELLO, developed by the St. Pölten UAS, is to offer support in this endeavour. The project team members recently presented the platform to mayors of the Pielachtal region of Lower Austria. The St. Pölten UAS had collaborated with this region in the platform’s development.

Digitalisation of Services

The platform is designed to provide access to digital community services: in addition to age-appropriate communication, it presents information and (online) activities relating to community life, offers interactive applications for social assistance and health promotion from a distance, and combines it all with regional news and infotainment. The platform is meant to incorporate the existing services of community portals, health centres, health services, associations and local companies and make them accessible.

When it comes to assisted living, socio-medical services and relatives could, for example, get into contact with the elderly through the platform. With the help of computer-aided training guided by real persons, the television set could motivate older people to engage in fitness exercises. Furthermore, experts could answer questions pertaining to nursing, hygiene, exercise and nutrition online.

Mayor Kurt Wittmann from the Pielachtal region says, “While the young people communicate via Facebook & co., the elderly are restricted to passive consumption in front of the TV at home or have to make their way to the distant supermarket, which often takes a lot of effort. It is our task to address the needs of the people and bring the technologies to their homes.”

Easy to Use for Older People

The technical requirements often discourage older people from using certain devices, thus making it harder for the elderly to avail themselves of inexpensive and usable services of information and communication. In the development of the platform, the researchers therefore placed particular emphasis on easy handling and integrated older people in the design process.

The platform consists of a tablet which serves as a sort of remote control, and a connected TV box. Without configuration effort, the setup turns the television set into the user-friendly core of the video-based service and communication platform. The developers are now looking for partners to implement their project.

A Variety of Target Groups

The results of the research projects on the platform have now been published in the form of a white paper. For this study, one of the tasks of the researchers at the St. Pölten UAS was to identify potential target groups. For example, more than two million people over the age of 60 in Austria are in need of care or have limited mobility.

The study also examined how further target groups could be integrated and what advantages the platform could bring for them. For instance, initiatives could use the platform in order to establish a village community and persons wishing to offer services and information could do so via the platform as well.

The St. Pölten UAS developed the platform together with the small Pielachtal region of Lower Austria, the company Kabelplus, and senior citizens. Workshops also included representatives of communities, trade and commerce, the healthcare sector and educational institutions.

Projects relating to the platform

The projects for the development of the platform were supported by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology within the framework of the “benefit” programme. The departments of Social Sciences, Health Sciences, Media & Digital Technologies and Media & Economics as well as the Service and Competence Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning (SKILL) of the St. Pölten UAS all participate in the project. Their project partner is the regional planning association of the Pielachtal region.

White paper on the project (in German)