Research project on elderly people’s encounters with digitized welfare services receive 4.8 million from the Swedish Research Council

The Swedish Research Council granted SEK 4.8 million to a research project that will study senior citizens' (65+) encounters with digitized welfare service interfaces. The project brings together four researchers from different universities. Ernesto Abalo, Associate Professor in Media and Communication Science at The School of Education and Communication, is one of the researchers in the project.

“Getting this funding feels very good,” says Ernesto Abalo. “We have worked hard on this application for a long time, and it is nice to know that we can now implement this research idea, which we believe is important both for the understanding of the societal consequences of digitization and for the development of digital interfaces so that they become more inclusive.”

How are welfare interfaces (such as, and municipal websites) designed and what do they require of the user? How do senior citizens understand, feel and act in their encounters with these digital interfaces? How can these interfaces be developed to facilitate their use for senior citizens? This is what the research project Digitalt som default? Äldre medborgare och välfärdens gränssnitt (Digital as default? Elderly citizens and the interface of welfare) will examine. The project group consists of Tobias Olsson (Project Manager, Malmö University), Mia-Marie Hammarlin (Lund University), Dino Viscovi (Linné University) and Ernesto Abalo.

Old woman at a computer

Foto: Anna Shvets,

“Our starting point is the fact that the authorities maintain that digital platforms should be the first choice of contact between the public sector and citizens, even though we don't really know much about how this affects older people. The previous research that exists on the digital habits of the elderly generally shows that they are a vulnerable group when it comes to access to and use of digital media. At the same time, we don't know much about their particular experience of using digitized welfare services, which is important to investigate because access to them is central to the possibility of exercising their citizenship. It is easier to opt out of Zalando than 1177 or the Swedish Pensions Agency,” says Ernesto Abalo.

Ernesto Abalo

Associate Professor in Media and Communication Science at The School of Education and Communication.

The project will use a mixed methods design to capture several stages in the elderly's encounters with the digital interfaces. An analysis of website' interfaces will be combined with interviews and vignette experiments with older users.

“The project design allows us to get a comprehensive understanding of the digital interfaces and the elderly's encounters with them. By doing partial studies where one of the methods is central, we can capture different parts of the meeting between the elderly and the interfaces. The aim is that each sub-study should be informative for the next sub-study, in order to finally be able to gain insights into how the interfaces can be developed to become more appropriate for older citizens. I will personally be carrying out the interface analysis, which consists of exploring the structure, design and language of the websites, in order to find out, among other things, what skills the websites require of the users,” says Ernesto Abalo.

The research project will last for three years, starting in January 2023. The project was granted funds in the Swedish Research Council's call for project grants for research into the societal consequences of digitalization. 11 out of 158 applications received grants, which resulted in a grant rate of 7 percent.