A cultural, community-based approach to health technology design
Parker, Andrea Grimes
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This research has examined how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can promote healthy eating habits amongst African Americans in low-income neighborhoods, a population that faces disproportionately high rates of diet-related health problems. In this dissertation, I describe the formative research I conducted to obtain system design guidelines and how I used those guidelines to develop two applications: EatWell and Community Mosaic. I also describe the results of the in-depth field studies I conducted to evaluate each application. Both EatWell and Community Mosaic incorporate the cultural construct of collectivism, a social orientation in which interdependence and communal responsibility are valued over individual goals and independence. As researchers have generally characterized the African American culture as collectivistic and argued for the value of designing collectivistic health interventions for this population, I examined the implications of taking such an approach to designing health promotion technologies. EatWell and Community Mosaic are collectivistic because they empower users to care for the health of their local community by helping others learn practical, locally-relevant healthy eating strategies. I discuss the results of my formative fieldwork and system evaluations, which characterize the value, challenge and nuances of developing community-based health information sharing systems for specific cultural contexts. By focusing on health disparities issues and the community social unit, I extend previous health technology research within Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). In particular, my results describe 1) a set of characteristics that help make shared material useful and engaging, 2) how accessing this information affects how people view the feasibility of eating well in their local context, 3) the way in which sharing information actually benefits the contributor by catalyzing personal behavior reflection, analysis and modification and 4) how sharing information and seeing that information's impact on others can help to build individuals' capacity to be a community health advocate. In addition, my work shows how examining cultural generalizations such as collectivism is not a straightforward process but one that requires careful investigation and appreciation for the way in which such generalizations are (or are not) manifested in the lives of individual people. I further contribute to HCI by presenting a set of important considerations that researchers should make when designing and evaluating community-based health systems. I conclude this dissertation by outlining directions for future HCI research that incorporates an understanding of the relationship between culture and health and that attempts to address health disparities in the developed world.