Ask Alexa Anything (a discussion tool)

For the Adept at Adaptation project, we have been developing interview protocols for discussing the potential benefits and harms of voice technologies and smart homecare systems.

Initially, we designed a set of very traditional social science-style questions:

  • Draft interview Schedule (paired interviews with disabled person and their carer)
  • General
    • Can you describe your disability, and give an overview of how it affects your day-to-day life?
    • Can you describe your living arrangements (i.e do you live alone, and independently, live with others etc)
    • Do you have support, in day to day living, from family members?
    • What type of activities do you need care support with, and how regularly do carers provide support?
    • How important is care support to you?
    • Are there any problems/challenges/limitations with your care support package?
  • Technology (non-specific)
    • Can you describe the main/most important technologies that facilitate your day-to-day living (including wheelchairs, cars, communication technology, computers, technologies in the home ..), and the capabilities they provide for you?
      • Who is responsible for providing/servicing/supporting these technologies (i.e. self, hospital, local authority ..)
      • To what extent have these technologies had to be adapted for you?
      • Can you give examples of the type of adaptations required?
      • Who does these adaptations, and how simple/difficult were they to do?
      • Are these adaptations that would be beneficial, but that you are not able to do?
    • In what ways, if at all, do carers require to use these technologies in providing day-to-day care?
      • Are carers involved in purchasing/organising/adapting/servicing the technologies you use?
  • Are there technologies you would like, but not able to have (due to funding limitations etc)?
  • Technology (AI/Voice)
    • To what extent, if at all, do you use Alexa-type AI voice-technologies?
    • What activities do they help you with?
    • In what way, if at all, has their use affected the type of care you receive, and the work of your carers?
    • Are there challenges/limitations in using these technologies?
    • Has it been necessary/useful to adapt these technologies, and have you been able to do that?

But after initial discussions with members of our project reference group, many felt that these were very impairment-focused and too restrictive in terms of the research agenda. We then decided to add a further step in the research process by asking our initial group of participants how they would ask these questions. The result of this process was a discussion format based on a more conversational, playful, and imaginative way to talk about technologies which we ended up calling ‘Ask Alexa Anything’.

This format enabled us to explore the possible meanings and uses of voice technologies in people’s lives without necessarily loading our questions with presuppositions. People came up with all kinds of unexpected responses (hard to achieve with a more directive survey format!), and this experience of a Social Action Research process began to guide our thinking about the project as a whole.

For more information about Social Action Research, see Mark Harrison’s publications on

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