comfortable while conducting
In this article, we share and detail
problem scenarios from our collective
experience of household deployments
across two research projects. Thirteen
deployments were conducted by two
researchers; eight were carried out by
one researcher alone. The problems
to consider fall into three themes: 1)
equipment issues; 2) interaction with
participants; and 3) practicalities.
Drawing across these, we have
compiled a checklist for researchers
to consider before they begin studies
involving deploying technology in
the home. This is not an exhaustive
list; it’s intended to stimulate further
discussion around preparing for
research in the wild.
Technology downtimes. Nobody likes
other people messing with their
Internet connection. If you are
deploying technical equipment in
the homes of participants, consider
if this can interfere with existing
technology or connections. For
some households, losing the Internet
connection even momentarily can be
a big inconvenience. For example, we
were conducting a deployment for a
participant who ran a business from
home. Temporarily disconnecting
them from the Internet to install
a sensor on their router left them
unable to speak to customers and
business partners. Additionally, it
can take time for the connection to
be re-established after plugging in
the router. Let the participant know
beforehand if possible, and ask them
to plan for potential outages. Perhaps
you may not be deploying equipment
that can interfere with the Internet
connection—but can it interfere with
anything else, such as a running DVR?
Swapping sensors. Looking through
an appliance electricity dataset, you
might rub your eyes at the sight of the
TV, for example, producing 1800 watts
in a short burst, twice a day. You swore
you monitored the correct device—
only to collect your equipment from
the household to see your TV sensor is
actually on the kettle instead. How can
this be? It’s important to consider who
may be in participants’ homes for the
duration of the study—grandchildren
might take an interest in swapping
sensors around without grandma’s
Tbatteries were once seen as power- hungry and inefficient [ 2], whereas just three years later they were noted
as being more reliable than wired
power in some cases [ 3]. We believe
that documenting our experiences
will benefit junior researchers who
are conducting home deployments
for the first time, allowing them to
plan and think about the potentially
unexpected. Even veterans who sit
on ethics committees might benefit
from reading our reflections, using
them to probe future researchers
into considering some of the more
overlooked factors of entering people’s
homes for research.
As “digital plumbers” themselves,
Tolmie et al. [ 4] recognize the problems
of household deployments and have
presented four design solutions
that may aid researchers when
deploying technology in the home.
These include creating tools that
support deployments and maintain
study knowledge as research teams
evolve over time. While we see these
as extremely useful takeaways, we
identify problems of home deployments
that go beyond their technology-focused perspective.
Doyle et al. [ 5] offer advice to
researchers to ensure that elderly
participants feel comfortable and
confident in having technology
deployed in their homes. For
example, they discuss providing
a 24-hour helpline for participants
to phone in case of technical issues
and breakdowns, as well as utilizing
swappable systems when doing
repairs or replacing equipment in
participants’ homes to minimize
disruption. We build on this advice
and also provide insight into
keeping researchers safe and
1. Seriously consider what you will be tampering with during the deployment and try to
mitigate any potential downtimes you may cause, particularly if it concerns something
as important as a householder’s electricity supply or Internet connection.
2. Involve the participants as much as possible in the deployment: Ask them to help move
their furniture or belongings when you’re deploying the equipment, and ask them to
maintain a log for debugging in which they note any changes or thoughts that have
involved the deployed equipment (e.g., to highlight if, when, and why sensors have been
swapped). These small requests can make both the deployment and the data analysis
easier while also ensuring the householders feel more involved.
3. Make sure more than one researcher is present for every deployment where possible.
This will spread the burden of the technical and entertainment roles needed and
guarantee safety in numbers.
4. Have the awk ward, inevitable conversation with participants upfront (and make note of
the outcomes) so that everyone has the same understanding of the boundaries to room
access and that data will not be shared between household members.
5. Ask participants before arriving at their home about transport and parking within the
area, and also the presence of other life forms in their home (e.g., children or pets).
This will allow you to better prepare yourself for different household dynamics and
additional, admin-level stresses to the deployment.
6. Drop by deployment locations prior to the study itself to determine your phone’s signal
strength or uncover any other unforeseen issues associated with the area. If there are
issues, politely decline the household for the study—your safety is crucial.
7. Most important: Consider yourself. Think about any mental and physical health
impacts of the deployment. Prepare for potential flare-ups or additional work- and
travel-related stress. Leave yourself enough time to plan, to travel, and to deal with
unexpected queries or problems.
Similar to when a plumber, electrician,
or other tradesperson visits your home,
you the researcher are the visitor
that disrupts the day-to-day routine
of the participants.