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Growing aged population causes serious impacts toward social welfare in multiple countries and the long-term sustainability of welfare services has been questioned. Recent technological advancement in ICT and robotics domains attracts more attentions as a potential solution toward this challenging situation. However, technology integration to social welfare services has not been realized as effectively and efficiently as was expected. To clarify the requirements for assistive technology and its integration process, it is necessary to better understand how social welfare services are organized from the systemic perspective. In addition, an international study on social welfare services and the role of assistive technologies are required to tackle the global challenges caused by aging.
We first introduce the findings and remarks from the comparative study of Japanese and Finnish elderly-care service systems for successful technology integration. For this study, we have applied the theoretical framework of service system, which is characterized by multi-actor, socio-technical and institutional perspectives. The analytical targets cover a wide range of stakeholders such as the elderly, their family, care professional, manager of care service provider and municipality. We have applied a mixed method approach including individual / focus group interview, web questionnaire, work study at care facilities and case studies to test various assistive technologies. Applying these methods, we analyzed the characteristics of welfare service systems and the expected roles of technologies in Japan and Finland from multiple perspectives. The result of this study implied common basic needs and also various different requirements for welfare services and assistive technologies in each service system. Interrelated local institutions such as lifestyle, work culture and policy affect assistive technologies and their usages. This result emphasized the importance of understanding each local welfare service system more.
Therefore, we propose a concept of the global network for technology-assisted welfare service systems. This network consists of local hubs, which are organized by different kinds of actors, such as research organizations, technology developers / integrators, welfare service providers, policymakers and citizens. Each hub accumulates knowledge on assistive technologies and local welfare service systems through continuous research activities. Then the accumulated knowledge can be shared among the actors, which promotes service innovation. In addition, the local hubs share general knowledge and experiences on technology integration with the other local hubs for the best use of technologies in each welfare service system. We introduce the ongoing activities to develop such local hubs and discuss experienced / observed / foreseen benefits and challenges of the international collaboration within the global network.