Monday, May 10, 2021

Loughborough experts to lead £170k COVID-19 immunity passports project

Design experts at Loughborough University are to lead a £170,000 project that will explore how best to design COVID-19 immunity passports.

Principal investigator Dr Panagiotis Balatsoukas and a team of researchers from the School of Design and Creative Arts and Brunel University London will investigate how artificial intelligence (AI) and user-centred design research can be used to design immunity passport services that keep us safe without compromising human rights.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the project will run until December 2021 and will involve hosting focus groups, interviews, a series of online questionnaire surveys – including a large-scale UK-wide survey, participatory design workshops, and systems modelling.

Information gathered using these methods will be used to produce specifications that outline immunity passport service design for use in travel and work, as well as in sport and cultural events.

Dr Balatsoukas says currently, immunity passports – which are also referred to as ‘vaccine passports’ – are being discussed as a product, whereas this research will approach immunity passports as a complex health system.

He explained: “Immunity passports should be seen as a service that will automate and help regulate the process of gaining, monitoring and retaining immunity.

“Not only could they provide us with some evidence or proof of whether someone has received the vaccine or not, these services could also help us monitor changes in immunity status at the population level.

“This could help us anticipate or predict forthcoming virus breakouts, and support different businesses and organisations – such as aviation, travel or creative and cultural industries – with the integration of immunity passports into their daily operations and business models without compromising human rights and civil liberties.

“Such immunity passport services could also allow us to regulate and monitor when and how information about the immunity status of the population is shared between different countries and organisations, and guarantee that appropriate audit and feedback is in place when it comes to the safe use of personal information about someone’s immunity status.”

The researchers will merge modern AI-driven technologies with experience design research, specifically design thinking approaches, to co-produce with stakeholders (including immunologists, virologists, public health professionals, the NHS, businesses and the public) design specifications for immunity passport services that are relevant to users’ individual needs.

Dr Balatsoukas said: “The truth is that there is nothing similar in place in the UK or elsewhere so it is difficult to give a concrete example of how an immunity passport should look like. However, we know what it should not look like.

“We are hoping to examine how technology, people’s needs, tasks and processes can be mapped and modelled into an integrated whole that makes it possible to monitor and manage the immunisation process, but at the same time without compromising human rights and civil liberties.

“This project will generate new knowledge about how to design such services.”

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