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LEAD SUPERVISOR:  Prof Trish GreenhalghNuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences

Co-supervisor: Dr Gemma HughesNuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences

Commercial partner: No Isolation Ltd, London



The PhD will build on the international collaboration between the Universities of Oxford, Oslo, Oslo Metropolitan University, and No Isolation on the VIRTUAL PRESENCE study (Research Council of Norway funded). Virtual Presence is an interdisciplinary analysis of the emergence of 'telepresence technologies' as a partial solution to loneliness (2020-2024).

Loneliness and social isolation are emerging as key societal challenges, with loneliness generally referring to subjective experiences of a deficit of social relations, and social isolation to objective measures of social contact. There is significant scientific and policy interest in loneliness and social isolation due to concerns about the consequences in terms of poor mental and physical health and increased risk of disease and mortality.

No Isolation (a Norwegian/UK social enterprise) has successfully developed KOMP (accessible video technology linking older people with their relatives) and AVI (telepresence robot connecting children and young people with long term illness to school). With an increase in the use of technology to connect people living, working and studying from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the problem of digital exclusion requires new theoretical, and practical, answers.  People who are older, poorer, with fewer years of education and from certain minority ethnic groups benefit less from digital innovations for complex reasons.

The Oxford team (IRIHS, Interdisciplinary Research In Health Sciences) undertakes mixed-method applied research on the social science of new healthcare technologies. IRIHS developed the NASSS (nonadoption, abandonment and challenges to scale-up, spread and sustainability) framework for addressing why technological innovations often fail to reach their potential.  During the ESRC-funded Remote by Default’ Covid-19 project the team has adapted this framework to consider the practical ethics and complexity of offering remote consultations. The team are now investigating the ‘new normal’ of remote consultations with a focus on digital maturity of organisations and digital exclusion of communities in ‘Remote by Default 2’.


This project aims to support a BAME/bi-cultural student to engage with a minority community in the UK. The student will conceptualise the interacting factors (e.g. age, income, disability, ethnicity, culture, language) associated with digital exclusion and loneliness/social isolation in this community. The student’s placement at No Isolation will involve co-designing a new product, or adapt existing products, to respond to the challenges of social isolation and digital exclusion experienced by the community.


The project will incorporate the MRC’s foundation of new technologies and infrastructure in considering the development of new products, and how those products can be adopted within, or despite, the existing digital infrastructure. Our academic/industry partnership will contribute in particular towards the focus area of mental health, taking a holistic approach to the prevention and treatment of loneliness that incorporates social and cultural preconditions as well as the impact of multimorbidity.

The project will extend our academic work to facilitate the adoption of health and care technologies by addressing the interplay between questions of implementation and digital exclusion and will contribute to the development of new products and opportunities for our industry partner. In sum, we will work with a target community selected by the PhD student to overcome the well-recognised problem of digital exclusion in minority groups.


Apply using course: DPhil in Translational Health Sciences

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