Research areas: Research into Participation and Health Services
"We are all lateral thinkers"
They all come from different disciplines but have much in common: Professors Sandra Verena
Müller (Social Work), Ina Schiering (IT/Computer Science) and Martina Hasseler (Healthcare). In an
interview the three explain what unites them, what the aim of the research area "Research into
Participation and Health Services" is, and why their research is particularly important right
Healthcare, Social Work, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering – in the Research
into Participation and Health Services, these four Ostfalia faculties are working hand in hand. Why
remove the borders between these subjects?
Martina Hasseler: Because that's the only way to arrive at new ideas. We are working on
technical and social solutions in order to improve services in the healthcare system and the
participation of "vulnerable" people, as we say in scientific fields. We'll manage this only if we
are surrounded by researchers who think differently to us. In Research into Participation and
Healthcare, we are all lateral thinkers.
Ina Schiering: We are part of a generational change. The University fulfils a different role
today than it did just a few years ago. Many social problems can only be dealt with if we remove
any blinkers and work in an interdisciplinary manner.
Many technicians and engineers, computer scientists and electrical engineers are working under
your "research" roof. What are the reasons for this?
Ina Schiering: Progressive digitization and the triumph of the smartphone. The technical
applications offer us a lot of potential in the area of Research into Participation and Healthcare.
To give one simple example: Using smartwatches, we can help people with executive function
disorders, i.e. with task and activity planning, not to lose sight of their day-to-day goals. This
is achieved by the watch telling them to do their shopping or to take the next bus.
What connects you three and your research colleagues?
Sandra Verena Müller: Our common objective. We want more people to participate in society: by
autonomously organising their everyday life, holding down a job, or taking part in cultural life.
Our target groups are very diverse, e.g. stroke, tumour and traumatic brain-injury patients, and
people with intellectual disabilities.
Tell us about one of your projects.
Sandra Verena Müller: We have for developed – for the first time in Germany – a method for the
early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease for people with intellectual disabilities.
Knowledge of dementia or of a suspected case enables both the sufferer and their families, and the
employees of the institutions in which they live, to adapt to the situation and therefore get
appropriate treatment for the person affected.
You are researching with people, for people. What does this mean for your work?
Ina Schiering: As a computer scientist, IT security and data protection are my speciality. In
Germany, individuals have the fundamental right to determine for themselves what information about
them is used, and how. This means that people decide for themselves what happens to their personal
data. Because we work with sensitive information that cannot be disclosed externally, it is my
responsibility to strengthen people's rights – for example, by working with data sparingly, or by
anonymising or pseudo-anonymising data.
Sandra Verena Müller: The Senate Commission on Research Ethics, which I chair, inspects all
research requests to check whether they correspond to the ethical criteria: whether the
participants in the study are properly informed of their rights, what data is collected and how it
is subsequently processed. If the application does not meet the criteria, we subject it to
Martina Hasseler: We work with people who are particularly vulnerable due to their physical and
mental condition. This makes it all the more important that we plan the research in a well
Why is your research currently so important?
Martina Hasseler: More and more people in the area of healthcare and nursing are experiencing
poor levels of quality. Why? A shortage of skilled workers. The fact that the shortage in the
long-term care sector is not just a concept, but in fact a reality, can only be determined by our
studies. We conduct applied research and want our projects to contribute to better healthcare.
Is your research changing society?
Martina Hasseler: We take societal trends into account in order to change society, in an ideal
Sandra Verena Müller: We anticipate changes and respond to them. We are faced with many
challenges – from demographic change to migration. We are dealing now with how we want to live in
twenty years' time.
Why is Ostfalia a good place for research?
Sandra Verena Müller: Because Ostfalia is very research friendly...
Martina Hasseler: … and my university brings me together with colleagues from other
Ina Schiering: Interdisciplinarity is the key to our success.
Last, but not least: Could you say in one sentence what it is about your work that makes it
Sandra Verena Müller: Because every day I tackle important social issues and gain knowledge that
Ina Schiering: Because I can help people exercise their right to informational
self-determination – and because, in a university environment, I get to work with many young and
Martina Hasseler: My motivation is to expand on knowledge in my area of expertise, and at the
same time improve healthcare.