Perspectives is a course-based program at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, which brings together design students with people living in long-term care for intergenerational exchange and storytelling. The program takes place over a 12 week semester and includes six, one-hour sessions involving small groups of students and people living in care sharing stories together, leading to the production of printed booklets featuring those stories.
The purpose of Perspectives is to create an infrastructure for meaningful intergenerational exchange and social interaction between students, people living in care, their families and care home staff through both the story gathering process and the process of distributing their stories in final, printed publications.
This program gives voice to people living in care homes, providing an opportunity for creative and emotional expression, stimulation of positive memories and the engagement in a unique and meaningful activity that can reopen their stories, while acknowledging their value and what they can contribute. Simultaneously, it offers students learning opportunities in storytelling, co-design and participatory design research. In an effort to scale this approach, encouraging other communities to participate, we have created this website and a How-to-Guide of the program.
“I think the most important thing for people as they age is to feel like they are a part of something.”
Co-Lead, Assistant Professor, Emily Carr University
As art and design educators, we’re always looking for ways to engage our students in socially-innovative practice, but meaningful ways to do so are often hard to find and difficult to accommodate because of institutional priorities, ever increasing workload and perhaps a certain amount of fear. The fear of not knowing what we’re doing, where to start and even that we could potentially make the situation worse through unthinking, misguided design. It’s always easier to dig out that reliable old studio-based project than think of ways for our students to engage with complex societal issues, but perhaps we have to be bolder and have conversations about how we introduce design students to complex issues and stop just making “stuff”. Leading Perspectives for the first time was one of the most daunting and fear-inducing experiences of my near ten year career; there were just so many unknowns. But it has become the highlight of my academic schedule and a class I loath to let anyone else teach.
While the publications created at Emily Carr are the obvious material outcome of the program, the process of making them also creates space for less-tangible benefits and things to be created: assemblies and infrastructures of engagement that enable legitimate participation from people living in care homes while fostering intergenerational exchange and endless creative possibilities between students and people living in care.
Co-Lead and Recreation Therapist, UBC Purdy Pavilion
Two years ago I was forwarded an email by my care home manager which offered an opportunity to connect the people living in our home with an intergenerational, co-design, storytelling program organized by Emily Carr University’s Health Design Lab. With too much on my plate at the time, I quickly read the program description and sent the email to saved mail.
Over the next few days, I had a gnawing sensation that led me to re-read the email and an intuitive understanding that we couldn’t pass on this opportunity for those living in our care home. I knocked on my manager's door and shared with her “I think there’s something here. We can’t turn down this opportunity to make these connections with Emily Carr University students.” And so began our Perspectives journey that has impacted the lives of 24 people to date in a great way.
I had the privilege to witness this program run twice over and to discover first-hand what a research study later indicated: an opportunity to share one’s story contributes directly to heartiness, happiness and good health. Not only were participants motivated and engaged in each session, those who participated in the program began to take more interest in other care home activities and in community life. The booklets were cherished by the people living in our care home and proudly shared with family, friends and staff. I witnessed the magical relationships that were built each session and the joy it brought to those who participated from our care home and the students involved.
I can’t help but feel that this program needs to be recognized as Therapeutic Recreation best practice. Meaningful activity that enables people living in care homes to shine and to feel connected to their community; a legacy tool that helps care home staff better understand who the people living in the care home are and what they themselves cherish and chose to share; a program that runs with voluntary human resources (skilled professors) and their students; and all at no additional cost to the care home. At a time when resources in healthcare are limited, this program is truly a silver lining.
My hope is that you will come to understand the merits of this program, that you will step forward to initiate your own Perspectives program and provide people living in a care home near you with the benefits of opportunity for increased connection to their community, increased self-esteem and meaningful engagement that has long-term impact. In the words of one participant, “I can’t believe that these young people travel across town just to hear our stories. We must have something important to say!” (Perspectives Participant from Purdy Pavillion, 2019).
Co-Lead and Director, Health Design Lab, Emily Carr University
While Perspectives is facilitated by students, the overall program was also conceptualized by academics, designers and researchers working within the Health Design Lab, a research centre at Emily Carr University. Having observed challenges and opportunities within the seniors care space through past projects, we identified that there was an opportunity for design to further support common goals in many care homes: how might we learn from people living in care homes so that we can provide better care and how might we provide increased social engagement and opportunities for meaningful contribution within limited recreation therapy budgets?
The program is our design response (one of many that’s needed) which addresses a number of the challenges presented by long-term care. It looks at the broader community in which care homes are situated and identifies existing resources which can be combined in new ways for social innovation. It’s a strategy which looks not only at how one group in the community can serve another, but how multiple groups (students and people living in care, but also universities and care homes) can serve, and ultimately benefit, each other.
The Health Design Lab has played a role in conceptualizing, piloting and validating the Perspectives program over the past two years in collaboration with Communication Design faculty, Jon Hannan. Inspired by the original Zeitgeist Kollectiv in Zurich, we adapted the program to suit our curricular and local needs, and we hope this guide will encourage others to do the same. Our vision is a range of Perspectives programs being offered between care homes and schools across communities, each achieving their own benefits and impacts related to intergenerational exchange, storytelling, and community-centred learning.
Health Design Lab
Research Lab, Emily Carr University
The Health Design Lab is a research and design centre at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. We use participatory design methods to catalyze, support and amplify initiatives that address complex health challenges. To us, health is more than healthcare. Health is about community, culture, equity, agency, and much more. As a team of designers, including faculty, research associates and students, we work collaboratively with communities through storytelling, visualizing, making and co-design. Collaborations and projects may seek to foster new ideas, uncover needs or opportunities, improve systems and services, amplify voices and stories.