There are many things I’d do differently if I started the Tangible Memories project again tomorrow. Perhaps the most important thing I’d change however would be ensuring that we worked closely with care staff from the beginning. Our ‘gatekeepers’ were often senior managers who agreed to be involved, residents were asked if they wanted to be involved and were free to say no but care staff were never really approached at the beginning. In fact I think our focus on co-designing with residents obscured somewhat the need to work with care staff. Although contracts were signed with each home in which they agreed a member of care staff would be present in each of our sessions due to pressures of work, absent colleagues and issues related to what is considered to be ‘care work’ and what is not this very rarely happened.
In the last 6 months or so we’ve really stepped up our work with care home staff and I’ve met with managers frequently to make sure that the technologies we leave with them at the end of the project aren’t left on a shelf gathering dust. There are real challenges for managers in making time for care staff to do the one to one and group work with residents that we’re advocating for. This throws up all kinds of questions about what ‘care’ means and what the expectations are of someone who works as a carer in a residential home for older people.
In light of our realization of the importance of involving and working closely with care staff ‘on the ground’ we have been working with Alive! activities to design a process of working alongside care staff to introduce them to one of our prototypes – an app for storytelling. Last week up to 3 members of staff from each of our care homes came down to the university to be introduced to some of the techniques they might use.
Today Gill Roberts from Alive! activities and myself visited one of our settings to meet with care staff who had been given an ipad to help us test out our prototype storytelling app. Although the 3 members of staff had gone away from our session at the University fired up and ready to try the app with residents we found when we arrived that they’d not managed to find time to test the app with residents and they’d had various problems with using the ipad as well as with feeling confident enough to approach a resident to ask them to speak about their lives. Challenges were expressed and noted as, for instance: What questions can you ask? How do you invite residents to speak? How do you listen carefully to residents being comfortable with silence and allowing time for thought? How might you enable residents to use the technology themselves if they are able?
There is much work to be done here as we approach the end of the grant. Ensuring we do this collaboratively with care staff and residents will be the key to sustainability of the co-designed technologies in the care home settings.