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Designing with aged care residents from a distance

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The Creative Wellbeing Program is an initiative to introduce creative practices in care services. The program is run by Juan Sanin, Fellow in the Health Transformation Lab (HTL) and Lecturer in the School of Design in RMIT University. Using a ‘friendly hacking’ approach, Juan embeds himself in care organisations, where he works with staff and users to establish ‘lo-fi living labs’: spaces for social innovation based on improvisation, local knowledge, low-tech and DIY. The program started in 2019, when Juan worked with Bendigo Health creating a lo-fi living lab to introduce art-based activities in the psychiatric services of the hospital. 

This year, the HTL is bringing the Creative Wellbeing Program to Royal Freemasons Gregory Lodge, an aged care facility where Juan and a group of Industrial students plan to create a lo-fi living lab to design toolkits for delivering visual arts and storytelling activities for residents. In early March, Juan and his students visited Gregory Lodge a couple of times to meet and hang out with residents, but a couple of weeks later Covid-19 was declared a pandemia, spatial distancing measures came into place, and aged care facilities were locked down. 

Figure 1. Students and residents 

Although face-to-face collaborations had to be suspended this wasn’t the end of the project. The group of designers have started a remote collaboration with Gregory Lodge residents. Building on the method of cultural probes and assisted by Matiu Bush (Deputy Director of the HTL), Juan and his students are sending ‘care packages’ to 18 residents involved in the project. Each care package includes a letter, chocolates and a series of prompt cards that will facilitate a conversation between residents and students. Based on these conversations students will gain insights and inspiration to complete their projects.

Figure 2. Care package and its contents

Since spatial distancing measures came into place, work, education, research and social life have moved to online platforms. Online research collaborations are becoming very common, but a digital format wouldn’t have worked well in this specific project. Students have enjoyed hand-writing the letters (something completely ‘new’ for some of them) and the residents have expressed gratitude and happiness after receiving their care packages.

Figure 3. Resident receiving package

Gregory Lodge staff is helping the team of residents and designers to continue the collaboration. At the end of Semester 1, students will send functional prototypes of their projects, which include a self-published zine presenting stories and art works made by residents; a toolkit for recovering forgotten trades & hobbies; a ‘reminiscence box’ that will help Chinese residents to connect back with their motherland; and a ‘prompt capsule’ for engaging residents in visual arts, performative and literature activities. Each prototype will include instructions explaining staff how to test the prototypes with residents and recommend improvements. Next semester these prototypes will be refined to be implemented as part of the Creative Wellbeing Program for Aged Care. 

Figure 4. Resident reading the letter sent by one of the students

Public lecture: DöBra: Designing a good death in Sweden

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Monday 21 October 2019 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Health Transformation Lab, Level 2, 155 Pelham St, Carlton, VIC 3053

Register for this event here


A partnership with the Health Transformation Lab and School of Art Creative Care:

Professor Carol Tishelman and PhD student Max Kleijberg, from Karolinska Institutet Division of Innovative Care, will discuss a program of end-of-life research within the Swedish context. Carol leads the DöBra (a pun meaning both ‘dying well’ and ‘awesome’ in Swedish) program, which is a cohesive national transdisciplinary research program. The DöBra research program aims to investigate how culture, the environment and conversation can promote constructive change and support better quality of life and death among the general population, in specific subgroups and in interventions directed to staff caring for dying individuals, their friends and families. DöBra uses ideas from new public health and the Ottawa Charter as umbrella theoretical frameworks and participatory action research as an overarching methodological approach, working with a range of projects in different settings to combine stringent research with sustainable change processes. In DöBra, we work in partnership with stakeholders and researchers with a wide variety of backgrounds in health care science, social sciences, humanities and creative practices. Carol will present the background to the program, its individual components, and discuss some of the challenges and possibilities encountered that may be relevant for the Australian context. Max will discuss his application of art and action research in the DöBra research program.

Professor Carol Tishelman is Professor of Innovative Care, at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. This position is a joint position with employment at the Centre for Rural Medicine in the remote north part of the country, as well as with the Stockholm health care services.

Carol grew up in the Bronx, New York, has a background in women’s studies, and received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania, USA. She has lived in Sweden most of her adult life and has worked at Karolinska Institutet, where she also received her PhD, since the mid-1980s. Carol instituted a research group in Innovative Care Research through an Endowed chair as Professor of Innovative Care funded by Investor AB (October 2014-Sept 2019) , and now co-leads the group, which has now grown to a Division. Carol has conducted research in palliative care for several decades, and leads the national competitively-funded DöBra research program in Sweden, aimed at integrating palliative care, public health and health promotion. She has been on the steering board of major international organizations in her field, i.e. International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care, the European Society for Psychosocial Oncology and the European Association for Palliative Care. She is recently become the 2nd registered nurse elected to Academia Europeaea ( equivalent of a European academy of arts and sciences).Carol has received competitive funding from a range of national agencies and has led major national and international projects in a variety of areas related to nursing, (e.g the Swedish component of the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership on awareness, attitudes and beliefs about cancer in the population, and Swedish PI for the EU 7th framework financed RN4CAST project, on nurse workforce issues).

Max Kleijberg is a PhD student in Sweden at Karolinska Institutet, at the Division of Innovative Care Research in the DöBra research program. Max is originally from the Netherlands and has a design background with experience in working with innovation and social entrepreneurship projects in transdisciplinary groups. His PhD research is a participatory action research project aiming to support community engagement in end-of-life issues. Max collaborates with various community-organizations to develop Studio DöBra: places where children and elderly people can meet and work together on the theme of death and loss through art projects.

Health Network launch

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The RMIT Health Network was launched on Tuesday 12 March in Storey Hall, RMIT University!

The event began with opening remarks by Health Network co-convenor Professor Renata Kokanović (Social and Global Studies Centre, RMIT University) and Professor Ralph Horne (Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation for the College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University).

Following the formal launch of the Health Network by Distinguished Professor and RMIT University Design and Creative Practice Enabling Capability Platform (ECP) director Larissa Hjorth, we had the pleasure of welcoming an amazing panel of four speakers assembled around the theme: Interdisciplinary mental health research: Why and for whom?

Felicity Callard, Visiting Professor to RMIT University and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, University of London, presented on interdisciplinary collaborations across the medical humanities and social sciences. Her insightful talk covered the importance and complexities of interdisciplinary collaborations, and the productive research pathways and connections that such work open.

This was followed by Indigo Daya, Human Rights Advisor, Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council (VMIAC) and Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, whose presentation outlined the necessity of engaging with people with lived experience of mental health diagnoses in research. Indigo provided some much-needed perspectives on the importance of ethical engagement, co-design and co-production of knowledge on mental health.

Professor Stacy Holman Jones (Monash University) and Associate Professor Anne M. Harris (RMIT University) closed the afternoon with an engaging performative talk on the significance of creative arts-based methods in mental health research. Their presentation offered critical thoughts on how creative arts-based methods of data collection and knowledge translation can benefit people with lived experience of mental health diagnoses, and in turn transform what counts as knowledge on mental health.

The Health Network convenors would like to thank the Social Change ECP for supporting this event and Felicity Callard’s visit, and the Design and Creative Practice ECP for the support in setting up our site.

We are planning a few more events in 2019, stay tuned!

Interested in joining us? Email: