The fifth social design talk focussed on a new social care experiment called Care4Care. The founding idea belongs to Dr Heinz Wolff, and revolves around the concept of creating a care time-bank which pays its members back over generations. Volunteers who give their time now accumulate care hours which they can then claim back when needed, later in life. They can also use some of their hours to get care for family members if necessary. The care givers amass a care pension in hours rather than pounds: so, unlike a normal pension, it is not vulnerable to inflation or recession.
This is not clinical care – this is an attempt to foster, through the creation of long term rewards, friendships and relationships within local communities that will ultimately become caring in the original sense of the word. This is an attempt to recreate ties within communities where people care about, rather than care for people in need. The care recipients are likely to be older people who want to stay in their own home, but might not be able to tend their garden, cook hot meals, clean the house properly, etc.
The project is being run by a team at the Young Foundation, led by Sylvia Wyatt, with funding from Nesta and the BLF. It is currently being tested in a number of locations and communities across the Isle of Wight, administered on the ground by Age UK.
This experiment is a fascinating proposition on a number of fronts: still in its developmental stages, there are a number of unanswered questions. Is it ok to explicitly incentivise friendship? Could it be micro-funded, at 25p per hour, for example? Can it be run on trust (in terms of carers billing their hours correctly)? How sustainable will it be as a system existing entirely outside of the current state run system? Would it risk eventual absorption into the NHS and would that be harmful (see Thomas Kohut’s blog on the toxicity of government’s brand)? And, as asked by our respondent John Worth, is it possible to reclaim the word ‘care’?
However for the purposes of this talk we were really interested in dissecting the design input to the project, and what it had contributed. Although the professional designer on this project (Lucy Kimbell) is embedded in the Young Foundation, the project was already well underway, in terms of the principle structure, when she became involved. The design contribution therefore consisted of what could be added in the development of the pilot, rather than the overall design of the model. This is social design as a set of methods and practices, rather than the design of a social service.
Whilst the design input was limited to a few days, and therefore Lucy’s interventions were fairly pared down, this makes it a very precise case study: what can design usefully and tangibly contribute in a few days to a developing social enterprise? The design contribution consisted of three main elements.
1. Introducing the idea of the service journey.
This is a timeline of the user’s experience of engaging with the service. For Care4Care the service journey is broadly: find out about the programme, sign up for it, start caring, continue caring, and eventually access credits. Within each stage of this process there will inevitably be particular touchpoints and material artefacts (which could be digital) that users would interact with. As part of a 2-day workshop on the Isle of Wight, the team tested this journey map, and some very rough mock-ups of some of the artefacts that they might encounter, with a range of potential users (volunteers, non-volunteers, service professionals and school kids). This prototyping activity gave them some useful feedback on how users would interact with the designed stuff of the service.
2. Introducing a greater awareness of practices and context – a ‘thicker’ appreciation of users.
The design team then tried to shift the project from being user-centred, to being more aware of practices and contexts. In the Young Foundation there is already a very strong emphasis on user focus, and the Care4Care team were already working with personas: for example ‘Fred’, who is 75, lives with his wife, has lived all his life on the island, likes sailing. This is a relatively thin description. Lucy’s team tried to make this understanding deeper, by introducing something called a ‘story world’ – a description which recognises the individual as embedded in a social world, in which they have mental models about how and where they fit in, in which they relate and connect to people in different ways, they have things they are concerned about and value, and in which they have habits, routines, skills and knowledge (some of which they may not even recognise as skills). As one of the goals of Care4Care is to bring in new volunteers, that workshop focussed on constructing a persona who would not be a normal volunteer: ‘Planning Alan’. This persona was entirely made up, although based on the knowledge and insights of people already very familiar with world of volunteering and care. Through thinking about this enriched world of Alan, the team realised they didn’t know how someone who wasn’t a habitual volunteer might come across Care4Care in the first place.
3. Imagining interactions between care personas and the material artefacts of the system to throw up new questions about how it would all work.
Working with a mixture of MBA students from Oxford and design students from the London College of Communication, the team asked them to think about the fundamental premise of Care4Care, the interaction between the older person receiving care, and the volunteer giving care. This is, after all, really the core of the service. As part of this process the students interviewed three real life carers and used some of this insight to invent a range of story worlds. They also did a thematic analysis of the interviews, picking out issues which seemed to emerge repeatedly as a result of these interactions. For example, for the care recipient, one of the issues was about maintaining or losing their identity, and their sense of themselves as an autonomous and active person. For the carer, one issue might be how to maintain an emotional distance. Then they analysed in more detail the service journey. Is it digital? How does the recording of hours happen? What value is being created in the system? What kinds of resources are required to make this work? Finally they created story boards of fictional encounters, imagining particular scenarios: ‘what would happen if you had this persona, interacting with that persona, and with this time-banking system?’ Through this process further questions arose that hadn’t yet occurred to the Care4Care team.