Think of yourself as adaptable and spontaneous? Then change happens and takes your breath away.
16/4/13 Update: 100K on offer to improve fruit & vegetable supply and access, and to promote a culture of healthy eating in Victoria!
My time working on the Ageing and Caring project as part of the Radical Redesign team was one of the most amazing, life changing experiences of my life. At this time I also got married, pregnant and then had my beautiful daughter all while being challenged in every facet of my professional life. The support of my wonderful husband and fantastic work mates (I couldn’t have had better ones!) made all the difference. Strong support networks were one of the keys to success for me and really helped me weather the sometimes rough seas.
I’m a born and bred no nonsense South Aussie girl. For the past 10 years I’ve worked in Aged Care and loved it. I started in a Residential facility as a Lifestyle Coordinator and then moved to work for the City of Salisbury at one of the most innovative seniors centres in the state, the Jack Young Centre (JYC).
JYC is vibrant and exciting, there is always something going on. With around 1000 members and 200 volunteers the place just buzzes. I loved working with the people and I was really good at my job. Despite all of this positiveness and the great place JYC was and still is, I always had in the back of my mind that I could do more. It was that something that kept niggling away at me, reminding me that there were lots of other people out in the Salisbury community who were not into the stuff we were doing at JYC (however diverse and interesting we thought it was). These people wanted and needed something else. Our dilemma as staff was two-fold. Initially it was where to meet them – they didn’t use JYC and then how to connect with them. Secondly how were we to design something they were into? What we were trying just wasn’t working.
After another failed attempt to start up a different program to attract the sort of people not currently hanging out at JYC and not into what we were already doing I remember feeling stuck, just not knowing what to do. I wondered ‘why are we so good at recycling current members but find it so hard to bring in new ones?' Why were we so stuck in our old ways of designing programs?’
In August 2011 I was seconded to TACSI from the City of Salisbury. The secondment was about learning new ways of working with people and engaging with the community, looking at the creation of programs and services from a different angle and being exposed to some new skills and ways of approaching work. I was pumped, this was such an exciting opportunity for me. Everything was brand new and I felt like a kid on their first day of school. All awkward and tentative and even a bit scared. It would take a while for my natural confidence and style to really shine through. I felt like this even though this was change I had actively sought. Imagine if this sort of change was being imposed on you, if you were resistant. Now that would be scary! I knew I had a lot to learn in order to do my job back at Salisbury better and to give more to the community.
Like everyone, particularly people who work in Aged Care I did my job in a certain way. I'd done it for so long that most of it was done on autopilot and I rarely (if ever) questioned why I was doing things in a certain way or even why I was doing them at all. Joining the Radical Redesign team opened my eyes to just how rigid my style had become. The team was made up of people from varying backgrounds – community development, design, education, business – I was the only person with an Aged Care background which put my practices under the microscope. Having to explain to others why I did things in a certain way really opened my eyes and help me identify some of those areas where there might be a window of opportunity to change and do things differently.
THREE BIG THINGS ABOUT WORKING AT TACSI:
1. I’m a people person, that’s what I do!
Working closely with lots of different people has always been a key part of my job, my favourite part in fact. This was one thing that I did really well but my time with TACSI has ramped up my style and helped me develop some new techniques to understand people better. We spent extended periods of time with people – sometimes a few hours, sometimes a few days – just doing what they do, where they do it. I sat on couches watching Oprah, went along to hairdressing appointments and sipped coffee in busy food courts. Hanging out with people in this way helped me uncover different stuff about people, the stuff that makes them tick. Initially this approach was quite foreign and uncomfortable. I felt like I was bludging at work and wasn’t even sure if it was worthwhile. After a short period of time I saw results and these feelings disappeared. The best example of this was an 89 year old lady who had been a member at JYC for years. She appeared happy and jovial, often cracking jokes and telling stories. The several afternoons I spent with her at her house completely changed how I knew her. I got to see how she really lived and the daunting family, health and financial problems she faced on a daily basis. Hard stuff like wondering where her next meal was coming from, trying to reconnect with family and being hung up on and being so ill and lonely that she wished not to wake up in the morning. Really tough, in your face stuff that she had kept hidden as I hadn’t ever interacted with her on her turf, where she was who she was.
What people tell you about themselves and what their homes and lives tell you about them are two completely different things.
2. I know because they told me and I saw it with my own eyes
I’ve always looked for evidence to back up decisions I’ve made or give reason for programs I’d designed. Being a people person this evidence was mainly anecdotal. At TACSI I learnt to look for, understand and use academic research to back up and give more meat to what we were designing. Using this sort of evidence gave me the confidence that we weren’t just plucking things out the sky and designing stuff for a mere few. It was helping us to flesh out issues and address some of the complexities. I found trawling the internet for these articles and then learning how to understand and effectively use them a really tough long haul. At times it was also pretty dry – but in the end it was so vital to the whole process. It’s what give great new ideas a loud voice. One that the likes of upper management and funders can hear and if you want to get off the ground, their ears have to be open.
3. It’s okay to stuff up…no really it is!
I’ve always worked in environments where getting it right was the only way to go. Usually there is some support for people to learn and make mistakes and even some language about encouraging i,t but essentially success is measured by getting it right. Coming to TACSI with that mindset caused me quite a few road blocks as this kind of work needs you to get it wrong. It needs you to try things that don’t work, or only half work. You need to get frustrated and wonder what it is your going to do next. You need to get to that point where you think it’s never going to work because that’s when you really start to work out some of those new ideas or bits of ideas. Persistence and getting it wrong. That’s where the success is.
Jenna Romaine is currently on maternity leave after the birth of her first child. She is looking forward to heading back to work at the City of Salisbury in late 2013 where she plans to implement much of the co-design way of work she has learnt to love. Jenna continues to work with TACSI by sharing her experiences and insights about what it was like to learn and work in such a new way. If you would like to contact Jenna please do so by leaving a comment below or via staff at TACSI.
The Economist recently ran an article on the sharing economy, what they call peer-to-peer rental. The role that organisations like AirBnB are playing by enabling people to share the ability to use physical spaces like their houses for rent. This creates new opportunities to use inherently underutilised capacity and revenue streams. A whole new business model has been created by AirBnB. This is the sharing economy.
TACSI is excited to announce that we are looking for a new Marketing and Fundraising Manager.
Read our interim report: Creating change for Aboriginal families.
I realise this whole blog post is going to sound gushy and over the top but to be completely honest (trust me, I find it difficult to be anything but!) every scerrick I type is probably not even close to accurately describing the experience I’ve had. When I was first seconded from the City of Salisbury there is no way I couldn’t have predicted the gradient of the learning curve I was set to experience. Pretty much vertical!
Weavers is a new role - akin to a midwife - for friends & family in caring situations. It’s not a support group. It’s not a professional service. It’s people who have been in the thick of caring and share the know-how they gained along the way.
As Family by Family celebrates its first birthday, I've been reflecting on what we as Family by Family staff have achieved. With a fair amount of pride I can safely say that we've achieved a huge amount. I've also been reflecting on what we can do better.
My biggest challenge since joining Family by Family has been a very typical struggle to balance my work and home lives. I have two young children and a partner who works full time. I need to be explicit here and point out that I love working (part time) and actually think that I'm a better mother for it. However, much like having children, no one can prepare you for being a part of a start up organisation.
Children or no children, it's a constant juggling act. I've needed to find the balance between continually going out of my comfort zone, trying new things and making mistakes in order to move forward with making sure I've looked after myself to be able to recover, reflect and create. It's been a year long roller coaster ride and there have been times I've wanted to get off. I'm sure I'm not alone.
So what's kept me on? Support. And in a start up where there is a lack of established systems in place to help guide us, good relationships become crucial. With so much at stake it's easy to become absorbed in your own work and pressures. Even having the time to think about what others are doing and how they're feeling can seem impossible but we must. I have also learnt that innovation and creativity requires accepting vulnerability. I wonder if once we begin to accept our own vulnerability as being useful as opposed to a weakness will we become more supportive and understanding of those around us?
I am grateful. I have flexible work hours to suit my family's needs and I work with a great bunch of people for whom I have much admiration and respect. But as we begin the next phase of our start up and begin to scale, we need to think about sustainability. We want people to mostly enjoy the roller coaster ride and to begin to appreciate vulnerability. What systems can we put in place to ensure that every member of our team feels supported? How do we ensure that a rift doesn't occur between people out in the field and the people in the office like it does at so many workplaces?
Recently we released our first independent evaluation report of Family by Family. Outcomes for families taking part in Family by Family were overwhelmingly positive. Approximately 90% of families reported that things were going better or heaps better for them. If we want to continue having these great results for families in the long term then we have to support the people working with them. One of our next big challenges is how we might do that.
In prototyping mode we tend to err on the side of doing over talking about doing. The last week didn’t leave much spare time for reflective blog posts in between working with the Weavers and Care Reflect team to calculate different business model options for different partners. What if Care Reflect loops were the professional development solution for community care services that make cities truly and measurably Age-Friendly? What if Weavers was the hyperlocal app that lets every baby boomer plan their caring future, and then a road trip or their finances.
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