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Welcome to the Innovation Age: The Meaning of Home

Author: Tom Dawkins
Published Date: 29 September 2017

An Introduction to the Innovation Age

Over the next two decades the number of people in Australia aged over 75 will double. The generation of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) is often described in aggregate as the wealthiest and potentially healthiest generation in Australia’s history. Many have suggested that they will not only change the face of ageing, but also profoundly influence Australia’s broader economy and society. The coming demographic shifts are often portrayed as a ‘crisis’ or a threat to Australia’s standard of living.

At the Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) we have a different perspective. We see the coming change in Australia’s demographic landscape as fostering enormous opportunities. We look at what is happening across the country amongst baby boomers, across the service provider sector, in civil society, the private sector and in government and what we see is that the coming two decades and beyond marks the beginning of a new age of innovation.

Through the foresight of the JO & JR Wicking Trust, we have an opportunity to bring together those people, groups, organisations and institutions who similarly see the opportunities ahead to have a different conversation and sow the seeds for different solutions about what it means to ‘age well’ in Australia, and how we can ensure that all people in Australia can access opportunities to age well, rather than this being only an option for those who are wealthy and healthy.

At TACSI we see social innovation as focussing around two essential ingredients; starting with people, and focussing on what it takes to build better outcomes at a systems level.

Over the last few months we have focussed particularly on the first of these. We have spent time with a diversity of baby boomers, understanding how they see this idea of ‘ageing well’.

A great deal of research has already been carried out about what it means to ‘age well’. Much of this research outlines some big themes that are believed to help people to remain well and active into older age. We wanted to hear what these themes mean in the context of people’s lives. And we wanted to hear about what happens when people don’t have experiences of, or don’t have opportunities to ‘age well’.

We are sharing what we have learnt by spending time with baby boomers not to just add more research to an already well researched field, but as a way to reach out and invite people, organisations and institutions to join us over the next couple of years to dive into answering the question of what it means and what it takes to age well in Australia.

Home: a first focus for collection innovation

The insights that we generated from talking with baby boomers were rich and vast. The question we then had to ask ourselves was what part of this wealth of possibilities we should focus on first? We can’t focus on all the insights in terms of developing and trialling solutions – so which of these has the most potential to help us unpack what it takes to ensure every person in Australia is able to age well?

While there were quite a few patterns that emerged, one theme seemed to tie together many of the stories – the idea of home. The idea of home (a home, house, sense of place) not only opens up a very challenging space in which to start to innovate with baby boomers, partners and other innovators, but is also an opening into many of the other issues and themes that emerged from our discussions with baby boomers in the first phase of this work.

Home was spoken of as a critical issue by many of the baby boomers we spent time with – and it is also a key challenge at a systems level, with many suggesting that it represents perhaps one of the hardest issues to tackle in an ageing society.

We heard ‘home’ spoken of not just in terms of having a roof over our heads, but in at least four ways – as an anchor, a heart, an asset and a living room. In each of these ways, home was part of people’s identities, not just bricks and mortar. In this way home also came up regularly as a key variable in whether people were at risk of vulnerability, and whether they had a degree of resilience in the face of challenges. Having a home – a place, a sense of belonging, accommodation, and stability – was often core to maintaining resilience even in the face of many other things that could make people more vulnerable as they age.

Often home is discussed only as ‘house’ or in the context of home ownership. Certainly for those baby boomers with whom we spent time, while they were experiencing great financial stress or were actually without a house, a major priority was to find accommodation. However, for many people, where, how, with whom and with what level of independence and choice was just as important in terms of understanding their perception of ‘my home’ as opposed to just ‘a home’.

The debates in research and policy about what it means and what it takes to age well are also often centred on home. Unfortunately these discussions are often centred on rather narrow continuums – from ‘aged care’ as the focus of home, to ‘ageing in place’ where the focus is again on how to ensure people can stay in a house in the place where they feel most comfortable and belong. What we would like to do is to extend this notion of home out more broadly and explore the different ways baby boomers see home, and the ways home relates to different realms of life. These different ways of conceiving of home opens up a plethora of opportunities for further exploring ways in which we could design, trial and spread new solutions for home as a space in which people can age well in Australia. It takes us out of merely designing buildings to accommodate an ageing population (though this is still crucial!) and into the realm of spaces, places, processes, services and relationships that can help people thrive at home and in homes as they age.

It’s an exciting and somewhat daunting place to start. And, of course, it is not a place that we can start to explore on our own. If we are truly to make inroads into designing and trialling solutions in this space it will necessitate collective innovation.

This article first appeared on TACSI. To read the original article please click here.