What do you do when you want to keep posting insightful and interesting work, but you feel pulled in a range of directions and it keeps slipping down to a lower priority?

If you are lucky enough to have an incredibly talented and erudite friend and colleague nearby, you engage her to help out. That is what I did with Mary-Faeth Chenery and this is her first blog for me based on her experience of navigating the aged care maze for services for a family member.

Thank you Mary-Faeth

Diving in to build a new program or facet of your work

So it’s time to develop and promote a new program or a new facet of your work – and for that, you need some good, current information to build on. Where to start and how to streamline your information gathering efforts? Here is one approach to help you get started, make headway, and get it done!

I’ll use my recent experience with building a community program around caregiving for an ageing parent to illustrate this approach.

Phrase your new program/direction as a current issue – try expressing it as a question

My ‘problem’ was that I needed to learn about caregiving for an ageing parent – my partner’s dad – and I figured that if I needed this, so might others in the community. So the current issue was ‘Caring for an Ageing Parent’ , or expressed as a question:  ‘What do I and others in my situation need to know to care properly for an ageing parent, and how can we find out?’

Generate 5 keywords to guide your information search  the more specific the better

I started out with huge terms:  caregiving, aged care, home care, medical needs of the elderly. These were honed to more tailored and specific topics:  aged care in Hepburn Shire, transition from hospital to home care, Shire resources to support ageing at home, safety in the home, respite care

Identify 3-5 top sources for reliable, current information – people, organisations, journals, books, websites

I looked first for people who could advise me – the ones already engaged in the topic, who could give me shortcuts to what I needed to know. Found a few organisations – like COTA and Carers Victoria and a few terrific books that would show me the whole territory of my topic and identify the current issues and resources. Naturally, a few websites came into this, like myagedcare.gov.au

Read from 5 sources and interview 3 people about the possibilities

Aside from the reading, probably the best source of information were several local people who had recently gone through the process of caring for an aged parent. So they could tell me what they had learned, the best sources of information, and the hazards of the whole process. This certainly helped tailor the process of planning the program.

Mind-map as you go – write/draw/connect the ideas you are learning about from your information search on a blank page that you can turn into a map of the new program/direction

I am a visual learner, so it helps me to draw out the various elements of what I’m learning about, add concepts, show relationships, summarise ideas, make new connections between ideas. Out of this came a plan of the three key areas to cover in the forum that was emerging as the program design.

Stay wide open:  be prepared to – at least temporarily – suspend your present ideas about where you think the program is going

After the first stage of the program (where we held an information forum), one of the planning group members proposed the idea of broadening the program for the next stage – moving from a specific focus on caregiving to the promotion of ‘ageing well’ or ‘positive ageing’, which could include caregiving but took it much further. I had to suspend my preconceived notions of what the program was about and think about what the community needed and wanted. I think the program became better for that. So what started as ‘Stand by Me – An Information Forum on Caregiving’ became ‘Ageing Well in Hepburn Shire’.

Mentally – or with colleagues – test out a possible version of the new program/direction as you gain new information – ‘suppose it looked like this and worked like this – how good would that be? Would it meet the need?’

By this point we had a planning group of about 5 people, and ideas were tested here. Again, the program got better I think.

Ask:  where are the gaps?

One of the gaps we identified was that the need for caregiving often comes on quite suddenly – you don’t know you are going to need this information about aged care and caregiving until you need it desperately. Like, your parent with no warning ends up in hospital and is coming home to live with you. So the new program needed to convince people to learn about ageing and caregiving before it was needed. What are the best ways to do that via our program, we wondered.

Plug the gaps with more information searching

We tried to get more and more specific and find those who could really help us with detailed information and strategies around the gaps.

Ask big questions:  is this the best we can do to solve the problem? What would we do if we did not have resource limits? If we had our best clients design the program/direction, what would it look like?

For the Ageing Well program, this is probably our next phase:  an evaluation that looks at whether there are better approaches, new ideas, innovations to learn from.

Draft the first edition of the program/direction

A plan was sketched out for 12 months of work….

Test out the first edition in discussion with colleagues and friends who will be helpful and honest in their feedback

We have a great planning group – honest and supportive – so the plans have evolved over time, with lots of willingness to change and also to contribute. Couldn’t ask for more.

This process is just one way – but one or two of the ideas just might get you moving toward creating something new and transformative for your work.  All the best!