Cross-generational Co-creation Starts with Understanding the Needs of the Seniors
Enable Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to social innovation, applies a design research approach to address global social issues through solutions co-created in a cross-generational and cross-disciplinary manner. Dr Yanki Lee, founder of Enable, reckons that Hong Kong people are creative but they need an incentive to unleash their potential. She has been trying to draw the attention of the public, especially the young people, to the issue of ageing through a series of projects. In 2017, Enable initiated three ageing-related projects through Social Innovation Design Lab (SI.DLab): Dementia Going, Fine Dying, and Productive Ageing. In this project, young people are partnered with senior citizens to explore together the problems associated with ageing. This enabled the young ones to think from the elderly’s perspective and gain a better understanding of their physical and psychological needs. Through various creative activities, Enable aspires to inculcate a new concept of ageing in the local community.
A vision stemmed from a close family bond
Why does Enable focus on the issue of ageing? Dr Lee was inspired by her intimate relationship with her grandfather since childhood. Their in-depth discussions on life and aesthetics also prompted her to study architecture in London, and cultivated her habit of exchanging ideas with the elderly in her pursuit of innovation. Design thinking is a human-centred practice, and Yanki believes the “human” here means the senior citizens as they are the most important “resource” in various social studies. Committed to raising public awareness of and promoting discussions on different social issues, Yanki co-founded Enable Foundation with Ire Tsui, Head of Communications. Ire applies her experience in international design research for over a decade in working with local design talents. Bringing together the information and insights gathered by the team over the years, the three ageing-related projects aim to encourage young people to interact with the seniors, and understand their feelings and needs through empathy and imagination. The projects also pave the way for developing innovative ageing projects under the new “We design for our future selves” movement.
Creative burial idea by experiencing death
The Fine Dying project is a good example of Enable’s unique approach. Through visits to cemeteries, crematoria, end-of-life care facilities and to attend burials at sea, the young participants came to understand vividly the concept of life and death. These firsthand experiences became a source of inspiration for the students to design an object to be used after death. With reference to the ashes scattering device ideas for garden burial co-created by the young and senior participants, the design team and product design studio Milk Design developed four to five prototypes. Guests, young and old, were invited to join a future green burial mock ceremony and watch the demonstration featuring the prototypes. The design team took into account the feedback from the students, senior citizens and frontline cemetery staff members in selecting the final design known as the “Envelope”. It is a one-off device that allows family members to write down their last messages to the deceased. After further communication with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and fine-tuning, “Envelope” is now available for garden burial ceremony in the Gardens of Remembrance.
Ire notes that without a physical object, it may be difficult for people to fully grasp a concept. Therefore, Enable would like to share the findings of the three projects with the public for more focused discussions, and to create new possibilities by consolidating individual feelings and views instead of proposing only a binary “good” or “bad” conclusion.
Empathy: key to design thinking
Yanki stresses that empathy is the most crucial element of design thinking, yet it is rarely understood by Hong Kong people. Empathy requires us to stand in others’ shoes and forget about our own stances and views. We even need to “become” our audiences in order to know their actual needs. The design thinking expert attributes the lack of understanding and practice of empathy to the local culture and education that attach too much importance to rationality. She explained that empathy is different from sympathy. For instance, when she visits a nursing home with some young people, they will feel sorry for the elderly and want to offer some help. However, what they show is sympathy, not empathy.
Another example is how Hong Kong people perceive Dementia. As people only have a vague idea of the medical condition, they would perceive a senior citizen as “abnormal” if his or her behavior defies the standards applicable to the “normal people”. Dr Lee explains that some patients with Dementia may not have the concept of privacy, and may even forget to pay when shopping. She hopes people can know this condition better and respond to it creatively from the perspectives of the patients and their families. This will be the theme of the Foundation’s upcoming Dementia Hong Kong project.
The life experiences of senior citizens can help address various urban issues and give young people a better idea of real life. And through co-creation, we can challenge and change the conventional perception of ageing. Empathy not only inspires us today, but can also benefit the future generations. While the design research projects of Enable Foundation may come to an end eventually, their impact could be lasting and profound.