How can seniors share their legacy and wisdom with the greater community?
If individuals were to choose one unique and important lesson from their own experience to pass on to others, how might that knowledge live on after death? How might others learn this life lesson? As a project in PNCA’s Collaborative Design program, our team had three weeks to examine this problem space and develop a program concept and prototype for facilitating the sharing of life lessons.
“I have the belief that everybody has an important story to tell with important lessons to learn and I listen to that.”
— Ora, age 69
Because of the project’s short timeline, we needed to quickly get a breadth of data in order to form some hypotheses.
We started by conducting 14 phone interviews with participants from ages 8 to 76 and varied in gender, race, cultural background, and location. We asked two questions:
What is one of the most important things you’ve learned so far in your life and how did you learn it?
What are some different ways you have learned important things from other people in your life?
We also did desk research to see what scientists, doctors, and anthropologists had to say about elders sharing stories, intergenerational wisdom, facilitating end of life reflection, and the power of storytelling. We looked into what services and cultural structures already existed to meet this need for sharing life wisdom.
“I’ll remember their advice while something is blowing up in my face, but I have to blow the thing up.”
— Laura, age 28
“Listening is good, but people will tell you a lot of stuff. But watching what they do, that’s really telling.”
— Rebecca, age 33
DEFINING THE PROBLEM
We developed problem statements to further define our audience and area of focus. In this case, there were two clear audiences — the lesson givers and the lesson receivers.
Seniors with extensive and varied life experiences want to leave a legacy of knowledge, but may not have close family or friends to share what they’ve learned. This is made more noticeable if they find it difficult to articulate the lessons they’ve learned and/or don’t have culturally facilitated ways to pass on the knowledge. As a result of personal wisdom being lost, seniors feel less valued and are at higher risk of losing their sense of purpose.
Adults and young adults encountering major life changes or milestones learn more from personal experience than explicit advice, which makes it challenging to receive the lessons of others who have already lived through similar situations. This is made more noticeable when the advice received isn’t immediately applicable to their current life situation. As a result, they don’t have access to the wisdom of others while going through challenging life circumstances.
Some themes started to emerge as we sorted through our findings.
How we learn
Personal experience and observation of others
Outside resources and personal reflection
Who we learn from
Family — Moms were mentioned A LOT. Also siblings, aunts and uncles.
Public figures / writers / artists
Anyone who crosses our path!
Based on our research findings, we developed clear criteria to use as guidelines for shaping our concept:
Lessons live on beyond the original teller
Broadly appealing and available to others
Presented in a story format rather than platitudes or adages
Facilitates telling and receiving
Enables both teaching and sharing
Creates a space that fosters the vulnerability required for reflection, sharing, and receiving
Validates personal experience
Helps participants see the value in their own life experience
Helps receivers internalize lessons to draw on later in life
Focuses on one central, important, and unique lesson
Dear Someone is an organization that combines the focus of a writing workshop, the excitement of receiving handwritten mail, and the conversation and community of a book club.
At the center of Dear Someone are facilitated workshops hosted at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. In these workshops, participants will:
Explore and be inspired by their life experiences
Choose one important life-lesson to focus on
Write a letter sharing the story of how they learned that life lesson
Create an audio recording of themselves reading their letter
Connect with others in the community where they live
The Dear Someone experience should validate and support participants in writing meaningful and authentic letters. Accessibility needs (writing assistance, hearing assistance, translation, etc.) would be addressed in order to allow a diverse set of participants to share their wisdom.
Our research showed that facilitation is a key to helping folks explore and articulate their life stories. We prototyped a workbook that participants would fill out during the workshop. The workbook is both a guide for participants and a framework for workshop facilitators. It also lives beyond the workshop as a valuable memento for participants to keep and a jumping off point for future writing and sharing of stories.
After the workshop, the life-lesson letters live on:
Letters are scanned, tagged by theme, and added to a searchable online archive website
Select audio recordings are used for a podcast
Handwritten letters are sent in the mail to individual and group subscribers (groups operate independently, like a book club or Meetup group)
HERB'S STORY: A USER JOURNEY
In order to explore the entire concept through the eyes of a specific participant, we developed a journey map that follows Herb, a 75-year-old male living in an assisted living nursing home, through his experience with a 2-day Dear Someone Letter Writing Workshop. It includes touchpoints, Herb’s thought process, and his emotional experiences.
ORA'S STORY: A USER TEST
One final thing we wanted to do was test our workbook prototype. One of our interviewees, Ora (age 69), agreed to fill out the workbook so we could see what kind of answers our questions generated. It’s worth noting that she completed it by herself at home, but our workshop participants would have the facilitator as a guide.
CONCLUSIONS AND NEXT STEPS
Potential next steps:
Test and validate guidebook prompts
Develop facilitation model for workshops
Run test workshops, evaluate workshop and resulting letters
Explore membership audiences and ways to create value