“When a male ballet dancer lifts and carries his partner around the stage in a pas de deux, he looks as strong as Atlas, but any ballerina will tell you there is a good deal in knowing how to be lifted.”
Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety
“How can I help” isn’t necessarily a simple question, and there isn’t always an easy answer. For much of my life, I’ve been observing a little something out there in the world. There are people who are porous to help, and there are people who are impervious to it. The ability to ask for and receive help is life changing. If you possess it, you have a big giant OPEN SESAME into connection, collaboration and belonging. And if you don’t, you are ever so slightly S-O-L. You’ll probably get by in life, but you’ll be at a high risk of being brittle, isolated and pretty worn out by the end of it.
In the first semester at AC4D, I dove into a design research mission. I wanted to see where the ability comes from and whether or not it can be taught. Here in the second semester, I’ve been in the trenches with the unflappable Eric Boggs taking the question ever farther. Can a digital system can work as training wheels for a person who needs help asking for help?
To recap for newcomers, Eric and I are building CareWell, a digital tool to help caregivers while they tend to aging loved ones.
Eric has spoken in a previous blog post about the mechanics of the pilot. I’ll address the outcomes and next steps.
1) Caregivers responded well to the task categories / bucket system we’d invented. They added a few, but by and large our initial impulse was correct. Good news for us as we are attempting to show that we understand the caregiver’s world.
2) It takes a minimum of 5 exchanges (text, call, email) for a caregiver to completely hand off a task and receive necessary updates. 5 exchanges multiplied across the numerous tasks a caregiver undertakes each week is an immense amount of communication to manage. There is benefit to having CareWell serve as the traffic controller. And it’s encouraging to see that we nailed this back there on day 1 of our project when we put up our first design pillars.
3) We knew from our research that helpers want to know exactly what they can do to help. What we did NOT know until we ran the pilot is that helpers often don’t help because they are afraid of burdening the caregiver. And there was no way of knowing, until we ran the pilot, something that is kind of a big deal. Our helpers prefer interacting with a text-based, digital system in place of communicating with the real live caregiever. They felt less intrusive, less burdensome, and less liable to be operating in a vacuum. They trusted our system more than they trusted their caregiver human to log their contributions and communicate updates.
This is kind of a big deal. Well, it might be kind of a huge deal. CareWell will always manage the tasks of caregiving, but it may center around something else. We’re considering the idea that CareWell isn’t task management as much as help management. CareWell may be a digital prosthesis for those who have trouble asking for and receiving help.
This new direction / refinement will require more research, and I’ll feel a lot better writing blogs on pilot results when we are generating consistent results instead of new directions. Eric and I have to talk more about all of this, but to me the concept is getting clearer and more exciting.