A problem that matter
How can we look after those who are losing the ability to look after themselves, and how much will it impact our lives?
3 million people in the UK juggle unpaid care with a paid job. They can find it hard to get help, both in and outside the workplace, and 1 in 5 ends up leaving work to care. This simply doesn’t add up, either for the social economy – which needs families and communities to keep caring as we live longer – or for the economy – which needs people to work longer to pay growing health, care and pensions bills.
Most of past years disruptive innovation around care is understandably focused on the cared for. There is a surge of innovation in so-called 'Assistive Technologies' (sometimes called mHealth), caregiving gizmos that cover personal health record tracking, remote patient monitoring that assist in remote wellness checking, medication management and more.
The focus for this project is very different. It is trying to put the wellbeing of the caregiver rather than the cared-for at the center of the design process and to create a tool that helps with the unique challenges of juggling work and care.
Cargiving varies significantly:
The first thing you notice when looking at caregiving is how significantly caring for a loved one can vary. You could possibly (badly) paraphrase Tolstoy and argue that “every non-caring families are all alike; every caring family, cares in it’s own way”.
There are at least 7 different variable with minimum of 3 options in both giving you over 2000 cases of care. Designing a digital product that can cater and support all or most of these cases is going to be hugely changeling:
1. Aged and condition of the cared for. This can be an elderly/frail parent, a child with long term condition or disability, a partner suffering from mental illness, a closed friend who found herself recovering from a stroke at 55 to name but a few
2. Relationship to the cared for. See previous point. A husband, a parent, a child, a friend, other closed relative
3. Caregiving tasks involved. The spectrum here is vast - from keeping a company, to GP appointments, cooking, feeding, shopping, cleaning, medication management
4. Time and frequency. On a daily basis, weekly shifts, any free moment, weekends only etc.
5.Distance from cared for. From living in the same house to living on different continents and everything in between
6. Nature of work the carers is engaged in. Full time, part time, shifts, 9am-6pm, from home, and of course how aware, accommodating and supportive is your workplace
7. Share of care. How any individuals sharing the care - family, friends, paid-for care. Couple of siblings taking care of mum, one partner who is the primary caregiver for a partner in need, a neighbour who chips in with the rest of the family,
Sifting through these different combinations to try to arrive to a reasonable number of cases or ‘caring personas’ is what we plan to do next as soon as we do some research. For now, we tried to narrow it down and design a product with the following users/customers in mind:
- Working carers - people who juggle paid work and caring for a loved one (that excludes paid-for carers, or non-working carers who left work to become ‘full time’ carers.
- They are part of a ‘circle of care’ - meaning they share the responsibilities with at least one more individual
In search for an insight.
Caring as a project management
The one obvious thing about caring for a loved one in whichever context you look at, is that there are a lot of things to take care of, manage and coordinate. So the first and obvious step for us was looking at ‘cargiving’ through the prism of project management: appointments, shopping, medications, cleaning, helping, shifts etc.
One of our early and basic hypethesis is that people who are part of a so called ‘circle of care’, i.e. part of a small group of family members and friends who share caring for a loved one could benefit from a ‘care management and coordination’ product. Something that will make juggling between working and caring a bit easier by making it a lot more organised.
Caring as an emotional context or horizontal vs. vertical
Looking at caring through the lenses of project management with the aim of making caregiving easier logistically wouldn’t be sufficient for the design of an amazing product that carers will adopt and be willing to pay for. There are dozens of project management tools and apps out there from google cal. to Trello, AceProject, Asana to name just a very few. Designing another ‘horizontal’ tool that facilitates collaboration, manages tasks and appointments isn’t going to work. As we start our intensive user research we will be looking for an insight that will help us design a vertical product - a product that has been specifically designed for the context of care rather than a generic project management tool. An insight that will ultimately lead to a magical feature or other UX idea.
We believe that this insight will come from better and deeper understanding of the unique communicative and emotional context that is caring for a loved one and the unique interpersonal dynamics taking place within a ‘circle of care’.
Here is a very partial list of what we now want to know/learn before we start sketching anything:
- ‘Juggling strategies’ (how people are coping with juggling work and care)
- What kind of emotions and behaviours are unique to ‘circle of care’?
- What are the dominant triggers of stress for a working carer?
- What pushes an individual to take a radical step and leave work?
- Is there always someone ‘in charge’ within a circle of care?
- What are the triggers of negative/positive emotions within a circle of care?
- How do people organise and keep track of the share of care?
We’ll report more soon. If you or anyone you know is juggling work and care and is part of a circle of care please get in touch we would love to hear from you.