A SOCIAL enterprise led by the Council of the Ageing South Australia is giving voice to a new breed of influencers who are helping to change the way researchers, government and industry are approaching ageing Australian issues.
The Plug-In is a community of volunteer influencers are engaged in working with aged care providers, legal firms, Federal Government, building and construction companies, finance institutions and researchers at the University of Adelaide, Global Centre for Modern Ageing.
The influencers, or end users, are providing a deeper understanding of what is needed in the ageing space and then helping to shape products, programs, services and technology that will assist older people to age well.
Plug-In program manager Kirsty Rawlings says, "It's arisen out of feedback from our community about their frustrations of not having access to being involved in design and innovation processes, or shaping what is designed and developed for them in terms of products, program, services and technology.
"We are focused on the community being representative of the diversity of modern ageing. One of the challenges we find is often that diversity is overlooked or not well understood by researchers and industry in terms of people's preferences, priorities, needs and desires as they get older."
Seniors can register online to contribute to one or more of the projects engaged with the Plug-In program or just to stay informed about what is happening in the program. Since the Plug-In in August 2017 300 volunteers have registered.
Through the Plug-In program manager researchers and industry call on members of the Plug-In community, who represent diversity across age, culture, sexual orientation, behaviour, gender and finance. "Each project has its own set of criteria that we are looking for," Kirsty says. "An invitation goes out to our influencers and they indicate whether they fit that criteria and whether they want to be involved."
Influencer Keith Adams, 66, has a background in residential aged care and independent living. "I have a real interest in people and making sure they are well looked after," Keith says. "I have channelled that into the Plug-In because they are wanting some of my expertise in certain areas." He has so far assisted in the development at the Lyell McEwin Hospital and the Aged Care standards review.
"Since I have left the formal Aged Care residential employment I have been looking at age-friendly communities," Keith adds. "The basis of them is related to community consultation. That has fitted in amazingly well with what I have been thinking and how you get community consultation.
"You read all the literature and they say you get a group of old people and you talk about the various issues in your area. Then you talk to whoever to actually get something done that is of benefit for older people.
"Here's an opportunity where I can go along without having to set up a group of older people in my area as it becomes problematic trying to do that in an area where perhaps your background isn't sufficient for you to be able to do that."
Another of the influencers is Stephen Merrett, 64, a clinician in the Aged Care and mental health sectors. "What led me into Plug-In was a degree of self-interest," Stephen says.
"At 64 I want my voice heard in the way things are going to be shaped for the people of my generation now and into the foreseeable future. This is my future I am trying to influence now.
"As Keith said, it's hard to influence things as an individual; you really need a structure that has got a brief of seeking people's opinions to influence and the Plug-In has given me that avenue. I have come away from the sessions energised and feeling that I still have some relevance."
Both Keith and Stephen have their hands up for more Plug-In projects.
"The value of the Plug-In community is that has enabled some voices to surface that would not normally be able to participate in these types of processes," Ms Rawlings said. "Because of that we have experienced some critical learnings which have been influential, particularly around Aged Care reform. "
It's this people power of using previous work and life experiences which is making a significant and positive contribution to both the influencers lives and to the lives other older Australians.
For more information on the Plug-In, go to https://theplugin.com.au/.