Capturing experiences of Living Well

To gather data on the Living Well initiative we used a number of conventional methods such as interviews and document analysis. But in order to capture the experiences, both of the volunteers and elderly clients, we developed something a bit unconventional; a tea party.

The aim of was to develop a method which ensured participants were comfortable. We needed to create a space where people could talk freely about their ideas, concerns and aspirations in relation to Living Well. So in collaboration with Creative Data we developed a series of interactive, inclusive and fun exercises to do through tea parties. As I will now tell, these tea parties were delivered to great success at three Living Well pilot sites of Penwith Pioneer, Newquay Pathfinder and East Cornwall Living Well Project. The first interactive exercise, and arguably the most important one, was the consumption of tea and cake.

With a tea and cake in hand, a conversation was started about their experiences through a craft exercise. Participants were asked to make a hat which represented them and their experience of Living Well. Most participants chose to express how Living Well had been positively transformational for their lives. Indeed, it was astounding how such a simple activity could reveal so much.

To grasp how the Living Well process is put into practice the tea party participants worked though an activity based on a hypothetical scenario. Each scenario represented  a critical stage in the Living Well journey; from a non engaged elderly citizen towards a happy, healthy and independent member of the community. This method enabled us to draw out the crucial moments where change happens and also to identify the  barriers to engagement.

Living Well relies on the a network of volunteers and services in each locality. To capture this network we used a mapping exercise. As a group we plotted the formal and informal relationships that connect individuals in Living Well. Along with relationships, participants also mapped the key geographical features which help, or hinder, these connections. The exercise captured the important, but often invisible, relationships which enable Living Well to function alongside structural factors.

Parallel to the group exercises we sensitively interviewed participants about their experiences of delivering or being referred to Living Well. This method revealed personal accounts and enabled people to reflect on different experiences and perspectives on involvement.

The success of the tea party method cannot be understated. A success in research terms because it effectively captured experiences of Living Well. But also a success in ethical terms because of how the exercises were sensitively structured to avoid placing pressure on participants to discuss personal and emotional moments. Check out the gallery page if you would like to see more.