The programme

Transform Ageing is a pioneering programme taking a community and design led approach to improve people’s experience of ageing.

Over several workshops, people in later life, carers, social entrepreneurs and public sector leaders worked together to explore the challenges faced by an ageing population locally (in areas of Cornwall, North Devon, Torbay and Somerset). The purpose was to take a step back from trying to ‘fix’ a problem, to make sure we really understood the problem. This involved the teams going out into their communities to do research, then bringing back the insights they’d found.

Devon workshop

A challenge group at work in Devon.

The end point of this ‘Exploring the Challenge’ phase was for the work completed by the groups in each location to be brought together and turned into a set of innovation briefs. The briefs have now been launched in our call for applications document, and social entrepreneurs are invited to apply for funding and support, with their own great ideas to tackle the briefs.

But how did we get from seventeen groups working across four locations, to produce a series of six innovation briefs? The answer is, not easily. This piece is about the process of absorbing and synthesising the rich seam of research and insight which came from the hard work of our workshop participants.

For more information about the background to the programme, please see the Transform Ageing prospectus.

Day One

At the end of August, staff from each of the partner organisations delivering Transform Ageing got together for a marathon two-day workshop. There was a lot of information to go through. Workshop groups in the south-west had produced interview notes, photos, journals and crucially, ‘project canvases’ to summarise their findings. They had been working on challenge areas including: preventing social isolation & loneliness; staying active in the community and feeling supported as a carer.

Second workshop

Programme staff looking through the community research

But firstly, to bring the stories alive, we watched video clips of some of the workshop participants talking about their own experiences of ageing. Everyone has a connection with the subject, whether experiencing changes to their own health as they age or caring for a loved one. It was clear to see our participants’ motivations for joining the programme, and how important the challenges are.

Next, staff went through the research that the workshop groups in the south-west had produced, pulling out observations and findings. This produced a lot of post-it notes which we stuck on the wall grouped by the challenge areas. Each observation was marked with a code relating to the challenge group and location where it had come from, so we were able to track where it ended up when it got moved around later. The observations were clustered through a process called ‘affinity sorting’ . This is simply putting observations together when they are similar in some way – perhaps they touch on the same topic, or they express a similar emotion. It can be helpful to try and come up with a statement to represent the cluster, for example, a cluster of observations about having meaningful activities to do in later life was named ‘I want to be challenged’.


The observations from the research are grouped and themed.

So far, the observations remained organised within the challenge headings that the workshop groups in the south-west had worked on. However, we wanted to see where there were similar themes across the challenge groups, so our next job was to identify some cross-cutting themes. As an example, one idea which cut across all the challenges was the idea of life transitions. Whether this was retiring from work, becoming a carer, coping with the death of a partner or simply moving to a new place, the idea of preparing for the transitions we go through in life seemed to be a big challenge – and therefore a big opportunity for change.

Day Two

Fresh on day two, we returned to consider our progress. One problem with analysing data is that you can become very attached to the themes or findings that you’ve pulled out as the most important. But this wasn’t about our priorities, it was about the priorities of the workshop participants in the south-west. So our next job was to compare our themes with the ‘project canvases’ created by the workshop participants. These summarised the main findings and their vision for the challenge they’d worked on. We wanted to make sure we hadn’t missed anything that was important to the workshop participants.

Innovation brief

One of the project canvases that fed in to the innovation briefs

By now, we had a set of cross-cutting themes that we were reasonably happy with. We checked that each cluster of observations was captured in one of the cross-cutting themes. From doing this, we found a number of themes which we felt were ‘principles’ that should be applied to all of the briefs. You can see these in the ‘Guiding principles’ section of the call for applications document.

We then created posters for each cross-cutting theme. Because we’d coded the observations by challenge group and location, we could return to the relevant project canvases, to use the original language to describe the challenge. You can see some of the quotations and ‘How might we?’ statements that groups came up with in the call for applications document, as well as all the project canvases in Appendix 2.

Early draft of the 'Life transitions’ brief

An early draft of the 'Life transitions’ brief

At the end of the two days, we had a set of draft innovation briefs to show the workshop participants and the local delivery organisations. Participants gave us lots of useful feedback and this was then turned into the six final innovation briefs:

  • Steps to a positive future
  • Mobility and transport
  • Life transitions
  • Caring about carers
  • Right information, right time
  • Making connections

We recognise that when you synthesise very rich data like this, you can lose some of the local nuances which make the challenge distinctive in each place. To address this, we’ll continue to involve workshop participants in the next stage of the programme. We’ll be asking for their input to support the social entrepreneurs funded through the programme, to make sure the solutions they come up with can benefit the communities who’ve inspired them. 

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