Seeking 'Human Solutions' to the Challenges of Aging

The theme for the annual Schlegel Villages Operational Planning Retreat in Niagara Falls Oct. 1-3 was Honouring our Past, Defining our Future. Day 1 offered the opportunity to do both, with a morning of reflection on the past decade of the organization’s culture change and an afternoon filled with provocative, challenging discussions with five visionaries in the realm of aging and inclusive communities.   

Adam Frye, Jennifer Hartwick and Jaimie Killingbeck discuss early findings from the design-thinking process.
Adam Frye, Jennifer Hartwick and Jaimie Killingbeck discuss
early findings from the design-thinking process.

The second day placed much of the emphasis on the more than 400 Villagers in attendance, asking them to confront four main issues facing the organization during small breakout sessions. Through the process of design thinking, the gathered stakeholders representing leaders, direct care-providers, RIA team members and a few residents and family members all identified and empathized with the people they imagined were most directly affected by the issue in question before brainstorming potential solutions.

The design-thinking process, introduced to Schlegel Villages by Adam Frye of Windsor’s Wetech Alliance, essentially works around the premise that it’s better to seek the brainpower of as many people as possible to develop potential solutions, than to rely on one or two ideas.

“Different viewpoints create different solutions,” Adam told the audience before they broke into the first sessions. “The more viewpoints you get and the more input you get at the beginning of your problem-solving process, the more solutions you’re going to get and there’s no way that’s a bad thing. It’s always better to have an unbelievable amount of solutions to pick from than just the one that you were trained to think through.”

The second point of consideration he offered the group was to remember that “adding a human lens to problem-solving is critical. If you can bring the human element of the challenges that we’re facing into the problem-solving process,” he said, “we’re going to have human solutions.”

The four challenges considered were: team member retention; communication of culture change objectives and aspirations; the balance between the Schlegel Villages social philosophy versus expectations within a regulations-mandated institutional model; and competing priorities in a time-strapped world for team members.

The conversations were rich as an engaged collective discussed each topic at length, documenting their considerations for analysis by partners with the Research Institute for Aging. In the past decade, Schlegel Villages has gone to great lengths to enhance life for village residents and team members and there have been countless success points along the way. But this is an ongoing process and the demands of an aging society mean there will never be a time for complacency.

The facilitator of the design-thinking process says the commitment he sees in Schlegel Villages is a source of hope when looking ahead to the future of aging. “When we talk about unlocking the brainpower of an organization,” Adam says, pointing to the room filled with more than 400 Schlegel Villagers, “the brainpower is in there.

“Every time I speak at a Schlegel event, I’m blown away,” he adds. “I work with a tonne of different people in a tonne of different industries and you just don’t see that energy, that passion; it’s baked into the culture and people join Schlegel Villages to be part of that culture.”