Mallee Living Histories Evaluation Report 2020

Research output: Book/ReportOther ReportResearch


Everyone has a story, every story is important, but not every story is told. The Mallee Living Histories project came about, like many of life’s important moments, by chance. It is the product of an idea, a vision and a lot of hard work, by a group of volunteer Writers in collaboration with a court full of willing Storytellers.
The idea sprouted during a conversation between Vernon Knight, the project’s instigator and Dr Fiona Wright, Director of Monash Rural Health Mildura. The conversation was in the context of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and through it they concluded that simply reviewing aged care practices would not necessarily enhance well-being and self-esteem. Something more had to be done. The bigger challenges were, and still are, isolation and loneliness. That conversation led to further discussions in broader forums and the Living Histories concept began to take shape.
A pivotal point was during Vernon’s work with an elderly Mildura woman to transform her life history into a book. Near the book's completion, she became quite ill, was admitted to hospital for surgery and was not expected to survive. Vernon continued writing, determined to finish the manuscript so that she could see it before she died.
Well, he finished the book and visited the woman with it the night before her surgery. Upon seeing it, her demeanour changed, she was overjoyed, especially when told of the imminent book launch. She beamed and held the book tightly until well after Vernon had gone. As he tells it, the manuscript did far more than lift her spirits, “there was no way she wouldn’t live to see the book published and on sale”.
She survived the surgery, her health improved and with joy and pride she took centre stage at the book launch.
This was more than enough to cement the idea and spur Vernon on to tell more stories. He began spruiking the idea to others and before too long had a group of interested enthusiasts ready to join him as Writers and participate on a planning committee.
One of this group was Paula Gordon, a board member of the Princes Court Homes. She took the idea to the Board to ascertain their appetite for having residents’ stories told. The Board was enthusiastic, an alliance was formed and planning for the project began in earnest.
Once the project was underway, the committee contacted Dr Fiona Wright once again. This time seeking to have the initiative evaluated. Fiona contacted Tammy Smith at Monash Rural Health (MRH) in Clayton, who was very happy to assist. Preparation for evaluation began.
Evaluation data was gathered through semi-structured interviews and focus groups as a means of hearing the voices, triumphs and concerns of those most closely involved with the project.
Key findings highlighted that clear and consistent communication of intent and process is paramount if participants are to remain informed and outcomes are to be achieved. That being the case, the conduit through which communication takes place must be equally clear and consistent. Those transmitting and delivering information must be vigilant in ensuring that no knowledge is assumed and that everyone has access to all process information. Those delivering messages between parties must be vigilant in ensuring that deliveries take place and that they are clear, accurate representations of the message originally given to them.
Lessons learnt that can be generalised beyond the Mallee Living Histories project and applied more globally include:
• Making written information available to Writers and Storytellers outlining the process and expectations upon joining the project and making a version of this information available to aged care facility staff.
• The expectation that Writers’ meetings be attended. These are a source of support, ideas and are vital for keeping up with important information.
• Holding common meetings between Storytellers and Writers for the purpose of sharing ideas, addressing queries and identifying misunderstandings. This is particularly important early in the project.
• Establishing a means of communication within the aged care facility prior to commencement of the project. This will ensure that messages and appointments are not lost or forgotten in the busyness of daily routines.
Based on analysis of the data gathered, recommendations for strengthening of future iterations of the project largely relate to communication of information, ideas and process. Writers found the support and guidance they were given by the planning committee very helpful, and as an adjunct to this, repeatedly suggested the collation of a manual of tips ‘n’ tricks based on their experiences and expertise, to assist Writers in future projects.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAustralia
PublisherMonash University Publishing
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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