In Promoting social connection through challenging public attitudes: a participatory project with older people, Professor Merryn Gott and Dr Lisa Williams of the University of Auckland, discovered something notable. The worn-out, ageist, and stereotypical ideas about older people – that they’re boring, dependent, and a drain on society – didn’t match the research findings. So the team from the Te Ārai Research Group designed the film Manawaroa to speak to people’s hearts, because it is only when you engage people’s hearts that you can open their minds to change.
About the study
The aim of the Promoting Social Connection study was to co-create a film with older people and young filmmakers about later life social connectedness, emphasising the potential value of inter-generational social connection. The process explored the experiences of older people and young filmmakers working in a creative, collaborative way using both visual and traditional qualitative methods. Additionally, the research team sought to investigate the responses of diverse audiences to the film and to disseminate the film in order to challenge stigma and promote discussion about social connection within Aotearoa New Zealand.
The project addresses wellbeing through the design and delivery of culturally relevant health interventions that support wellbeing through physical and mental capacity, and social connectedness. It also aligns with the Ageing Well Challenge objective of harnessing science to sustain health and wellbeing in the later years of life, by exploring the value of inter-generational social connection as a means to alleviate the challenges posed by loneliness for older people, and in a way that acknowledges their agency and expertise.
Professor Gott, Dr Williams and the research team established production management for the film, setting up five crew teams – one for each older participant – including a senior and a young filmmaker. Researchers liaised with community organisations and their contacts to recruit the five diverse storytellers. A workshop was held with the older participants, filmmakers, and the research team to examine the content and approach to the films, and came to consensus about the approach of highlighting intergenerational social connection and the filmmaking process. The older participant worked with the young filmmaker to co-create their short films by holding a series of meetings followed by filming sessions.
Due to the impact of COVID-19 on this project, there were a number of decisions made by the research to lessen the impact. Instead of using middle school students as filmmakers, researchers recruited current or recently-graduated university filmmakers. While some of the filming was completed prior to Lockdown, the majority of filming was put on hold when people over the age of 70 were asked to self-isolate. The remaining filming was completed utilising a protocol based on the standards adopted by the film industry to ensure the use of PPE, physical distancing, and relevant approvals.
The team from the Te Ārai research group designed the film Manawaroa to speak to people’s hearts, because it is only when you engage people’s hearts that you can open their minds to change.
The study produced a 20 minute film featuring five older people from diverse cultural backgrounds: one Māori, one Korean, one Indian, one Pākehā member of the gay community, one Pākehā living in a retirement village. The diversity in experiences provide the viewer with snapshots of rich, meaningful lives that demonstrate resilience, inter-generational connection, and continued involvement in their communities. It was gifted the title ‘Manawaroa’ by Te Ārai Kaumātua which conveys the meaning that although kaumātua (older people) have retired, they continue serving others and are resilient.
The impact of this project is far reaching and has the potential to grow. Manawaroa has been approved by participants, had a blessing from Te Ārai kaumātua, and will be released in dissemination hui in Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington. It screened at Te Papa as part of the NZ Gerontology/Age Concern Conference in September 2021, and ethics approval has been given to run focus groups with nursing, medical, health science, and film students at the University of Auckland. It is clear from the interviews with film makers and the older storytellers that the process of filming these stories had a significant impact upon them. Several older participants have also screened the film to their communities and the feedback has been encouraging.
The team has drawn upon proven strategies – and are developing new ones – to release Manawaroa out into the community. An example of this is working with University of Auckland staff to integrate Manawaroa into the undergraduate and graduate nursing curricula. In terms of international scope, the research team believes it has international appeal as the group of participants represents the diversity of modern societies, highlighting the contributions of older people from a spectrum of cultural backgrounds.
This study (and previous research undertaken by Professor Gott and team) has demonstrated the importance and impact of Arts-Based Knowledge Translation (ABKT). This approach involves the transformation of research into creative artefacts to which audiences can relate. Academic literature shows that the creative arts can make people think differently about important and complex social issues, and the audience of Manawaroa extends beyond those traditionally encountered in academia.
In addition, the team has been awarded two grants to undertake research relating to the impact of COVID-19 on family and whānau experience of palliative and end of life care. Both are led by Dr Moeke-Maxwell with Professor Gott and Dr Williams. They include $1 million from the Health Research Council and $200k from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation. Professor Gott also led a study funded by the Auckland Medical Research Foundation to explore older people’s views of the first Covid-19 lockdown, with a particular focus upon social connection.
The study produced a 20 minute film featuring five older people from diverse cultural backgrounds: one Māori, one Korean, one Indian, one Pākehā member of the gay community, one Pākehā living in a retirement village.
Ultimately, Manawaroa challenges typical ideas about older people and helps viewers think outside of the box when it comes to promoting social connection, seeing it not as just something we do for older people, but as something we do with them –– it’s about letting the older person lead the way.