Who Cares About The Future?11. Feb 2022
We need to rethink our welfare society, putting human care and our collective well-being in the hands of all of us
How have you been feeling this week? Happy, sad, burned out, anxious, well? For many people, the answer lands on the heavier side of the emotional scale. Statistics show that more and more Danes feel stressed, burned out and anxious, enhanced further by the isolation and uncertainty of COVID.
In its own, brutal way, COVID has given us a platform to take stock: To rethink the sources of well-being in our daily lives as well as the external framework for care provided by the welfare society. At Danish Design Center, we are launching several new initiatives to increase the well-being of citizens in our society – our youths and seniors – and everyone in between.
From happiness to well-being
For almost a century, we have lived without the fear of being killed by war, pandemics, or any of the other life-threatening situations that previous generations faced at regular intervals. Our less constant fear of death has given us room to expect more from life. First fueled by peace times after WWII, then by better economic circumstances for the many, expanded access to education and the job market, an unparalleled level of social security, and, in the past few decades, the constant, collective mirror that is social media. We have reached higher and wanted more in our pursuit of happiness.
Then came COVID. And with it, the abrupt realization that our foundation of solid relationships and safe routines is not a given. Overnight, we were transported to a state of constant alert: Wear a mask, don’t stand too close, stay at home. But the pandemic also provided a new lens for our contemporary existence. For me personally, I had the opportunity to spend more time with my family, to (re)venture into nature, and to find a new focus in my work. Sure, I’ve had moments, when I wanted to pull out my hair, as I was home-schooling my son on day 20, but the overall experience made me take stock. Perhaps it’s time to review our expectations for life, to throw away the happiness-yardstick and pursue the more humble, but steady, sources of well-being in our daily lives.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen laid out a similar reflection for the Danish welfare society in her annual New Year’s speech. Acknowledging the fact that too much bureaucracy and control has left deep cracks in the system, she asked the Danish people to reconsider the core of welfare. What matters most to us, as we design the future of the welfare society?
For those of us working with social innovation and a transition of our society at Danish Design Center, the answer can be summed up in two words: Common Care. We need to mobilize not just those working within the care system, but the citizens, families, volunteers, designers, businesses and educational institutions around it – creating a society, in which we all care.
Most urgently, we need to rethink the way we care for our youths. The number of youths (age 18-24) reporting feeling unsafe is the highest ever, and an increasing number of children under 9 years experience mental health issues and feelings of sadness and loneliness, indicating a long-term issue that requires fundamental change. Being isolated for months during COVID, not being able to meet friends in the classroom, at sports activities, or social get-togethers, has further deteriorated the feeling of well-being for many. At the same time, increased pressure on the mental health care system means that children and young people often have to wait months to get the care they need at an extremely vulnerable time.
Design as a transformational tool
This spring, we’re launching our mission to bend this curve and increase the feeling of well-being and safety for our young people. In our approach, we move away from focusing on the individual in a certain context to focusing on the context itself – the close relationships, daily routines (including digital activities), institutions of care, education etc. In other words, less me, more we.
Design is a unique tool for this kind of systemic change because it can help us to both imagine and shape the future we dream of. It can help us zoom out to see the big picture and zoom in to act. Using tangible scenarios for the future, we are able to set a direction and a vision for the preferred future we long for. Design invigorates the preferred future through narrated stories and objects, making the vision relatable and relevant and the actions urgent. With that we gather all the relevant actors around making it a reality. Enabling our collective imagination is a crucial step towards taking actual action.
While our core mission centers around youths, the power of design also applies to caring for people in their Third Age. In our project, New Days, we consider alternative futures and ways of care together with a range of partners, including some of Denmark’s largest municipalities.
Looking back at the pandemic 10 years from now, those of us who experienced it may well say that it changed our perspective on what constitutes a good life. That it showed us the value of our closest relationships, and that there is more than one way to care for others – whether in a welfare society or one’s daily life. However we imagine the future of care, let’s do it together. If you would like to join us, feel free to reach out.
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