Creating change through lived experience

By Professor Sue Gordon
Tuesday, 02 August, 2022

Creating change through lived experience

We need to do better for older Australians.

That was the statement that sat at the heart of many Australians during the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

When the findings of the Royal Commission were released in 2021, Australians were left wondering how the system had become so broken. With 148 wide-ranging recommendations covering everything from a new aged care policy to registration of aged care workers, the report showed the systemic flaws that have resulted in poor care for older Australians. We had failed the most vulnerable amongst us, and as a society we were horrified and heartbroken.

Thus we were spurred into action, and it was decided that an overhaul of the aged care sector was not only needed but welcomed by people around the nation. However, it would not be easy.

In order to address these challenges and meet the recommendations as outlined by the Commissioners, Australia would need to rely on its best and brightest to find innovative ways to address the deep-rooted structural flaws within the sector. Only with a complete overhaul would the system begin to recover.

With that came the introduction of ARIIA — Aged Care Research and Industry Innovation Australia — an ambitious $34 million Australian Government-funded research and industry collaboration to increase the capability of the aged care workforce to adopt best practice and technology to transform the aged care system in Australia.

ARIIA began as the Centre for Growth and Translational Research, the name under which Flinders University was successful in winning the Commonwealth tender to revitalise Australia’s aged care ecosystem. Developed in partnership with 73 leading aged care sector organisations and integrating the perspectives of older people and their families, the approach presented a unique personal perspective for the future of the sector.

In July 2022, as the model progressed from development to implementation, Flinders University and its collaborators set about establishing a new entity — the name ARIIA emphasises the initiative’s focus on research that drives innovation.

Based at Flinders University in South Australia, ARIIA is the nation’s first centre with dedicated resources to directly assist the aged care workforce to deliver best practice care and processes to all older Australians and their families.

What sets this initiative apart is that it provides an unparalleled opportunity for older people themselves to guide the priorities to ensure that their lived experience is central to creating change and improvements. Through consultation with older people and their families, leading researchers and sector experts will be able to develop and test the products and services that these groups have identified as making life easier, healthier, or more enjoyable for older Australians.

But perhaps most importantly, this integration and cooperation between researchers, industry experts and older people themselves will ensure that research outcomes are successfully translated into real world solutions with an efficiency and immediacy that will empower and enable the aged care workforce to improve their practices and the care they deliver.

This approach will ensure that the research evidence that could support the delivery of improved aged care is no longer left to gather dust on a shelf. Historically, the translation of research evidence into practice has been a stumbling block, on average taking 17 years from discovery to implementation (Morris et al 2011) — and even then, only about 14% of research evidence is fully implemented and integrated into practice (Balas & Boren 2000).

ARIIA will ensure that the discoveries and innovations made through research are translated into real world, tangible changes in practices and processes that will improve the quality of living for all older Australians.

With three main workstreams, each with their own priorities and focus, ARIIA will enable sector-wide transformation through the expertise and experience of leading researchers and industry experts.

Professor Jennifer Tieman leads a knowledge and implementation hub that will be accessible to all Australians. This web-based hub will be the home of easily understandable and applicable research findings and information, for use by the aged care sector and anyone caring for an older person in their own home.

The delivery of the aged care partnering (ACPP) program will be led by Professor Karen Reynolds and Professor Gill Harvey. The ACPP will facilitate the introduction between aged care providers and workforce and industry experts/relevant stakeholders such as a technology vendor, a nutritionist, a consumer or a researcher to co-design solutions for aged care problems.

The research activities of ARIIA will be led by myself (Professor Sue Gordon), as will our priority of training and educating the aged care workforce. At the outset, we will develop and deliver a training program for aged care workers — from care workers to administrators. These workers will be changemakers and leaders, taking new approaches and embedding them with colleagues, who will in turn pass on the skills and knowledge they have learnt as they go about their working days, transforming how aged care is designed and delivered in real time.

ARIIA will fund around 60 research grants over the next three years to improve aged care, with a focus on taking existing evidence drawn from academic sources and small-scale or industry-led innovation and developing it for broader, sector-wide adoption. Through this approach, better practices based on research will actually reach and benefit the people for whom they are designed and intended.

Now is the time to act. With more older Australians than ever before, there has never been a greater need for the unique care and support older people require. By 2053, a quarter of our population will be aged 65 or over, with reliance on these services only increasing in the decades to come.

Societies are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable, and the Aged Care Royal Commission shone a light on how Australia had failed ours and that we needed to do better.

This approach, focusing on the development of a capable workforce providing care based on expert research and driven by the experiences of older people themselves, will enable once-in-a-generation reform.

*As the Research Director of ARIIA, Sue works with aged care providers and the community to optimise aging, aged care, and the effective use of technology through research translation. She brings over 20 years of physiotherapy experience and more than 15 years of academic experience to this role. Her research has involved collaboration with local government, aged care and health service providers, and colleagues from other universities.


Balas EA, Boren SA. , Managing Clinical Knowledge for Health Care Improvement. Yearbook of Medical Informatics 2000: Patient-centered Systems, 2000, Stuttgart, Germany, Schattauer (pg. 65-70)
Morris ZS, Wooding S, Grant J. The answer is 17 years. what is the question: understanding time lags in translational research. J Roy. Soc. Med., 104 (2011), pp. 510-520, 10.1258/jrsm.2011.110180

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