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The longitudinal process of culture change

March 21, 2011
by Todd Hutlock
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One could scarcely spend any time at the Environments for Aging 11 conference without encountering the concept of “culture change,” surely one of the most active topics on display throughout the program. In an early morning roundtable session today, Meldrena Chapin, PhD, Professor of Interior Design at SCAD-Atlanta, explained the “longitudinal” process of culture change. She quipped at one point that the “longitudinal” part comes from how long it takes to enact true culture change—she may have been just making a joke, but the statement certainly holds more than a kernel of truth.

With high staff turnover on the frontline level, as well as among executive staff, changes in reimbursement, codes and regulations, and of course the ever-present money issues, the list of conflicts that stand in the way of culture change is indeed a long one, but the key, according to Chapin, is communication. One look at the learning organization process model of culture change—an unholy mess of squiggly lines moving in a gradual direction with serious confusion—would certainly suggest that making sense of it all is the first and perhaps greatest hurdle needing to be cleared.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to translate meaningful experiences to the physical environment, but as Chapin explained, getting from point A to point B in this case is a complicated process to say the least. Even the smallest changes in culture (and by default, in design changes to meet those culture changes) affect everyone and everything in a facility, from the staff to the patients/residents on down. Making sure that goals are still common and that all involved are aware of said goals seems like a simple enough thought, but as we all know, it is anything but easy.

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