The Better Ageing Lab

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety shone a light on the poor quality of care and life experienced by ageing Australians. Notwithstanding its recommendation to develop a new Act, the money allocated to aged care in the 2021 Federal budget (the first since the commission handed down its findings) will largely be allocated to supporting the existing system.

It is time for community-driven efforts to reimagine ageing in Australia, to tap into the insights of those with lived experience and design a system that supports the ageing journey we want as Australians.


In today’s context it is incontestable to say that the current system of Aged Care needs reform. As with most social systems, the individual parts work hard at improving themselves. Innovators within the system also agitate for different and better ways of doing things. But the opportunity to work across the system and on the system, is rare.  The system does not have the capacity to fix itself. Rather, it is perfectly designed to deliver the results it currently does. So, what are we to do?

A Make it Better Lab is a process that brings together different stakeholders in the system to reimagine and prototype better ways. Most collaborative efforts tend to start with an agreed direction or even an agreed solution. In contrast, a Make it Better Lab begins with a commitment to listen deeply to the perspectives of other parts of the system, allow time for individual inspiration and collective creativity, and to experiment its way forward to better outcomes for, in this case, for ageing Australians.

One of the ways the current system retards its own creativity is by focusing on sustaining the existing individual parts. There isn’t enough time to step back and work across the system. A social design lab is a big commitment. It takes longer than a half-day workshop … in fact it takes as long as it takes to prototype a better way. Sometimes the long slow path is the only way to get where we dream of going. But a well-designed process does have some definition and tracks to run on.

How will it work?

The Better Ageing Lab is a facilitated design process, the outcomes of which will result in innovations that help change ageing for the better in Australia. The Lab will happen over an 18-month period beginning in February 2022 and will be shaped by 12 half-day sessions held every six weeks.

The phases of the process will include the following:

Who is participating?

Better Ageing Lab Fellows: Twenty to thirty people who have skin in the game, and who care enough about better ageing to commit the time and effort to make a contribution over the period of the Lab. There are a variety of roles within the Lab, but Fellows are the ones who will contribute the most and, in return, get the most value. Fellows’ expertise and perspectives will help shape the outcomes, and Fellows will also benefit from new relationships of trust across the sector – as well as gaining direct access to the ideas and thinking that emerge. Fellows and their organisations will be the ones who get to benefit most immediately from the prototyping of new initiatives and the implementations that result.

Fellows will also include people who see the opportunity from a variety of vantage points in the community, and who bring different contributions. We have identified the following contributions, not as a comprehensive list, but as an indication of the kinds of roles people might play in pursuit of better ageing.

Who is running the Better Ageing Lab?

The Lab Team is a made up of people with a deep commitment to better ageing, and a small secretariat who will help design and facilitate the process as well as provide administrative support.

Chris Gray: 49Agnes

Anna Donaldson: Lively

Stephen Johnston: Aging 2.0


The Donkey Wheel Foundation

Col Duthie, Paul Steele, Jane Coutts and Ashlee Steele: host team

Olivia Clark Moffatt and Melina Chan: facilitation team

Craig Brown and Lucinda Gifford: storytelling team

A group of Co-Chairs will offer patronage, governance and advice. The Co-Chairs will be leaders who are committed to innovations toward a better ageing system in Australia and will represent different perspectives of the ageing sector.

Co-Chairs will meet four times for two hours over the 18-month-period to offer advice and perspectives including an inaugural and final review meeting.

How is the Better Ageing Lab being funded?

The Better Ageing Lab is a not-for-profit endeavour. Fellows and Co-Chairs offer their time pro bono. Some specialist contributions will be remunerated. The donkey wheel Foundation is funding the secretariat roles and the Lab sessions, including facilities and catering. Other sponsors will be finalised before the Lab commences.

The intention of the Better Ageing Lab is to harness the good collaborative efforts that already exist in the ageing sector, and to navigate a path to real and sustainable change.

To find out more …

Please contact us via

or call

Col Duthie    (0488 888 265)

Chris Gray     (0413 126 111)