Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the early stages of change and the way that stories can open up forms of collaborative dialogue and creative thinking among divergent stakeholders on known but “intractable” problems by enabling multiple voices to be heard in the co-construction of future possibilities for change. The empirical focus is on a project undertaken by two organizations located in Australia. The organizations – AAC, a large aged care provider and Southern Disability Services, a disability support service – collaborated with the researchers in identifying and re-characterizing the nature of the problem in the process of storying new pathways for tackling the transitioning needs of people with intellectual disabilities into aged care services.
Design/methodology/approach – An action research approach was used in conducting interviews in the case organizations to ascertain the key dimensions of the presenting problem and to identify change options, this was followed by an ethnographic study of a Pilot Project used to trial the provision of disability day service programmes within an aged care setting.
Findings – A key finding of the study centres on the importance of stories at the early stages of change in widening the arena of innovative opportunities, in facilitating collective acceptance of new ideas and in initiating action to resolve problems. The paper demonstrates how stories are used not only in retrospective sensemaking of existing problems but also in giving prospective sense to the possibilities for resolving protracted problems through innovative solutions that in turn facilitates a level of collective acceptance and commitment to opening up new pathways for change.
Originality/value – The paper focuses on problem characterization during the early stages of change and bring to the fore the often hidden notion of time in utilizing concepts from a range of literatures in examining temporality, stories and sensemaking in a context in which future possibilities are made sense of in the present through restorying experiences and events from the past. On a practical and policy front, the paper demonstrates the power of stories to mobilize commitment and action and presents material for rethinking change possibilities in the delivery of aged and disability care.