Final conference of the Mobility Scouts project on age-friendly environments

06/08/2018 - 12:50

The Mobility Scouts Erasmus+ project supports older men and women to contribute to the creation of age-friendly environments and services.

It hold its European final event on 5 June 2018 at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels, Belgium. The event was the opportunity to:

  • get to know good examples of age-friendly communities in Europe,
  • discuss whether professionals are prepared to co-create age-friendly Communities,
  • exchange experiences about the training of Mobility Scouts in five European countries (Austria, Germany, Lithuania, Italy and the Netherlands),
  • network with experts in the field.

First, Tine Buffel from the University of Manchester, UK, explained the Manchester’s approach to age-friendly environments and co-production with older persons. As underlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the participation of older persons is both the goal of age-friendly environments and important in the process of creating them.

The Manchester’s approach saw older persons being trained to become co-researchers, i.e. taking the lead in developing and implementing the study (defining its objectives, developing the supporting materials, collecting and analysing data, translating results into practice, and evaluating impact). Co-researchers were continuously trained on interview techniques, data analysis and dissemination. Once trained, they interviewed older persons, especially older persons who would not usually participate to research, in order to identify areas where action was needed to improve their surrounding environments. Examples of their successes encompass the implementation of age-friendly business charters and the reintroduction of a local bus service. Such co-production approached created a great sense of ownership towards the activities and actions planned. It also showed that older persons can be agents of change and contributes to community empowerment and action. However, challenges remain, such as sustainability of the projects and power imbalances between the trained co-researchers and the less literate older persons interviewed.

Then, Laura Christ and Anita Rappauer from the Mobility Scouts project presented the project’s approach and results. The project implemented a series of thematic workshops, practical modules and approximately 20 local projects. It focused on empowering older persons to start with an idea and develop a concrete project, to make them agents of change (“mobility scouts”). Different levels of involvement for the mobility scouts were foreseen and tested:

  • intermediaries to collect perspectives from older persons and forward these comments to relevant stakeholders
  • train and communicate to pass on their perspectives and knowledge to relevant groups (children for instance)
  • co-design and support in (further) developing services and activities, or to function as contact persons for older customers
  • inspire and motivate: organise activities to raise awareness, create a social basis and participation

It is now finalising a training framework to replicate the project’s approach in different contexts.

A panel discussion then took place to reflect on the different challenges identified: need to further promote co-creation practices and to scale them up, sustainability of the projects, inclusion of hard-to-reach persons, age stereotypes, etc.

Elisabeth Hechl from the Ministry Labour and Social affairs, Austria, Department for Ageing and volunteering policies, presented the Austrian Senior Citizens Act, which sees older persons as experts when it comes to their environments. Unfortunately, age-friendliness is not on the political agenda or the public discourse, regretted Edita Satiene from Kaunas, Lithuania, one of Mobility Scouts field site.

Heidrun Mollenkopf, member of BAGSO and AGE Platform Europe, underlined the specificity identified among older persons around mobility. Older persons indeed stress on the need for social contact, to “feel alive” and autonomous.

But ageing is a blending issues, recognised the different speakers, including Eric Schoenmakers from the Fontys University, stressing on the need to break silos and make different fields work together. This is directly linked to the WHO age-friendly “social inclusion” petal, which requires the society to fully include older persons in the society, without discrimination nor stereotypes. Age discrimination is the backbone of AGE policy work, advocating for a real paradigm shift in the way older persons are seen and included in the society, explained Ophelie Durand from AGE Platform Europe. In research projects, this implies not using older persons as alibis, but as real co-researchers as Manchester or the EU-funded project MobileAge is doing.

Co-production could then become a criteria for funding, and the European Commission is working on pushing for more co-creation in the projects it is funded, said Horst Krämer from the DG CNECT of the European Commission. Another key aspect for the Commission is now to define what it calls “missions” in order to give a general objective and thus direction to EU funding.

Last but not least, speakers and the audience stressed on the fact that older persons should not be seen as an homogeneous group with the same needs. We remain the same persons as we age, stressed Heidrun Mollenkopf, with different backgrounds, preferences and wishes. Co-creation with older persons imply co-creation with the whole society, without stigmas based on age.

More information on the Mobility Scouts is available on the project’s website here.