Belgian Ageing Studies - Engaging the older adults as key participants and actors in the construction of society and policymaking✎
The research team wishes to support older adults by involving them as main actors in the shaping of their local environment (i.e., active involvement in local policy plans, civic engagement, intervention schemes of the locality, etc.). Through an innovative participatory peer-research methodology older adults play a crucial role in the planning, design, and the realisation of the research project. By means of a standardized survey, municipalities were able to map local challenges and opportunities and issues relating to quality of life among older people living at home.
The project supports a shift away from the view that older people are merely passive consumers, towards a view of older people as active participants and actors in society. The creation of a community network involving older adults, members of local senior organisations, local authorities, third sector agencies and other community stakeholders is crucial in order to develop broadly-based support around the theme of age-friendly environments
of life of older people at the local level, such as housing conditions, care, social networks, neighbourhood aspects, volunteer/social/cultural/political participation, frailty, physical and mental health and social exclusion. The team engages older people as central actors (peer-research) in their research and promotes evidence-based policy at the community level by providing input and mobilising knowledge for planning and inclusive policy programs. Currently, such fragile groups are often excluded. The main purposes of the BAS project are:
- To provide a survey instrument to measure the living conditions and aspects of quality of life
of older people at the community level, including a wide range of aspects such as housing
conditions, feelings of loneliness, care, social networks, neighbourhood aspects, volunteer/
social/cultural/political participation, frailty, physical and mental health, feelings of being
unsafe, social exclusion;
- To engage older people as central actors in research and policy planning;
- To promote evidence-based policy at the local level by providing input and mobilising knowledge for planning and inclusive policy programmes;
- To provide and enable open access for municipalities, local and regional authorities, societal
stakeholders, and older adults to access the data and publications;
- To create opportunities for active ageing at the local level, and to support the process of
creating age-friendly communities;
- To examine trends in specific municipalities by conducting follow-up studies;
- To create engagement among all societal actors by means of a community network.
An example: In 2007 one municipality implemented the BAS research project. At the end of the
project that municipality received figures covering a wide range of aspects. An important finding was that a substantial number of older adults were facing feelings of loneliness and the municipality developed a neighbourhood project to tackle this by means of volunteers. These volunteers help older people with minor issues and assist them by providing information in areas where regular caregivers do not provide support. In 2014, the interventions were evaluated and the number of people facing feelings of loneliness had reduced significantly. In response, the municipality organised a post for a ‘mobile civil servant’, who visits old people in their homes.
towards a view of older people as active participants and actors in society; diverse groups of
older people are involved in the study (most vulnerable older adults and the oldest old) who are
often the most under-represented in ageing studies and the BAS project has stimulated local
authorities to put a number of aging-related themes on the local policy agenda. The research
team emphasises that only things that have societal relevance need to be done, and they even
refuse payments from the target groups concerned or politicians. Their rationale is: ‘we can
write a project proposal, wait a year, recruit a Ph.D student and then start, or we can just start
directly with our own resources, within the group’. Their experience is that when financing from
the (local) government is offered, demands relating to the content are also added to the research
request. They do not want this, so generally reject funding that is offered for requested research.
- Leading organisation: Belgian Ageing Studies Group at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Hogeschool Gent
- Cooperation partners: Various local and national authorities and healthcare institutions across 170 municipalities in the Flanders region