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How can social innovation support active ageing in the Basque Country? A policy workshop

Some months ago when the team at Sinnergiak Social Innovation (UPV/EHU) looked to identify a high-priority policy issue that could be used as a basis for a SIC social innovation policy workshop, we selected the topic of active ageing. The challenges and social problems thrown up by an ageing population and other demographic changes are a hot topic in Europe today. An ageing population, delays to the average age of retirement, and the changing nature of work which brings with it a need to invest in lifelong learning, have each raised concerns about the member states’ socio-economic future. The proportion of older people in European societies is increasing fast due to low birth rates, ageing "baby-boomers" and rising life expectancy.

Between 2010 and 2060, the number of people over 65 will grow from 17.4% to 29.5% of the total European population, while the number of people over 80 will nearly triple to 12%. At the same time, the working age population in the EU is expected to decline by 14.2%. With a shrinking labour force no longer able to provide for the needs of the growing number of older people, pensions, healthcare and long-term care systems risk becoming unsustainable.

The reality is not much different in the Basque Country. Population statistics  indicate that in 2016 the number of over 65 years-olds in the Basque Country reached 465,174 people (21.4%) - and of those almost 74,000 were over 85 years-old. According to the EUSTAT (The Statistic Institute of the Basque Country), by 2029 there will be an increase of population aged 65 or over to around 600,000 people, which will represent nearly 29% of the Basque population (EUSTAT, 2016).

These figures point to a need for Basque society to rethink how its public policies and services might address this changing reality, doing so in a way that embraces the valuable role the elderly can play in contributing to society as a whole. Active ageing is therefore a cross-cutting policy priority that concerns policy at the local, regional and European levels.  At a European level, the need to promote effective active ageing policies plays an important role in the broader context of the European H2020 Strategy for smart, inclusive and sustainable growth. While regionally, in the Basque Country, active ageing is addressed in the “Basque Strategy on Active Ageing 2015-2020”. This strategic document reflects the need to tackle the adaptation of the population to ageing through a new model of governance, through the implementation of preventive actions that boost healthier ageing and through the construction of a Wellbeing Society.


The Ideas Generation Workshop

After carrying out some desk research to better understand the policy challenges facing the Basque Country’s ageing population, Sinnergiak Social Innovation (UPV/EHU) set out to organise our social innovation policy workshop. The purpose of this workshop was to bring a diverse group of participants together to explore how social innovation and participatory policy approaches could help identify new active ageing policy approaches to support the elderly to lead more active and healthy lives. The workshop was held in San Sebastian on March 1st 2017 with the participation of a small but diverse group of participants. This included representatives from local authorities, regional organisations linked to active ageing and a number of academics. Importantly, the workshop set out to be inclusive in its design, and so the event was also attended by a number of young and elderly representatives who shared ideas and reflections around challenges and opportunities related to this new arising issue.

The workshop started with a presentation about ageing policy in the Basque Country by Mayte Sancho (Matia Foundation). This helped to provide participants with a better understanding of the policy context and help set the stage for the later interactive workshop session that would follow after.

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Changes in the Models of Living. Families living in the same place together is a model that is rapidly changing. More than 65% of this population live alone or with his/her partner.

Level of Education. Average levels of education are increasing for this segment of the population. In 2014, 18.2% of older people held an university degree compared to 2010 in which just a 10% held this type of qualification.

Perceived Health Status. Recent studies seem to point to an ageing population who have higher expectations from social services. 40% of elderly people affirm that the services offered are deficient compared with a 35% who supported that opinion in 2010.

Preferences for caring. 90% prefer to receive care at home, just 8% indicate that their preference is living in full-time residential care.


Using the Basque Country Strategy to frame the discussion

So that any ideas generated would complement existing active ageing policy in the Basque Country, participants were presented with the three main areas of ageing policy from the “Active Ageing Strategy in the Basque Country 2015-2020”. These were:

  • Creation of a new governance model adapted to the needs of an ageing society that boosts social and organisational change in both the public policies context and the private context in the Basque Country
  • Anticipation and prevention for a better ageing by promoting cross-cutting prevention policies that can promote and foster the autonomy and independence of the elderly
  • Inclusiveness and participation of the elderly in the construction of a Welfare Society.

Once participants had been presented the main policy issues related to active ageing policy,  the three areas (Awareness of society about ageing, Empowerment of elderly, Well-being and Healthcare) were used to help guide the interactive World Cafe session. Participants were divided into three roundtable groups to share and discuss their insights on some of the key dimensions of active ageing.


Crowdsourcing policy priorities and insights

Participants were then asked to reflect on the policy challenges that would need to be addressed, and to generate a series of policy ideas that would help achieve active ageing goals. A selection of these ideas are highlighted below:

Changing the cultural attitudes to ageing. To address negative perceptions related to ageing, participants felt that it was necessary to raise awareness of the valuable role the elderly play in society. Awareness-raising strategies would be more effective if they worked in/with different areas (Media, Education, Health...) and carried out campaigns to educate the public to challenge negative stereotypes and behaviours that can lead to marginalization of the elderly population. As a result, it is also important to boost a new culture of participation (intergenerational spaces).

Creation of participatory social innovation actions where the value of experience is recognised. Participants reflected on the need to design new leisure programmes and social participatory activities (such as community-based activities that help the elderly to learn and share new skills, keep active and participate in the community - such as intergenerational cohabitation programmes or the YOS Concept programme - Young and Old in School) where people can share their ideas and experiences by contributing to the improvement of social policies, new social innovative ideas, programmes, etc.

Ageing with agency: Participants found that people, particularly those approaching retirement, should be empowered by being provided with the right information and knowledge to make decisions that will affect their lives. Providing access to information and knowledge will be a necessary precondition to creating opportunities for the elderly to co-design and co-participate in the process of idea generation and policy development.

Community integration. New programmes and policy actions should encourage social innovators, policymakers and social entrepreneurs to look for new opportunities to invite the elderly to actively participate in their communities and to contribute to decision making processes.

Social Networks to anticipate loneliness. Participants considered ideas that would allow for the development of new social spaces and the roll out of an alert system and community care model to help identify elderly lonely people (community care).

New people-powered models of healthcare. Participants explored the idea of a more integrative health model built on a new culture that moves from a “passive patient” to a more “active and responsible patient”.

New contexts for ageing. Participants also considered how residential housing programmes could be better tailored to the the needs of elderly populations: this would require creating new models and markets of housing and more personalized real estate services.


Next Steps

This workshop illustrated the value in having participants representing a variety of points of view and experiences coming together to discuss a topic that is a priority policy challenge for Basque society. For Sinnergiak Social Innovation (UPV/EHU), this event also forms part of a wider programme of work to encourage policymakers and others to work in more socially innovative and collaborative ways to devise new solutions for topics like active ageing.

In the coming months we will be running some other  follow-on policy workshops aimed at addressing policymakers’ skills and learning needs to adopt new social innovation approaches. We are open to hearing from public authorities that are interested in experimenting with new social innovation approaches to help tackle some of the challenges of an ageing population.  Please email us directly if you are interested in finding out more or in collaborating with us on our next policy workshop.


Álvaro Luna.

Igone Guerra.