Engaging a community around aging with dignity and independence

Posted on February 22, 2011 by Suzanne Gregory

By Suzanne Gregory, SCOPE

A first observation – it’s easier said than done.  Not sure why I expected this community engagement initiative to be different in that regard!  The first phase of the Aging with Dignity & Independence Initiative is all about discovery:  listening to the local lived-experience of our residents.  This data collection phase is complete and now the analysis of what we heard begins.

So I am eager to talk about what occurred and what emerged from this discovery phase of Aging with Dignity & Independence. We will do several posts on this...what we did, the challenges, the themes that emerged and ask you to think about the big “so what” question that follows. No matter where your interests or vocation lies, at the end of the day, the question is the same, “How does this matter?”

This initiative draws heavily on qualitative work - it’s about acknowledging the richness and complexity of the human experience through hearing from people about their own circumstances, observations and perceptions.  It is also guided by the orientation of community–based participatory research.  This requires a balancing of the community and academic perspectives throughout the process.

There were two ways to participate - if you were age 65+ you could participated in a focus group or could have taken a survey sharing your reflections and experiences pertaining to aging with dignity and independence.  The second method sought input from people of all ages.  These participants shared a story of a positive experience with an older adult, one in which the older adult’s dignity and independence were enhanced.

More than 500 people participated throughout the county via community forums, focus groups, surveys and online formats. I had the privilege of facilitating the forums and hearing some of the stories firsthand. There are more than 200 stories from participants age 12 to 96.  The analysis involves identifying key themes and how they relate to the themes gleaned from the focus groups and 65+ surveys.

SCOPE and USF Sarasota-Manatee are working together. It has been a good collaboration bringing together their academic rigor of qualitative research and methods with the citizen engagement efforts of SCOPE.  Part of this partnership role is helping steward the process to be cognizant and respectful of the community.

Our Advisory Committee is in the midst of reviewing and discussing the data. The committee members have started to dream and envision what these themes might lead to in Sarasota County.

This is really just the beginning. Stay tuned for further thoughts on how these themes can effect change in our community.

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