National Smart Ageing Cities and Towns Co-Design Symposium


Maretta Dillon reports on the National Smart Ageing Cities and Towns Co-Design Symposium organised by ISAX.

We all know that getting out and about is important as we age. We also know that keeping active and engaged is vital in maintaining social links and good mental health. If that’s the case, why does our built environment – transport, public spaces, social participation, amenities – seem to be so often working against us?

Ireland’s Smart Ageing Exchange or ISAX for short recently organised a co-design symposium in Limerick. Here older people identified access issues that affect them directly in their daily lives. They then worked with a larger group including town planners, architects, transport experts, retail and other service providers to co-design solutions to specific problems.

Why is all this relevant? Well, in this case the statistics don’t lie. The number of people aged 65 and over is expected to double to 1.3 billion by 2040. The United Nations forecasts that the number of people aged 80 and over will treble. People can now expect to live well into their nineties. These people are the fastest growing consumer group in the world – the silver market.

ISAX is a membership organisation established last year to identify both the opportunities and the challenges thrown up by an ageing population.  Older people will need products and services specific to them – most of which have not even been thought of yet so that represents lots of commercial opportunities. On the other hand, Governments, in particular, will need innovative solutions to address more demand in areas such as health, pensions and care.

No one agency has all the answers. A collaborative response is needed. ISAX plans to create a network so that all the interested groups across the different sectors including:  government agencies, academic institutions, the corporate economy and older adults can offer their shared experience to solve problems but also highlight opportunities. ISAX’s co-design symposium was the start of this project.

In advance of the co-design day, ISAX worked with 22 older adults living in different areas of Limerick. ISAX trained the participants to observe their daily lives by recording/photographing the features and facilities that brought joy to their lives and those that were barriers to their independence and well-being in areas such as transport and mobility, public spaces, safety, social participation and access to amenities.

The findings from the videos, photographs and observational studies were shown at the start of the symposium. Participants were then be divided into ten teams of 10 people – each taking one of the five ‘problems’ identified by the findings. The teams were made up of a diverse range of people with different skills sets as well as the older adults. The co-design idea is that the users, in this case, older people are at the centre of the process.

Mobility was a central theme – how do we make our cities and towns more user friendly?  Maybe we need to make car parking spaces L shaped so that car doors open out fully.  Or what about offering designated drop off points for cars with special “chipped disabled sticker” in central areas with parking spaces. Maybe we could staff certain car parks with City Ambassadors to provide support for older people looking to access banks, shops, offices etc.

Access is not just about hard concrete and pavements, fear or inexperience with the digital world is seriously affecting older people’s daily lives. Maybe we should incentivise people in their 50s and 60s to become more digitally literate to avoid being left behind and left out.

All of the ideas above were generated during the event. ISAX can now take these to their member groups to see if there is any interest in developing them further. It is the beginning of a process that will give product and service designers a deeper understanding of how older adults actually live. The hope is that any new products and services, research and information, will be based on real experiences and therefore more likely to succeed.

The National Smart Ageing Cities and Towns Co-Design Symposium was held on June 14 in Limerick. The event was run by ISAX, Ireland’s Smart Ageing Exchange in partnership with Limerick City and County Council, UL (University of Limerick), LSAD (Limerick School of Art & Design) and ITC (Institute of Technology Carlow) and focused on the theme of ‘age friendly environments’ in Limerick. If you would like to know more about ISAX, its future plans and how you might get involved, check out their website






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Senior Times also publishes Senior Times magazine and are organisers of the 50 Plus Expo’s in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Killarney.

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