Ageing Well Network Case Study

Ageing Well Network: A Case Study of an Irish Success Story in the Field of Ageing

Susan Parker

AWNThe Ageing Well Network in the Republic of Ireland, created in 2007, filled a considerable gap. No forum existed for senior-level executives to come together and discuss, in a safe and stimulating environment, the challenges and promises of an expanding older population.

The careful and thoughtful approach of its leaders enabled the Ageing Well Network participants to create policy
changes that have the potential to benefit tens of thousands of older people in Ireland.

 

Background
In the mid-2000s, The Atlantic Philanthropies (Atlantic) embarked on a major initiative in the ageing field in the
Republic of Ireland. As part of its investment, Atlantic wanted to help build the infrastructure of the ageing sector.
Unlike other sectors, the ageing field was weak and fragmented. Individuals in nongovernmental organisations,
academia and the government performed important work but rarely had the opportunity to talk to one another.
Atlantic created the Ageing Well Network to act as a leadership network and think-tank for leaders in the ageing
sector in which members could learn from each other and from national and international thinkers and practitioners.

The focus of the network was simple: to explore effective approaches to realising a shared vision of “an Ireland that is a great country to grow old in.”

What Made the Network Unique

The Ageing Well Network had several features that were crucial to its success. Those features were:

• Inviting only senior executives to participate. Network organisers wanted participants who were in positions to
make decisions and ensure their implementation.
• Creating a multi-sectoral network. Because the ageing field in Ireland was so fragmented, it was important to
bring together the various sectors so they could share ideas and begin to create a cohesive field.
• Including top government officials across departments and agencies. Any real change in the approach to
older adults would have to include the government so it was crucial to have government officials involved. These
officials came from a range of departments including those not typically seen as involved in ageing issues such as
transportation and education.
• Working for change within the system rather than focusing on an advocacy capacity. Because government
officials were involved in the network, a crucial focus was to find ways to work with those officials, rather than in an
advocacy and potentially adversarial role.
• Holding off-site retreats using the Chatham House Rule. For the first three years, the network held overnight
retreats for its members under the Chatham House Rule in which no news media were present and no one could be
quoted. These meetings allowed participants to get to know one another in a low-pressure, intellectually stimulating
environment.

Accomplishments

An independent case study noted that since the Ageing Well Network’s inception in 2007, it can claim a number of
key accomplishments including:

• Contributing to Ireland’s National Positive Ageing Strategy. The network made a significant impact on the
development of a national strategy on ageing for older people. Two of its important contributions were to broaden
the view of ageing beyond health and to provide a perspective of older people as contributors to society, not
burdens.
• Developing the Age-Friendly Cities and Counties Programme. The Ageing Well Network led the establishment
of Age-Friendly Cities and Counties programmes in 16 of Ireland’s counties. The programme focuses on
transforming communities to make them as age-friendly as possible. Based on principles developed by the World
Health Organization, Ireland’s programme is now regarded as one of the most developed and holistic in the world.
Ireland’s local authorities have now committed to carry on the work so that all 26 counties will have age-friendly
structures.
• Introducing New Ways of Thinking among Participants. Several network members said that their participation
with colleagues and nationally and internationally recognised speakers sparked new ways of thinking that would
not have happened without the network. For example, one member, Brian MacCraith, said that as a result of his
work, on the first day of his presidency of Dublin City University, he announced a plan to make it the world’s first
age-friendly university.
• Catalysing a New Focus on Ageing in Ireland. Ageing Well Network’s initiatives and stature contributed
significantly to an increased focus on ageing in Ireland, participants and observers said. It helped raise the profile
of ageing issues as a national priority and brought issues to places they had not previously been discussed such
as with police and transportation. The Taoiseach (prime minister), for example, has identified the goal of making
Ireland the best small country to grow old as one of his top three priorities.

Conclusion
The Ageing Well Network ran from 2007 to 2013. In just six years, it can point to a number of accomplishments,
including strongly influencing the National Positive Ageing Strategy, initiating the world’s most developed Age Friendly Cities and Counties programme and putting ageing on the agenda of senior government officials. While
networks are not in short supply, the particular characteristics of the Ageing Well Network are noteworthy and could
be useful to others looking for ways that a network can help bring together a fragmented field and influence both
national and local policy.

For more information
To learn more about the Ageing Well Network, read the full case study here