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Effective use of open government data to transform the lives of Europe’s elderly citizens

Public services across the EU are increasingly online only. However, with less internet access than their younger counterparts and higher levels of computer-illiteracy, older citizens needs aren’t always taken into account. The Mobile-Age project helped public administrators develop services to better suit their specific needs.

Health

Senior citizens are predicted to make up 28 % of Europe’s population by 2020. But when it comes to technological innovation, Europe’s senior citizens are often marginalised. The result is a higher risk of isolation from society, for swathes of the population, both physically and socially. The Mobile-Age project sought to tackle this growing issue by providing a basis for the development of digital services focused on Europe’s elderly residents and designed with their help, too. The app platform lets public service providers understand and create innovative new experiences for elder members of society, and third-party software developers design new information services and integrate them into the local communities. Feedback has been positive from the case studies, and the Mobile-Age team hopes the results will feed into respective national policies regarding public services and the elderly. The end goal of the project was to develop a transferable model, one that could be easily implemented and built upon in cities across the European Union. Pilots of digital services took place in four locations, deemed already innovative in their approach to integrating senior citizens into the development of urban services: Bremen (Germany), South Lakeland (United Kingdom), Thessaloniki (Greece) and Zaragoza (Spain).

Co-designing success

By including senior citizens in the process, the project aimed to develop services that older Europeans will truly benefit from. “This approach contrasts with the long-established approaches that focus on training older adults to ‘catch up’,” says Professor Niall Hayes from the University of Lancaster, and Mobile-Age project coordinator. The pilots explored issues important to elderly residents in each specific location, and included those related to social inclusion, independent living, urban safety and accessibility, and personal health management. In Bremen, for example, the older adult co-creators provided detailed information, new walking routes, new locations, photos and video clips. “This is a good example of how data that is identified as being especially meaningful by the local community can be opened up and can play an important role in community-making,” says Prof. Hayes.

Sharing the knowledge

The project led to the development of the Mobile-Age app, which offers services tailored to the needs of senior citizens and is already available in several languages. Furthermore, the project website is now an invaluable platform for app developers to access relevant data efficiently and create their own services. “All of the resources and technological components are open,” says Prof. Hayes. The Mobile-Age apps that have been developed in each country unleash the potential of open data to support local authorities in delivering public services. In increasingly ‘smart’ cities, open data allow different services to be linked up and provide users with personalised, location-based information. This makes the whole process more efficient, benefitting cities and citizens alike. What’s more, as all members of society become more included in civic participation, and see the benefits of more open, transparent governments, the project believes trust in public institutions will also increase. “The Mobile-Age Development Environment represents a key innovation, enabling the efficient development of apps specifically for older adults. We’ll continue to work with our SME, government and third-sector partners to expand these services and to shape policy at regional, national and European levels,” says Prof. Hayes.

Keywords

Mobile-Age, elderly, social inclusion, independent living, urban safety, accessibility, app, internet

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