Age-Friendly university with citizen science

The University of Manitoba is a grand university building.Using citizen science techniques to engage with users takes built environment assessments another step. And a university campus provides a neat environment for a case study. Researchers at the University of Manitoba went about examining the age-friendliness of their campus using specific citizen science techniques. This is all documented in their article, Exploring University Age-Friendliness Using Collaborative Citizen Science. The main aim was to test the method, but the data collected were useful as well. The data revealed physical accessibility, signage, and transportation as being the most important for improving overall age-friendliness. The article was published in The Gerontologist and requires institutional access for a free read.

Citizen science is more than just asking a group of older people to wander around taking pictures and notes. It is a collaboration between citizens and researchers at all stages of the research process. That includes analysis of the data. However, it is not known whether the university implemented any of the recommendations. 

The Age-Friendly University initiative was started by Dublin City University and has turned into a global network. More than 50 universities around the world have joined. You can read more about this global movement in a Forbes article.   

Abstract
Background and Objectives: Since the launch of Dublin City University’s Age-Friendly University (AFU) Initiative in 2012, relatively little empirical research has been published on its feasibility or implementation by institutions of higher learning. This article describes how collaborative citizen science—a research method where professional researchers and community members work together across multiple stages of the research process (e.g., data collection, analysis, and/or knowledge mobilization) to investigate an issue—was used to identify barriers and supports to university age-friendliness at the University of Manitoba (UofM) in Canada.

Research Design and Methods: Ten citizen scientists each completed 1 data collection walk around the UofM campus and used a tablet application to document AFU barriers and supports via photographs and accompanying audio commentaries. The citizen scientists and university researchers then worked together in 2 analysis sessions to identify AFU priority areas and brainstorm recommendations for institutional change. These were then presented to a group of interested university stakeholders.

Results: The citizen scientists collected 157 photos documenting AFU barriers and supports on campus. Accessibility, signage, and transportation were identified as being the most pressing issues for the university to address to improve overall age-friendliness.

Discussion and Implications: We suggest that academic institutions looking to complete assessments of their age-friendliness, particularly those exploring physical barriers and supports, could benefit from incorporating older citizen scientists into the process of collecting, analyzing, and mobilizing findings.