Transport and age-friendly cities

Unintended consequences from policy actions are not new. Sometimes things come undone in those little details that seemed unimportant at the time. Sometimes it’s because policy actions come from different parts of an overall system. Transport is a case in point. Transport is about the whole journey – from the front gate to the destination and home again. It’s more than cars, buses and trains – it’s footpaths, information systems and supporting infrastructure. And transport is a key element of age-friendly cities.

Transportation is a social determinant of health – particularly for older people. According to the World Health Organization their “lives are guided by the available transportation system”.

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands. Where do you want to live when you grow older?

One potential policy outcome is that distinct actions, which address different facets of the same overall approach, undermine one another.

Australian researchers set about assessing policy actions for supporting older people’s transportation in Greater Sydney. The analysis revealed unwanted consequences because some actions were undermining each other. They also found systemic constraints and the failure to account for small, but important, details.

Older people’s mobility applies to land use, open and public space, supplementary transport, and community transport. This means that policy makers need to examine interactions between different parts of the system so they can foresee potential unwanted consequences. Then they can do something about it.

The title of the article is, Using systems thinking to assess the functioning of an “Age-Friendly City” governance network in Australia.

The authors also produced a Policy Brief based on the research with their recommendations:

Front page of the Policy Brief showing a man and a woman on a bus wearing masks. Age friendly cities.
  • 1. Coordinate plans for residential and public transport development.
  • 2. Establish key performance indicators for creating and funding new footpaths.
  • 3. Improve cross-sector information flow.
  • 4. Increase the predictability of funding for health and social care transport services.

From the abstract

Age-Friendly Cities (AFC) is a framework for promoting healthy ageing through local actions. We use systems thinking to assess potential outcomes of actions to support older people’s mobility, undertaken within an AFC commitment in Greater Sydney.

Four approaches to support older people’s mobility were identified and situated to the Multiple Governance Framework: land use, open and public space, supplementary transport, and community transport.

Analysis revealed potential for unwanted consequences associated with each, which can be generalised into three generic potential outcomes for other jurisdictions to consider.
A recommendation from this research is for policy actors to examine feedback interactions between actions so that they can foresee a wider range of outcomes and take defensive action against those unwanted.

This research not only identifies what to look for, in terms of potential outcomes, but also where to look, in terms of the level of decision-making. This research offers a new way to assess the functioning of AFC governance networks by their collective outcomes and challenges the standards for the evaluation of AFC.

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