I am a new writer on Ageing Issues so wanted to both say hello and start to write from the perspective of somebody starting to research ageing in place. My aim for this short blog article is to consider how to plan for – and make the most of – the upcoming three day Mobility, Mood and Place conference in Edinburgh this October.
Conferences as a chance to build skills and knowledge
I recently finished 10 years of working within a local authority regeneration team in south Wales to pursue a PhD at the Centre for Innovative Ageing in Swansea. I am in my thirties so have lots of networks and experience of working in different communities: managing projects which impact on places and people. From this perspective I see that government and academia both want to make place-based interventions that meet local needs. However, the different approach taken by academia to local government is already becoming clear when we approach conferences such as this.
The main point is to recognise the importance of local authorities – or any governmental body – being geographically bound. They serve a given population with their particular history and culture and are governed by a group of elected members. Though the challenges are local most of the innovative place-based practice within local government, whether urban or rural, depends on competing with other local authorities and charities for grant funding and the attention of the different levels of government [like Scotland we have our own government in Wales].
Competition is clearly part of the academia also, but the challenge for resources impacts on an epistemological level upstream: as the ways of researching and conceptualising local problems are too often forced by the policy belonging to the funders. Whilst academic institutions can carry out their fieldwork at a great distance from the university – even spanning international borders – your local council has to work with its population. The conferences that I went to as a local government officer generally considered policy and best practice but not often in depth ways of understanding situations. In this sense the Mobility Mood and Place conference is great because it has a choice of three workshops that are very local: participants being given the chance to relate concepts to real space and place of Edinburgh.
How these three immersive workshops give perspective
Catharine Ward Thompson spoke about the Lothian Birth Cohorts of 1921 and 1936 at the BSG Conference in Stirling. One workshop centres on place and how it influences health by considering the Lothian lifecourse data alongside both the ‘Civic Survey and Plan for Edinburgh 1949’ and current urban design plans [developed and championed by a local charity] for a historic part of the city.
Another workshop centres on the techniques of co-design: producing urban design proposals for dementia-friendly places having met resident older people to understand their sense of place. This sounds like a good creative way of spending the last day of the conference and getting very immediate first-hand accounts of how places can be dementia-friendly.
The final choice is to understand how mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) technology is used to measure emotional and affective response as people negotiate space. To be part of this workshop you might have to wear an EEG helmet which samples your responses to Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. The session conclusion sounds like the ultimate mix of qualitative and quantitative methods: comparing the mobile neural imaging methods with observational data and mapping.
It is very hard to choose one from these three fascinating workshops but I have decided to look at place and how it influences health. As I transition from my local government to academia I still want to understand the impact of planned or instrumental approaches to place over time. It is rare that such cohort data exists – and most of us will never see the benefit of this date to our own lives.
I hope to add my perspective to the Ageing Issues blog over the course of my PhD – and hopefully beyond! I look forward to going up to Edinburgh and will tweet and write about my experiences from the conference.