By 2050, the world’s population of people over the age of 60 will double, which has significant implications for sustainable development. The World Health Organisation’s Decade on Healthy Ageing 2020–2030 calls for concerted, catalytic and collaborative action to improve the lives of older people, their families and the communities in which they live.
What socially innovative policies and practices have been put into place across the world to deal with elderly care in different local contexts? What might a rapidly changing society like China, which has a top-down policy impetus and clear need for practical solutions, learn from comparative studies of social innovation in aged care in other countries? What mutual learning between countries can arise from such theoretical studies and comparative analysis?
PI Professor Ka Lin (Zhejiang University) says the WUN-funded research he’s been leading has yielded several significant findings in this area since the collaborative project kicked off in 2018 with the construction of a new analytical framework that brings innovation studies together with elderly care studies.
From dozens of elderly care issues, the team identified three issues – smart care, integrated care and co-management – as areas for international comparison.
Researchers from developed countries (including the UK, US, Norway, Australia and New Zealand) and from developing countries (including China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos and Nepal), collected cases studies for analysis.
“Interestingly, from our examination of informal care and intergenerational care, we found that in South Asia intergenerational care is primarily about the care of the elderly, whereas in Europe it is mostly in the interest of children.”
So far, the WUN collaboration has yielded several research papers, numerous PhD dissertations and an MA thesis, a workshop on Social Innovation and Elderly Care at the University of Bergen in March 2018, scholarly events at Zhejiang University, and mutually beneficial visits by scholars and doctoral students from partner universities and institutes.
One paper, published in June 2018 in the Journal of Zhejiang University (Humanities and Social Sciences), highlights the impact of the team’s work in analysing and comparing the studies that European and American scholars have conducted regarding intergenerational care.
This includes: helping to ensure Chinese researchers are acquainted with existing theoretical hypotheses and research methods; providing nourishment for their thinking about social policy; showing that the support of social policies has a positive effect on the social welfare of grandparents and grandchildren; and revealing how important it is to advocate for the adoption of policies and service measures to support alternative care for the elderly.
Smart care is another area in which the team’s research findings are playing a key role in policy development.
“Smart care came late to China – mainly after 2013,” says Professor Lin, “compared to the UK and US, which occurred mainly during the 1990s. But China’s pace of development is very fast, and our level of development is higher than in Australia and New Zealand.”
In this context, he says, social thinkers need to be the social reformers – leading the way backed by scientific levels of social analysis.
“Our research is valuable because it: outlines numerous modifications of care models for the elderly in recent times; tests the effect of modern technology on elderly care with an intention to expose the new capabilities of this development; and expands comparative studies to reveal diverse paths of development through examining innovative local practices.”