Why Not Call for a National Longevity Strategy.

You could say that we in Canada are now, either speaking up more loudly, or finally catching up with the rest of the world around discussing the effect of aging demographics on our social policies and structures. Many countries have led before us with a more fully developed national conversation and subsequent revisions to their social policies that address the obvious changes required to health care, pension reform and workforce development.

While there has been enough, other prickly world news to occupy our mind share over this past few years, in the last several months, quietly but steadily there have been more calls from various groups, government bodies and concerned individuals, that Canada must develop a National Seniors Strategy.

Senate_reportAs a prime example, in June 2017, Senate Canada published a report by their Standing Committee on National Finance on Canada’s Aging Population – titled Getting Ready: For a new generation of active seniors. This tidy 24-page report sets a platform for an intelligent and inclusive discussion that could be facilitated anywhere across the country, an invitation to all age groups I might stress, rather than one narrowly designed for a seniors only audience.

Certainly, there is well-articulated content in this document, but rather than recite the statistics and recommendations here, I suggest you read it for yourself. However there are a few comments worth noting that will help frame how we should open our minds before we get into any dialogue that would potentially lead us down a path of opinionated responses based on “what was” thinking, but rather lead us to constructive possibility thinking, the “what now, how now?”

In the “reflect thoughtfully first” category, let me pluck out some significant lines from the Senate Canada report:

  • Repercussions of population aging are as much social at they are economic in nature
  • Population aging is not a uniform phenomenon
  • There are groups…more vulnerable within the larger group we call seniors. When we treat this population as homogeneous, we tend to neglect the sometimes more precarious situation of certain groups…

It is an understatement to say that Canada is geographically a huge country, more culturally diverse, with regional social and economic differences and now we can add to that layering – demographic differences.

There are several, simple info-graphics in the report that help spell out the uneven nature of aging across Canada, and as Laurent Martel states in the report, “when considering demographics, the national trend often hides regional differences… important to consider when assessing the public policy implications of such demographics… such regional differences are also currently increasing.”

All this makes for an interesting ride, if we are to take a National Seniors Strategy on a road show dialogue around the country.  Not to be a pessimist, I’m having a hard time imagining who would facilitate such an event without it becoming another series of heated town-hall arguments, and poorly advertised grass-roots public consultations that only lead to another dry series of studies and reports. This can’t be just another insider forum of politicians, academics and policy makers.

Motion 106 & Demand a Plan

At the same time as the Senate Canada effort, in May 2017, in the House of Commons, MP Marc Serré’s private members’ Motion 106, was passed, asking to create a study to develop a National Seniors Strategy. Is he talking with the Senate right now? The Canadian Medical Association is backing all this too, as evidenced by their participation in the Senate report and the Demand a Plan movement on their website.

No one entity owns this turf on this subject. There is the National Seniors Strategy group, promoting this with its own framework, has been around since 2013; and the National Institute on Aging at Ryerson – which held a conference in November 2016 – has supported this initiative.

Others entities such as another decade-old Canadian government creation, the National Seniors Council, and CARP have chimed in with their various takes on this for years. However, maybe it is time, while we consider our regional complexities, we should remember the input from those now in their 40’s and 50’s who we will inherit the outcomes of any national strategy decisions. Their “out there” future likely will require more frequent recalibrations than we’ve had before.

Yet on we go, still framing the future within yesterday’s terms of reference and points of view. Without changing the language that highly changeable future realities will demand of new generations, we may lose the engagement of people who don’t see themselves in a demographic box called seniors any time soon, even though they realize they will have to have some strategy.

The Senate Canada report says, get ready “for a new generation of active seniors”. If that further suggests that senior-hood, is not a uniform phenomenon, and life expectancy is stretching from what we’ve known – then maybe what we could really call for is a National Longevity Strategy.

My hunch is that this might catch more ideas from people well under that mythic 65, who are sometimes uncomfortably aware that they will be living, learning and working longer – and differently, which will prompt them to think harder about appropriate policy changes in any national strategy that will benefit them up the road.

 

Mark Venning

National Institute on Ageing: Re-think Ageing Update

As an update to the November 2016, National Institute on Ageing (NIA) Re-think Ageing conference, earlier this month the NIA finally pulled together a summary, Proceedings and Event Report, which accurately describes the entire two days content presenting a full range of the elements in the current social narrative on ageing in Canada.

NIAOver two days, the conference was constructed around the four pillars in the National Seniors Strategy for Canada. One of the goals the NIA set out to achieve was to “broaden the policy dialogue on key issues by purposefully including older adults in the conversation” – that is to say others who are not directly working in the field of ageing such as academics, service providers and product developers.

Based on the success of this event, the NIA is planning a second conference in November 2017, though dates have yet to be announced. Last year, three of us from the Planet Longevity group attended and in one case presented on Day 1 of the conference, and I expect we might again. Personally speaking I hope that the massive structure of the panels and idea bank sessions will be broken down – fewer topics, smaller groups – with more time for well-facilitated conversation.

As I commented after last year, one of the benefits of attending the first NIA conference was meeting people who have a shared enthusiasm for the subject matter, in all its diversity; but the format of the breakouts did not provide enough time for quality interaction, time to confer. Having planned and orchestrated conferences over the years, the lesson is that big isn’t always better.

A supporting sponsor organization for the Ryerson University based NIA, is the International Federation on Ageing (IFA). As it happens, the IFA is holding its global conference in Toronto – August 8-10, 2018. While both these conferences, several months apart in the same city, may attract different audience segments, it will be interesting to see how different, and dare I suggest more robust the content will be for the NIA conference this November.

Given all this choice, depending on your professional interests, there is only so much specialized content you can digest and if you only have so much time and financial investment for these learning opportunities, then you need to clearly see the differentials for why you would attend one or both of these events.

In some ways, an NIA conference in November 2017 could be seen as a prelude to the August 2018 IFA event. As both organizations share the agenda on the “healthy aging” conversation for example, it would make sense to me that if the NIA is going to produce something first, then it should look for ways to present a more focused discussion on something other than healthy aging.

My suggestion for the NIA would be to do a one-day conference with the focus on the two complimentary pillars in the National Seniors Strategy – Care Closer to Home & Support for Caregivers. This issue alone is worth a deeper dive and it truly is an inter-generational concern, not merely a seniors-centric issue. Based on a recent experience designing a small inter-generational panel, I see huge potential for taking the caregiving agenda out to millennials and Gen-X for better insight, and for that matter, greater action.

Whatever the decision, I would encourage the NIA to announce their dates, theme and agenda before September. Time waits for no one and the August 2018 IFA event is tapping my interest already.

 

Mark Venning

Re-think Ageing from the Old Economy Social Narrative.

For an inaugural year 2016, the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) at Ryerson University in Toronto looks to have set the stage well for its future vision. Closing with its November 24-25 conference – Re-think Ageing, the event hit the mark at a rapid pace, presenting a full range of elements in the current social narrative on ageing.

NIA

 

 

 

Over two days, constructed around the four pillars in the National Seniors Strategy for Canada, the conference managed to convey the breadth and diversity of this dialogue that affects the lives of not only seniors, but the lives of entire families. One of the goals the NIA set out to achieve was to “broaden the policy dialogue on key issues by purposefully including older adults in the conversation” – that is to say others who are not directly working in the field of ageing such as academics, service providers and product developers.

Among the sizeable audience, on the opening first day which I attended, the Planet Longevity group members with me included Sandra Downey, Mary Ellen Tomlinson and Suzanne Cook, who was one of the presenters in an Idea Bank break out session titled “Social Innovation, Productive Activity & Life-long Learning”. Suzanne presented alongside two other business friends of mine – Lisa Taylor of the Challenge Factory and Adele Robertson of V Generation.

In a very compressed amount of time, Lisa Taylor shared her model around working in later life with her Legacy Careers for those 50-75+. Adele presented her personal story, which led to her retake on volunteerism and as her web site says, how V Generation coaches people on how to “rewrite the after-work playbook” as a means of staying active and engaged. Suzanne introduced her new documentary film sponsored by CERIC Redirection: Movers, Shakers & Shifters.

Idea Banks for further re-think

Here is the question that set the tone for the group discussion that followed up on their triad presentation, which was really about how our frames of reference regarding retirement has changed the way people are approaching their later life journeys as opposed to the crisp end of work life as generally experienced by previous generations:

“How should Canadian employers, education, municipalities and social entrepreneurs evolve their thinking and options for older adults to increase their participation in the labour force, volunteerism or in lifelong learning via continuing education programs?”

There is a lot of meat on the bones of that question and the presenters conveyed a very consistent and complimentary theme that to their credit, managed to stimulate a buzz in the group conversations that followed, one that struck a chord with each person as they equally took it on a personal level. Unfortunately, the set-up of the room, the size of the audience, as well as the design structure and facilitation elements did not lend to the best output.

You might say that this session was a teaser – which could have rolled into a fuller well-facilitated 2-3 hour interactive dialogue, directly with the three presenters. So in that sense as the saying goes – Lisa, Adele and Suzanne left us wanting more! While this same comment could be made for the other Idea Bank presentations that day, the NIA should be congratulated for their ambitious effort to put a lot of effort into launching a national conversation to Re-think Ageing.

As a final thought for now, on the above meaty question posed for this specific session, I think that what we need to consider on a macro scale is that our fast moving, contemporary answer to “what is a labour force?” is fundamentally different to, and thus not so compatible to the old economy and social narrative.

Let me suggest that, in reference to Lisa’s reconstruction with Legacy Careers, Adele’s “after-work” re-write and Suzanne’s Redirection for later life work – it is becoming increasingly so that people are contributing to society and the economy in many different ways, which are not necessarily measurable by traditional labour market language. Furthermore from what I observe, even if they don’t yet have the impulse to re-think ageing, it’s not only the current generation of 50-plus citizens that are looking for a life re-direction of some form.

 

Mark Venning