Begin by looking at what you already know. Gather the information that is available, determine what is missing, and consider ways to collect what is needed. Look at people, relationships and services. Scan existing data. Ask questions.
Take time to develop partner relationships before initiating the project. Find out who is interested in this work, bring together an advisory group, and engage older adults in the process. Activate interest and support. Establish who will conduct the assessment and who will be making decisions.
Assessment can be as extensive as you choose and as formal or informal as is practical and appropriate. What you need to know and how you gather information to inform your work will depend on your goals and community.
Bring together people with knowledge and interest (or potential interest) in promoting the engagement of older adults, including community stakeholders and partners, potential collaborators, and older adults. Find the stakeholders and experts who can help plan, implement, and interpret your assessment. Form an advisory group.
Leverage existing efforts and develop relationships with a broad spectrum of community partners.
Lay the groundwork for long-term efforts that include multiple partners responsible for building and sustaining the work.
Understand your context, what you already know, and what you hope to learn.
Consider contextual factors that will shape your efforts.
- Demographics. How many older adults are there in your community and what are their interests and attributes? What is their demographic profile (race/ethnicity, income, education, location)? What percentage of your total population do they represent? How rapidly is this population segment growing?
- Barriers. Are there significant obstacles you can identify that prevent or discourage significant involvement of older adults in your biggest community issues?
- Readiness. How active and able are you, as a community, to engage older adults in helping address important issues? Do you have policies and practices—in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors—that are conducive to older adults playing meaningful roles in bettering your community?
- Community assets and needs. What are the greatest assets as well as the challenges facing your community? What issues have the largest effect on the quality of life for people?
Find data to inform your decisions.
- A comprehensive demographic profile of the local older adult population, as well as projections for the future
- An awareness of the range of factors that encourage or constrain community engagement among older adults, including community perceptions of aging, and older adult community engagement experiences and preferences
- Knowledge about the pathways to engagement, ranging from structured points of entry through which older adults are connected with opportunities, to less formalized routes (word of mouth or community outreach) to publicize a need
- A short list of community issues that might be positively affected through older adult engagement (this may shape what resources, assets, and opportunities you look for)
- An inventory of local resources (programs, organizations, other efforts) designed to engage older adults in community improvement
- An inventory of existing assets (community experts, people with special knowledge about different populations, organizations, systems)
- A description of opportunities and options (existing and potential) to expand meaningful community engagement for older adults
- A gauge of the level of local philanthropic giving and other funding streams that support community engagement opportunities for experienced adults
Compile possible sources for information.
- Stakeholders, community experts, people in the community with special knowledge
- Groups with an interest (who may also be potential partners), including: older adults, human services providers, neighborhood groups, public agencies, faith-based organizations, volunteer organizations, senior centers, healthcare providers, aging services and programs, cultural institutions, and funders; consider all possibilities and perspectives, including groups with less obvious interest, such as local businesses, membership organizations, local chambers of commerce, community colleges or learning institutions, and local and state governments
- U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/)
- Local research centers (universities, local/state government)
Specify Assessment objectives and strategies.
- Determine what is needed to satisfy your objectives—the methods and sources to collect data.
- Be inclusive. Credibility for, and community acceptance of, Assessment findings is greatly enhanced through participation of all primary stakeholder agencies and entities in the process.
- Be transparent. Establish and demonstrate a practice of making activities known, and information accessible, throughout the Assessment.
- Be conclusive. Report Assessment findings to participants and the broader community.
Free guides and tools you may find useful include sample Assessment reports from other communities; Assessment work plans and timelines; Voices of Experience and other publications that summarize research on community engagement and older adults; and more.Related Resources