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Environments for All
Ages with Citizens
Willeke van Staalduinen1[0000-0002-3868-7683]
Joost van Hoof3[0000-0001-9704-7128]
1 AFEdemy, Academy on Age-Friendly Environments in Europe BV,
Buurtje 2, 2802 BE Gouda, the Netherlands, www.afedemy.eu
2 SHINE 2Europe Lda, Rua Câmara Pestana, Iote 3- IDF, 3030-163
Coimbra, Portugal, www.shine2.eu
3 The Hague University of Applied Sciences, Johanna Westerdijk-
plein 75, 2521 EN Den Haag, the Netherlands; Wrocław Univer-
sity of Environmental and Life Sciences, ul. Grun-waldzka 55,
50-357 Wrocław, Poland
4 SGH Warsaw School of Economics, al. Niepodległości 162, 02-554
Warsaw, Poland, www.sgh.waw.pl
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The paper provides an introduction to the public discourse
around the notion of smart healthy inclusive environments.
First, the basic ideas are explained and related to citizen
participation in the context of implementation of a “society
for all ages” concept disseminated by the United Nations.
Next, the text discusses selected initiatives of the European
Commission in the eld of intergenerational programming
and policies as well as features of the COST Action NE-
T4Age-Friendly: Smart Healthy Age-Friendly Environments
(SHAFE). The following sections are focused on studying
and discussing examples of projects and methodologies
that have been aimed at: empowering facilitators of smart
healthy inclusive environments, empowering citizens to
deal with health emergencies, and supporting older peo-
ple’s voices. The conclusion covers selected recommen-
dations for entities of public policy on ageing (ageing poli-
cy) as well as potential directions for further research.
Age-Friendly Cities and Communities, Citizen Participation,
Inclusive Environments, Intergenerational Programmes and
Policies, Smart Healthy Age-Friendly Environments (SHAFE),
Society for All Ages.
Building Inclusive Environments
for All Ages with Citizens
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Smart, healthy, and inclusive environments can help improve and support independent living
throughout the course of life, regardless of age, gender, health status, disabilities, cultural dif-
ferences, and personal choices. In order to develop and design these environments, it is of the
utmost importance to include the people who are to live in these designed surroundings and
should ideally accept the use of the proposed solutions. In this contribution, we explore sev-
eral approaches to citizen participation in order to create smart healthy inclusive solutions and
environments, including solutions, programs, schemes, products, and services for all ages. The
methodologies of involvement and engagement are acknowledged, and—if appropriate—suc-
cess factors and lessons learned are identied. At rst, a short overview of the smart healthy
age-friendly environments (SHAFE) notion is given. This is followed by a paragraph on citizens’
participation in the context of implementation of a “society for all ages” concept promoted by
the United Nations. Thereafter, several projects are presented, methodologies of participation
highlighted, results described, and conclusions drawn.
2 Defining the Smart Healthy Inclusive
The challenges of various sectors, such as the information and communications technologies
(ICTs) sector, the building and urban planning industry, health and social care, as well as those
of citizens and their communities, are interlinked. Responding to these challenges will foster
awareness and support the creation and implementation of smart, healthy, and inclusive envi-
ronments for present and future generations that enable them to learn, grow, work, participate
in society and enjoy a healthy life, beneting from the use of digital innovations, accessibility
solutions and adaptable support models in the European context.
The local community is the physical, social, and cultural ecosystem closest to people, which is
built on relationships of trust, sharing, solidarity and intimacy, where people nd social, cultural
and identity references, socialise and live their daily lives. The objective conditions of the envi-
ronment (maintenance, accessibility, mobility, safety, and comfort) aect the quality of life and
well-being of citizens, particularly in the context of environmental challenges such as climate
change and thus aect the whole community.
Thus, smart healthy inclusive environments, also described as smart healthy age-friendly envi-
ronments (SHAFE), require a comprehensive approach that optimises the design of social and
physical environments, which is supported by digital tools and services, which allows providing
better health and social care as well as promotes not only independent living but also equity
and active participation in society. This approach follows the United Nations’ line-up, with the
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) intended to be achieved by the year 2030 , stating
that sustainable environments for all ages represent the basis for ensuring a better future for
the entire world population and addressing most of the growing issues of the ageing popula-
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tion. They are in particular related to Goal 3 (“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for
all at all ages”) and Goal 11 (“Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”) and can be
understood as an approach broader than other ideas used in the literature such as ambient
assisted living (AAL), smart and age-friendly cities and communities (SAFCC), and “ageing in
place 2.0” (AIP2.0) .
3 Citizen Participation in the
Context of Implementation a
“Society for All Ages” Concept
In order to develop the above mentioned inclusive, smart, and healthy environments, citizen in-
volvement and cooperation is particularly important. Having people’s voices heard during the
conceptualisation and design phases of the development of the living environment t the ob-
jectives of the intergenerational policies related to the United Nations concept of “society for
all ages” and its implementation by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Network on
Age-Friendly Cities and Communities (GNAFCC). Citizen participation clearly pertains to the
distinguished domains of age-friendliness described as buildings and housing, social partici-
pation, and social inclusion [3, 4].
Van Hoof et al.  took the widely used concept of the “ladder of citizen participation” by Arnstein
 as a starting point in shaping various roles that citizens can play. Arnstein described eight
roles for citizens, varying from nonparticipation (in forms such as manipulation and therapy)
through tokenism to citizen power. Tokenism is divided into informing (about citizen’ rights, but
often the one-way ow of information), consultation (e.g., ask for opinions in surveys, neighbour-
hood meetings or hearings), and placation (citizens are granted a limited degree of inuence in
boards or commissions). Higher levels of participation grouped under the notion of citizen pow-
er are divided into partnership (shared planning and decision-making responsibilities through
structures such as policy boards), delegated power (some degree of control is transferred to
citizens), and citizen control (participants or residents can govern a programme or an institution
and be in full charge of policy and managerial aspects).
Additional research on citizen participation by Van Hoof et al.  showed that involvement is not
automatically a guarantee for success. For example, due to a limited number of active partic-
ipants, lack of required skills to participate or not representing the target group, success can
be rather limited. Van Hoof et al. further identied the factors that impact the participation of
citizens in a positive manner, such as the provision of regular feedback, the full commitment of
the involved organisations, and the usage of understandable and inclusive language. Having
these observations in mind, the following sections are providing discussions and examples of
various approaches to citizen participation related to SHAFE.
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3.1. Selected Initiatives of the European Commission in the Field of
Intergenerational Programming and Policies
In 2012, the European Commission announced the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity
between Generations and took the initiative to launch a bottom-up approach to involve citizens
and organisations’ actions and opinions in the eld of public policy on ageing (ageing policy)
. It led to the creation of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing
(EIPonAHA) . At rst, it was well-received, and many parties joined the network. Over the
years, the broad interest slowly faded but the main challenges recognised remained unsolved,
for example, the need for scaling up and transferring across the countries, regions, and com-
munities the best practices and solutions such as social innovations and technological innova-
tions in ageing [8, 9]. Nevertheless, several networks that had their origin in the EIPonAHA, such
as the Stakeholders Network on Smart Healthy Age-Friendly Environments (SHAFE)  and
the Reference Sites Collaborative Network , still continue to operate.
To bring the European Union (EU) citizens’ involvement alive again, the European Commission,
at the beginning of the year 2021, launched a new cooperation network titled the Active and
Healthy Living in the Digital World. This network is a part of the Futurium platform that started
already in the year 2011 as a foresight project aimed at participatory policymaking, crowdsourc-
ing of ideas, and discussing EU policies . One of the dedicated areas within this emerging
network is dedicated to age-friendly environments.
On a dierent note, the President of the European Commission, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, also at the
beginning of the year 2021, took the initiative to launch a bottom-up approach initiative: co-de-
signing the New European Bauhaus . The New European Bauhaus proposes to focus the con-
versations on the places that EU citizens inhabit and on the relationship with natural environments
beyond the built space. It is a practical approach to discover beautiful, sustainable, and inclusive
ways of living and to use them to inspire our way forward. EU citizens are invited to join the con-
versation and are asked to share their thoughts on future environments and places to be like.
Moreover, if it was their neighbourhood, how should that look like, feel like, and work like.
3.2. COST Action NET4Age-Friendly: Smart
Healthy Age-Friendly Environments
The concept behind SHAFE has inspired several projects and initiatives, including one of the
most recent initiatives supported by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology:
NET4Age-Friendly (2020–2024; COST Action 19136), which is an international interdisciplinary
network on health and well-being in an age-friendly digital world focused on the promotion of
social inclusion, independent living, and active and healthy ageing in society.
Participating scholars, practitioners, and stakeholders from the business and third sector work in
four thematic groups on user-centred inclusive design, integrated health and well-being path-
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ways, digital solutions, and large-scale sustainable implementation, and on impact and sus-
tainability (including policy development, funding forecast, and cost-benet evaluations). In or-
der to synthesise and critically examine the results of these four themes and existing practices
of SHAFE, a fth working group will develop a reference framework with guidelines, standards,
and practices (success factors and lessons learned) .
The main purpose of described COST Action is to build and nurture local, regional, or national
ecosystems in each participating country. Ecosystems consist of citizens, public authorities,
businesses, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and research and development enti-
ties. These ecosystems aim to foster the implementation of SHAFE with the support of the
above-mentioned working groups.
3.3. Empowering Facilitators of Smart Healthy Inclusive Environments
Erasmus+ is the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth, and sport in Europe in mul-
tinational consortia . These areas are key to support citizens’ personal and professional de-
velopment. High quality, inclusive education and training, as well as informal and non-formal
learning, ultimately equip participants of all ages with the qualications and skills needed for
their meaningful participation in a democratic society, intercultural understanding, and successful
transition in the labour market. Within the frame of Erasmus+, training and education is developed
to empower facilitators to implement smart healthy inclusive environments in their community.
Projects such as “Hands-on SHAFE” , “Educational game BIG” , “Bridge the Gap!” , and
“DESIgn for all methods to cREate age-friendly housing” (DESIRE)  supported by the Eras-
mus+ programme include adult learners in the eld of inclusive environments. “Hands-on
SHAFE” aims to deliver online training packages for informal learning experiences and hands-
on tools to improve the skills of people of all ages and especially seeks to enable persons with
lower skills or qualications to choose and implement SHAFE in their own homes or neighbour-
hoods. In this way, the project fosters and promotes social inclusion for people of all ages and
genders, including people with cognitive or physical impairments or disabilities. It also aims to
enable citizens to become innovators and trailblazers in their own neighbourhoods or to be-
come entrepreneurs in the eld of SHAFE services and products.
The educational game “Building Inclusive environments for all Generations” (BIG) elaborates further
on the training about SHAFE by developing an online game. The player can meet and solve the
challenges of characters during the play, such as inaccessible housing for a wheelchair, loading
goods in a car while taking care of a child, or visiting a restaurant with impaired sight. The project
will also develop a workshop methodology to use the game in joint training settings.
The “Bridge the Gap!” project focuses on the training of older people to create and improve their
own living environments to support independent living and participation in society. On the one
hand, the training oers traditional means to advocate their interests. On the other hand, it will
mainly focus on the capacity building of older adults to use digital skills. Such digital actions in-
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clude accessing social media, building online advocacy accounts, or sharing photos to express
to stakeholders and decision-makers specic local needs to improve the local living environment.
The DESIRE project is developed by an international partnership involving four countries working
on a design for all (D4ALL) concept applied to age-friendly housing. DESIRE aims to provide
professionals in the building industry as well as furniture and home furnishings sector with the
tools and skills to apply D4ALL methods as an integral part of the design process, with the aim
to create or adapt age-friendly housing as a solution for the well-being, comfort and autonomy
of older adults or people in situation of dependency at home. The project will develop an in-
novative training course on D4ALL to meet the emotional, cognitive, and social needs of older
adults while driving new opportunities in the habitat sector, fostering interactions and knowl-
edge exchange in the design process between cross-cutting elds such as science, social
sciences, and arts.
3.4. Empowering Citizens to Deal with Health Emergencies
Erasmus+ project “STEP_UP”  intends to develop a training tool for social care and community
stakeholders, where they are introduced to the impact of behaviours in the spread of a pan-
demic or emergency situation and trained, through gaming strategies, to prevent and cope,
being empowered to protect and promote well-being in their communities.
The core of this project will be an educational game, which can also be used as a recreational
game for the common public. In “STEP_UP,” the players will play with the aim to stop a pan-
demic from spreading. A list of measures will be displayed, and the player needs to learn about
them in order to be able to choose those that would help to impede the virus spread without
damaging the economy or causing societal anger. This game will also help people better un-
derstand and follow governmental measures and set aside evidence-based information and
facts from myths, fake news, and other forms of misinformation or disinformation.
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3.5. Case Study of Supporting Older People’s
Voice: Senior-Friendly The Hague
Since 2015, the municipality of The Hague is a member of the WHO’s Global Network on Age-Friendly
Cities and Communities . Member cities of GNAFCC follow a 5-year cycle of planning, imple-
mentation, and evaluation in order to make their respective city or community age-friendly. The
Hague recently nalised their rst cycle by performing a broad survey among older people (65+) to
express their opinions on the age-friendliness of the city. Overall, the older citizens of The Hague
value the age-friendliness of their city as well as perceives it as sucient. They give high scores to
their own homes. On the contrary, outdoor spaces and buildings were scored signicantly lower.
People in the situation of having a lower income, health and mobility issues are less satised.
In order to better involve older adults in local policymaking, the municipality facilitates three ways
of citizens’ involvement. At rst, it subsidises the overarching Older People’s Council of The
Hague (in Dutch: Stedelijke Ouderencommissie; SOC) [22, 23, 24]. Secondly, it facilitates and
supports the building and maintenance of a local ecosystem titled the Knowledge Platform
Age-Friendly The Hague. In this platform, older citizens, scholars, public health administration,
municipal policy-makers, and social enterprises (social small and medium-sized enterprises;
SMEs) meet on a regular basis to exchange ongoing research and to look for cooperation op-
portunities in the eld of the municipal Action Plan Age-Friendly The Hague (2020–2022). The
nal support to hear the voice of older people in The Hague is the fostering of the active in-
volvement of an older people’s panel: a broad panel of at least 1,500 older adults (out of 77,000
people aged 65 and over) who can be consulted on a large variety of municipal topics.
4 Conclusion: Citizens’ Participation in Smart
Healthy Inclusive Environments Explored
From this broad overview of eldwork, it has been possible to explore various perspectives of inclu-
sive environments, their challenges, and the needs to be addressed. Some of the lessons learned
in the various projects include that citizen participation is fully recognised as essential (Table 1).
However, a long way is still necessary to make it structured, constant, and comprehensive.
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Initiatives Strengths Weaknesses Challenges
and top-down approaches
to ageing policy.
Focus on combining
population ageing with
and the development of
Unclear monitoring and
evaluation of results.
Dependent on funding
programmes with priori-
ties on specic sectoral
policies (e.g., ICT and
Scaling up of the best
practices and policy trans-
fer across the countries,
regions, and communities.
COST Action NET4A-
nal and interdisciplinary
Providing support in the
form of guidelines, stan-
dards, and practices.
for the network after the
ecosystems with a qua-
druple helix of citizens,
public authorities, compa-
nies, and researchers.
SHAFE,” “BIG,” “Bridge the
Gap!,” and “DESIRE”
Delivering training pac-
kages and tools related
to age-friendly homes or
Limited scale of in-
Further dissemination and
development of schemes.
Project “STEP_UP” Empowering citizens
to deal with heal-
Monitoring and evalua-
tion of results after the
Extending focus on the
ght with misinformation
Broad set of initiatives to
involve older people in
implementation and go-
vernance of age-friendly
lity of the older people’s
council, the knowledge
platform, and an older
Citizens’ involvement is
dependent on their so-
Table 1. The Comparison of Selected Initiatives of Citizen Participation Relat-
ed to the Implementation of a “Society for All Ages” Concept.
The call for active citizenship and ownership of the transformation of society is, on the one hand, a
gift to the citizens. Nevertheless, at the same time, this call is also a burden in terms of commit-
ment and involvement, which currently, not all are prepared to deliver. To overcome these bar-
riers, learning experiences focusing on older adults in Erasmus+ training activities and games
as well as knowledge platforms and ecosystems do support the awareness of older adults to
uptake and realise their own lives in their environments. The initiatives that foster more active
citizenship and those who call for the participation of several age and societal groups are at the
core of this citizen empowerment need, essential to create a better and fairer society for all. This
development just started.
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This publication is based upon work from COST Action CA19136 “International Interdisciplinary
Network on Smart Healthy Age-friendly Environments,” supported by COST (European Coop-
eration in Science and Technology). For more details go to: www.net4age.eu The publication
received nancial support in the form of an ITC Conference Grant awarded by the COST Action
CA19136 to Andrzej Klimczuk.
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