Older adults’ and carers’ engagement in democratic governance in the context of system and government transition
Funk, Laura M.
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Advisory committees are some of the most prominent ways older adults and carers are represented in democratic governance in contemporary North America. Yet little is known about how older adults and unpaid carers interpret the meaning of their engagement within governmental advisory committees. A thematic, interpretive analysis of qualitative interview data from 24 current and former members of advisory committees in Manitoba, Canada, was conducted. Although all participants were motivated to serve by personal experience and/or the common good, interpretive tensions arose at times between their desire for systemic change or advocacy and the mandate and/or function of their committee. Tensions between advocacy and advising appear to be especially pronounced in the context of changes perceived by members as threatening both the quality of public supports and services, and chances for meaningfully engaging older adults and carers in governance. Perhaps in part to reconcile this tension (and in some cases their own ongoing involvement) participants often characterized these committees as at least partially valuable and effective ways to engage older adults/carers, primarily through talking about personal benefits, the quality and efficiency of meetings, and feeling valued. The subsequent emergence of COVID-19 after these data were collected will likely only intensify social changes affecting older adults and carers, highlighting an even more pressing need for their engagement in policy co-design in and beyond continuing care sectors.