Purpose: The digital age requires people of all ages to communicate and organise their lives through digital technologies. The project EQualCare investigates how the growing population of older people living alone is managing this transition, how it shapes their (non-)digital social networks and what changes on a local level need to be brought about. This paper aims to give insight into the process of participatory action research (PAR) with older people in the community across four countries and reflects on experiences made by academic and co-researchers.
Design/methodology/approach: Following the emancipatory underpinnings of PAR, which aims to reduce inequalities through collaboration and co-design, EQualCare involved nine teams of co-researchers across Finland, Germany, Latvia and Sweden making older people the centre of policy development. Co-researchers were involved in formulating research aims, collecting data, reflecting on data, formulating and disseminating recommendations for local policy stakeholders.
Findings: Co-researchers’ motivation to invest considerable time and effort was driven by a desire to create a more equal future for older people living alone. Moreover, they were keen to involve marginalised older people and became frustrated when this proved difficult. Power dynamics played a role throughout the process but became productive as roles and responsibilities were renegotiated. Doing PAR with older people can be emotionally challenging for co-researchers when negative feelings around ageing are encountered.
Originality/value: The paper advances understanding on the process of PAR in ageing research by reflecting on the social, cultural and political contexts of doing PAR with diverse sets of older people.