This year’s AAL Forum will see Bengt Andersson, senior advisor at the Nordic Welfare Centre, present a methodology and overview of welfare technologies that have been implemented in the Nordic countries. He will also outline the national strategies of the Nordic countries and the tools they use for implementing welfare technology, discussing the many challenges involved and setting the tone for the rest of the forum. We spoke to him recently to get a taste of the message he wants to convey to the AAL community.
Could you explain a bit more about the Nordic welfare model?
I work for the social and healthcare sector at the Nordic Welfare Centre which is part of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Our mission is to develop and strengthen the Nordic welfare model by compiling and disseminating knowledge on welfare issues. I am focused on the area of welfare technology.
What we have in common in the Nordic countries is our welfare models. They differ a bit from country to country, but they are all financed by taxes, so there is no real cost to people who need healthcare or social care. This Nordic model we have is somewhat under threat when it comes to demographic development, and we see this happening especially in the rural areas. Some of the really large rural areas in the northern parts of Finland, Sweden, as well as large parts of Norway and Iceland, have around 25-30 per cent of the population over 65.
This situation means that these populations need more support for healthcare and social care from society, but there are not enough taxpayers to pay for it. This is the situation that us senior advisors at the Nordic Welfare Centre are working on resolving, finding ways to help older people in general and with a particular focus on those with dementia. I am looking at ways that digitisation can help this.
How does active ageing come into this?
Active ageing is one part of it. We have a programme working with elderly-friendly cities and how elderly-friendly cities can motivate and be a platform for active ageing. We can see each and every generation is healthier than the generation before. So even though we have an elderly population, they are healthier for longer. But sooner or later they face challenges when it comes to chronic diseases and the other things that happen when people get older.
What do you think are the specific challenges we face when it comes to the implementation of these solutions and services?
I have been working on this intermittently for 12 years. In all that time, it has always been the same kind of solutions that we have been trying to implement on a broader scale in the municipalities and regions. There have of course been developments when it comes to technical solutions, but it really is about change management. It is 20 per cent about the technology and 80 per cent about how to organise and implement, and how to have change management and change the culture in our organisations. We need to offer these welfare services in a new way. It is easy to say that we are pro-development and changes but when it comes to ourselves, it hurts and is difficult to do it. It really is a lot about organisations, the culture in organisations, and leadership. We need change management to implement change from all levels. From politicians to all other levels that are responsible for change.
What lessons can be learnt from your work?
At the Nordic Welfare Centre, we look to identify tools, strategies and methodologies for structured implementation to secure better solutions in healthcare and care organisation service models. We have done some mapping of the five Nordic countries and what they have in place, what ambitions they have for eHealth, welfare technology and what and if they have a strategy. What we see is that Norway comes out as the winner.
Norway has been working in a very structured way since 2013. Out of 400 municipalities, 340 of them are in a programme working on implementation projects. They are working in a strategic way on all levels, and it was the politicians and government that really put down their foot and said that this had to be done.
Does the market exist for products that have been designed for older people?
Yes it does, absolutely. We know a lot of services and products that have been in the market for almost 10 years, and we know that these work for both the people and the organisations. They have been evaluated in all kind of projects and other actions.
What we struggle with is to really have a broader and wider implementation of these technologies, so they reach a wider pool of people. The market is there for companies producing this kind of technology, but they have problems reaching out and selling their services.
How do you think we can grow this market?
I know from talking to organisations and with the companies that sell these services is that they want a plan and the rules to work within. In Norway, you can see that there is a stable market, and this is because the companies know how to act there. In Sweden, it differs a lot as each municipality and region works differently in terms of connecting with the companies and how the procurement process works when it comes to buying these services.
I am also in contact with the national organisations for these companies, to see if we can influence the regions and the municipalities to open up the market more, because if this doesn’t happen then they are dependent on their companies. The Nordic market is big, and of course there is a big market outside of the Nordic countries. We need to have other companies from all over the world coming here to work in this area.
What experience have you had of involving end users?
I think we are past that point, because we know what services and technologies work. They have both been developed with the end users and they have been tested and evaluated with the end users. There are lots of results that show that they work. The Norwegian model started with 32 municipalities, having pilots, testing with research projects, and they then scaled up to 65 municipalities the next year and worked with the government to prioritise what services work from all kinds of perspectives. Sweden has done a similar thing.
Where do you think AAL fits into this?
I think it is very important to have this international cooperation, exchanging knowledge of experience and best practices on all levels, from authorities to companies to professionals. That is where the AAL Forum plays its part. I believe a lot in networking and knowledge exchange across borders. To me, the AAL Forum is extremely important for helping this development go faster.
On a personal level, what are you hoping to learn from the forum?
I know that I will meet people and exchange knowledge with them, and I hope to go to some interesting seminars and listen to the results of other people’s work. I’m sure I will get to know a lot more about some of the services and technologies that I didn’t know about before.
What message would you like to get across to the AAL community?
We have had quite an interesting programme going on for three years, where we have identified 23 distance-spanning solutions in rural areas. These are all well implemented, working mostly for organisations and the end users. We are going to present them in a publication in September. We have heard so much about projects and pilot projects and so on, but what we really need is to present solutions that are in the system and already work. We need to show how they have been implemented and how we can use that knowledge to implement more beneficial solutions across Europe.
Take a closer look at the preliminary programme to start planning your AAL Forum visit and make the most of what is on offer!