Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors (I’DGO) was a ten-year project exploring if, and in what way, the ability to get out and about impacts on older people’s quality of life and what barriers there are to achieving this day-to-day.
What was this research about?
Older people who don’t find it easy or enjoyable to get outdoors can spiral into poor physical health, less social contact and a reduced quality of life overall, increasing demand on health and social care services. However, until 2003, when the Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors (I’DGO) consortium was established, little research had explored the relationship between good outdoor access for older people and healthier, more independent, active living into oldest age.
I’DGO was funded to explore if, and in what way, the ability to get out and about impacts on older people’s quality of life and what barriers there are to achieving this, day-to-day. Over a ten year period, the project provided the first empirically robust UK evidence on the links between access to outdoor environments and better health and mobility in later life.
The first phase of the research ran from 2003 to 2006 and involved over 770 older people across Britain. OPENspace led a consortium of three research centres, our partners being SURFACE at the University of Salford and WISE at Oxford Brookes.
We asked our participants about their wellbeing and quality of life, how often and why they went outdoors, and what features of their local neighbourhood helped or hindered their activity. SURFACE physically audited 200 residential neighbourhoods to look for barriers and benefits to getting around as an older pedestrian.
The second phase of our research ran from 2007 to 2012 and involved 3,580 older people. It focused on specific aspects of placemaking which were gaining currency in policy and practice, but which had not yet been tested for age-friendliness.
OPENspace again led the consortium, working alongside WISE (now at the University of Warwick) and SURFACE. While our partners looked at residential outdoor space in new-build housing (WISE) and tactile paving (SURFACE), OPENspace looked at whether ‘DIY’ interventions to make residential streets more pedestrian-friendly were creating shared spaces that encouraged more outdoor activity for older residents.
What did we find?
If older people live in an environment that makes it easy and enjoyable for them to go outdoors, they are more likely to be physically active and satisfied with life and twice as likely to achieve the recommended levels of healthy walking. The same is true for those who live within ten minutes’ walk of a park.
The pedestrian experience is vitally important to older people, who are most often on foot when out and about. For the many older people who find it difficult to get around, it is often due to the poor design, provision, installation or upkeep of neighbourhood features, especially footpaths.
Unkempt environments make going outdoors less enticing, especially for older people with vision, mobility or other impairments. Such environments are felt to pose an increased falls risk and can heighten fears about crime and traffic.
Measures to make streets less dominated by cars can improve older people’s perceptions that the environment is safe and supports outdoor activity but, neighbourhood-wide, it is good paths, accessible open space, safe crossings and plentiful seats, toilets and greenery that really make the difference. Design and materials need to be thought about carefully, with consideration given to the UK weather.
The desire to get out and about does not diminish in older age, nor does the variety of activities people like to do outdoors. Supported by their environment, most people aged 80+ living in the community can expect to continue to go outdoors daily, engage in a range of activities and maintain quality of life into oldest age.
What academic outputs are linked to this research?
To date, we have published more than 20 academic papers on this research, a selection of which are listed here:
Sugiyama, T. and Ward Thompson, C. 2007. ‘Older people’s health, outdoor activity and supportiveness of neighbourhood environments’ Landscape and Urban Planning 83, pp. 168–175. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2007.04.002
Alves, S., Aspinall, P., Ward Thompson, C., Sugiyama, T., Brice, R. and Vickers, A. 2008. ‘Preferences of Older People for Environmental Attributes of Local Parks: The Use of Choice-Based Conjoint Analysis’ Facilities 26(11/ 12), pp. 433-453. doi:10.1108/02632770810895705 Selected to be republished in Social Marketing, by SAGE Publications Ltd, February 2013.
Sugiyama, T. & Ward Thompson, C. 2008. ‘Associations between characteristics of neighbourhood open space and older people’s walking’ Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 7(1), pp. 41-51
Sugiyama, T., Ward Thompson, C. and Alves, S. 2009. ‘Associations between neighborhood open space attributes and quality of life for older people in Britain’ Environment and Behavior, 41(1), pp. 3-21. doi:10.1177/0013916507311688
Aspinall, P.A, Ward Thompson, C., Alves, S., Sugiyama, T., Vickers, A. and Brice, R. 2010. ‘Preference and relative importance for environmental attributes of neighbourhood open space in older people’ Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 37(6), pp. 1022 – 1039.
Ward Thompson, C., Curl, A., Aspinall, P., Alves, S., and Zuin, A. 2013. ‘Do changes to the local street environment alter behaviour and quality of life of older adults? The ‘DIY Streets’ intervention’ British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48 (13), pp. 1059-1065. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-091718
Curl, A., Ward Thompson, C., and Aspinall, P. 2015. ‘The effectiveness of ‘shared space’ residential street interventions on self-reported activity levels and quality of life for older people’ Landscape and Urban Planning 139, pp. 117-125. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.019
The following book chapters are about the research:
Sugiyama, T. and Ward Thompson, C. 2007. ‘Measuring the Quality of the Outdoor Environment Relevant to Older People’s Lives’ in Ward Thompson, C. and Travlou, P. (eds) Open Space: People Space. Abingdon, UK: Taylor and Francis, 153-162
Ward Thompson, C. 2010. ‘Landscape quality and quality of life’ in Ward Thompson, C., Aspinall, P. and Bell, S. (eds) Innovative Approaches to Researching Landscape and Health: Open Space: People Space 2, Abingdon: Routledge, 230-255
What resources are linked to this research?
At the end of the first phase of getting outdoors, OPENspace published the online planning and design toolkit, Lifelong Access to Parks and Public Open Spaces.
As well as research findings, the toolkit includes an illustrated guide to place attributes that work for older people and details of landscape typologies which can offer positive outdoor experiences, addressing the associated design challenges.
Access the toolkit on the I’DGO website
In April 2012, we published Why does the outdoor environment matter?, a summary of research findings from both phases of Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors (I’DGO), with key messages and implications for professionals and policy makers. The four-page, full-colour leaflet also contains information about our team, partners and funding body.
Open the document as a pdf
In 2013, we made a short, six-minute film about the project.
Watch the film on vimeo
What has the research achieved?
With an estimated 70% increase in the number of people in the EU aged 65 or over by 2050, and physical inactivity identified as the fourth greatest risk to global mortality, the needs and challenges of an ageing population are of increasing importance to all tiers of government, health and social care services, and the private and charity sectors.
Described by Baroness Greengross, Chair of the All-Party Group on Intergenerational Futures, as “phenomenally exciting”, Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors (I’DGO) has provided the first empirically robust UK evidence on the links between access to outdoor environments and better health and mobility for this demographic.
Our findings have been presented in all four UK parliaments and the European parliament, wherein they have been used to influence cross-sectoral policy making and planning for healthy environments. By invitation, they have been shared with the Japanese government, and cited in design guidance by a range of bodies, including the World Health Organization.
Via a network of around 40 non-academic partners, we have contributed to training for over 1,000 industry professionals, from highways engineers to occupational therapists. We have also enabled research users to create impact on their own terms through campaigns by Age UK, Age Scotland and AGE Platform Europe and by working closely with local older people’s groups.
We have helped to highlight ageing issues in the design, health and mainstream media and through public events, such as the British Science Festival. The project was a runner up in the International Design for all Foundation Awards 2013, with one judge praising the team’s “rigorous, empathic and very thoughtful” methods and saying “I believe there is a lot that others can learn from their approach”.
A case study about the impact of the research features on the University of Edinburgh’s website, Humanities and Social Science: making a difference.
> Take me to the I’DGO case study on the ‘making a difference’ website
The project also features as a case study in a major report on the socio-economic implications of ageing, Making the Case for the Social Sciences: No.2 Ageing, published by the Academy of Social Sciences, Age UK and the British Society of Gerontology in July 2010.
> Open the report as a pdf
Who worked on I’DGO?
OPENspace research team:
Catharine Ward Thompson (Principal Investigator)
Other academic partners:
SURFACE Inclusive Design Research Centre at the University of Salford
WISE (Wellbeing in Sustainable Environments) at Oxford Brookes University (first phase) and the University of Warwick (second phase).
Our three external advisors were Rob Methorst, Professor Brian Little, and Professor Fiona Bull.
Public, policy and not-for-profit partners:
Around 40 in total, including Age UK, Guide Dogs, the UK Department for Transport, Scottish Government, NHS Health Scotland, CABE Space, Greenspace Scotland, Swindon Borough Council, Sustrans, Transform Scotland, Living Streets, Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE), Sport and Recreation Alliance, Jacobs Babtie, Phil Jones Associates, Peter Brett Associates, EDAW, Mayer Brown, and Ian Wall (an independent consultant).
Who funded this research?
The first phase of I’DGO was funded in 2003 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) (GR/S29102/01), under the fourth round of the Council’s Extending Quality Life (EQUAL) initiative.
In 2007, under the fifth round of EQUAL, EPSRC awarded the consortium £1.6m for the second phase of the research, known as I’DGO TOO (EP/D079861/1), and subsequently funded the Knowledge Exchange group for EQUAL projects, KT-EQUAL, with Catharine Ward Thompson as Co-Investigator.
Where can I find out more?
Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors (I’DGO) has its own website. This provides details of all research outputs and design guidance, including Lifelong Access to Parks and Public Open Space (by OPENspace) and The Design of Streets with Older People in Mind (by SURFACE).
Visit the I’DGO website
OPENspace is currently conducting further research into older people’s pedestrian mobility
Take me to information about current project, Mobility, Mood and Place