IncludeAge and different aspects of diversity

include age
By Richard Vytniorgu

Richard, a member of the IncludeAge research staff team, has given permission to include his blog on the IncludeAge website about the IncludeAge project.

Diversity is at the heart of the IncludeAge project, and indeed the word appears in the project’s title, seeking to understand the inclusion needs of ‘diverse older people’. So on the face of it, the principal aspects of diversity foregrounded in the project are the experiences of seldom heard older people with learning disabilities (LDs) and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and / or trans (LGBT+), or, indeed, those who are LGBT+ and who also have a learning disability.

But important though these aspects are, consideration of diversity permeates the entire project. Participation and co-production are embedded into the project’s various work packages. We have already formed a Community Advisory Group (CAG) for each of our study populations – older people with LDs, and older LGBT+ people. Members of these groups are drawn from relevant organisations as well as individuals contributing on the basis of lived experience. CAGs will meet at least twice a year, and one or two members from each group will also contribute to the wider project steering group meetings, to ensure that community participation reaches into the full decision-making process. 

We are also in the process of recruiting co-researchers to help with various aspects of the project, including data generation, participant recruitment, and making sense of the data once it’s been generated. Co-researchers may have an academic background, but this is not a requirement, as we are providing project-specific training. More importantly, we are interested in co-researchers who have lived experience of inclusion and exclusion as older LGBT+ people and / or those who have an LD, and who will be able to work sensitively, warmly, and attentively with our participants. Our co-researchers will add to the diversity of the overall project, bringing with them their experiences and identities, but also their varied perspectives, ways of working, and reasons for being interested in the project. All of these aspects of diversity matter to us.

Within the core project team – its principal investigator, co-applicants, and research fellows – there is also a wealth of diversity. Some have experience of learning disabilities. Some identify as LGBT+ and / or have experience of working with LGBT+ people. Some are experienced and knowledgeable about older people’s experiences of place. And many in the team intersect each of these aspects of the project’s scope. But diversity in the project team also extends to disciplinary background(s), career stage, geographical location, interest in the project, skillset, and much more. 

One of the key strengths of IncludeAge is its interdisciplinary scope and personnel. While the project is predominantly a qualitative piece of research, this embraces a number of perspectives, methods, and approaches that project team members bring. For example, my own interests lie in LGBT+ belonging, gendered & sexual identities, and gay men’s sexual wellbeing. Methodologically, I draw on auto/biographical narrative approaches that use a person’s lived experience, however it is represented, as the springboard for broader cultural, sociological, and even philosophical analysis. IncludeAge is sufficiently diverse in its intellectual scope and methodological approaches to enable me to pursue my specific research interests within the boundaries of the project, while also benefiting from the expertise and knowledge of other team members. Indeed, other team members will find opportunity within the project to develop their own specific interests and expertise.

These days, research into health and wellbeing not only aims to include the voices of those affected by the topic at hand, but also increasingly adopts a challenge-led response. The question becomes: how can we best respond to this particular problem, issue, or concern? For me, this almost necessitates interdisciplinary conversations among researchers and the wider project team. Health and wellbeing encompass a diverse range of human experience, meaning that the input of a philosopher, historian, or cultural analyst is as crucial as that of a health scientist, sociologist, or psychologist. Importantly, these disciplinary distinctions probably mean less in the eyes of those coming from beyond the university than does the ability of the project team to offer a diversity of relevant ideas and perspectives within its fold. 

As we move further into the IncludeAge project, I will be thinking about how the different aspects of diversity within the project speak to each other. Undoubtedly, we are interested in what the project will discover in terms of inclusion needs for older LGBT+ people and those with LDs. But we are also keen to make sense of how the process of the project helps shape our understanding of diversity and inclusion more broadly. Watch this space!  


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