Cycling Without Age: Co-production made in Denmark
Cycling without Age is a citizen-initiated co-production initiative that started in Copenhagen in 2012. The core idea of the initiative is that everybody – regardless of age and health – should be entitled to get ‘out and about’ on a bicycle and ‘feel the wind in their hair’. So, the essence of the co-production initiative is this: Volunteer ‘pilots’ offer free rides on bicycle rickshaws (funded by the local council) to older people and people with disabilities who have difficulties getting around – or who would just like to have some new company and inspiration. The so-called Cycling Without Age scheme has now been implemented by more than 60 Danish local authorities with a total of 2500 volunteers. Furthermore, the scheme is now setting up in 26 countries based on an international license. So why don’t you consider it for your local area?
Cycling without Age is about improving the quality of life of older people and people with disabilities as well as improving relationships and fostering friendship across people of different age groups. The initiative may be considered a ‘community based health promotion’ providing a platform a social tool for interaction as well as aiming at reducing loneliness and isolation among citizens and giving care homes the chance to interact with and engage people from their local community.
The initiative was started in Copenhagen by an ‘ordinary’, but quite entrepreneurial citizen, Ole Kassow. He lives close to a care home in a residential part of Copenhagen and was observing the residents with their walkers or in wheelchairs being pushed around the block. So the idea struck him: Why not give these elderly neighbours the opportunity of seeing more of the city? Ole himself is an avid cyclist. So he hired a bicycle rickshaw and knocked on the door of the care home and offered his bicycle services. The idea was positively received by the carer who met him at the door – and soon passed to the rest of the organisation.
At the time, the City Council of Copenhagen had launched a strategy of collaborating with civil society and engaged ‘networking agents’ in its Health and Care Department to support new forms of collaboration with citizens. Ole’s initiative was brought into the organisation by one of these networking agents, Dorthe Pedersen. Subsequently, the idea of Cycling Without Age was presented to the councillors, who decided to support the initiative by investing in five bicycles and encourage managers in nursing homes in Copenhagen to support and cooperate with the Cycling Without Age initiative.
This case of community based co-production of health is made possible through care workers and councillors providing support to active citizens: The local councillors allocate funds for buying one or more bicycle rickshaws and maintaining them. The care workers participate by motivating the elderly to become passengers, promoting the cycling activity to the older people and sometimes integrating the bike rides into their daily practice and offering rides to the elderly as part of their work. Pilots of all ages participate by riding the bicycles as well as planning and coordinating the trips and inviting new pilots to join the scheme. Signing up and planning is made easy via an online booking system provided by Cycling Without Age. And finally, the elderly both co-produce their own wellbeing by deciding where they want to go on the trip and which stories about their lives they would like to share on the way. This experience promotes mental health and social wellbeing by building relations and belonging to a community. Furthermore, it allows older people their voice to be heard.
Other factors of importance in promoting the initiative are a current political focus on enhancing the quality of life of elderly people and an extra allocation of funds from the national ministry to be spent on this issue. Also, the initiative corresponds to the agenda of health and co-production in Danish municipalities. Finally, Cycling Without Age is governed not through rules, but through five purposes (“generosity, ‘slow cycling’, storytelling, relationships and without age”) and the initiative is communicated more widely through storytelling, which has resulted in quickly spreading the idea to a range of other municipalities.
Outcomes and performance indicators
Cycling Without Age has not yet been systematically evaluated. Story telling activities by pilots, passengers and staff indicate that the initiative produces a range of positive outcomes for all the actors involved. This evidence is based on individuals describing the value and benefit they experience from being part of the movement. A chain reaction of positive outcomes is typically experienced: The cyclists are found among all ages – and the activity of being a cyclist or helping to maintain the rickshaws seem to appeal especially to men aged 55+. For the cyclists the outcomes are improved physical health, new relationships and the experience of being valued and of use to others. Particularly for vulnerable citizens that are outside ordinary employment, participating as a cyclist can be a meaningful activity.
An example: Knud, aged 85, has joined the Cycling Without Age team in the nursing home where he lives. At first it was a big change - and a bit nervewracking - to be able to ride around the block and to the park. Soon, however, he enjoyed every minute and had no doubt when he was invited to go for a long ride from Denmark to Norway – 400 km – by rickshaw. Being a retired mechanic, Knud loved the technicalities of the bike. At any sign of a squeak, he’d get off and assess the issue and lend a hand to those who were fixing it. After the journey, the nursing home staff realised that Knud loved the idea of maintaining the rickshaw – keeping it flashy for the next journey into town or to visit a hospitalized friend. Today, Knud has added bicycle maintenance to his daily training and rehabilitation schedule
For the elderly passengers, outcomes include overcoming isolation, an enhanced quality of life, creating new relationships, refreshing the memory of a lived life and places once known or simply being able to sleep without sleeping pills. A nursing home resident used to spend 90 % of his time over the past two years lying in his bed. His first rickshaw ride ever was a long ride from Denmark to Norway. Upon returning from this journey, he’s now been out of bed every day, motivated simply by the rickshaw rides offered on a daily basis at the care facility. Another elderly lady says that, after Cycling Without Age was
introduced to the residents in her nursing home, she felt as if she once again counted and was valued by others, when the cyclists comes to take her out on a ride
Often, these benefits are also seen to affect the relatives of the elderly = they tend to become less anxious and demanding and more satisfied with the care of their relatives when they observe them living happy lives. For the social care workers, Cycling Without Age is seen to enhance job satisfaction and a sense of pride in the job as well as new relationships and the experience of new inspirations during the working day.
Another example: Pia, a retired dentist, passed away at the age of 99 in early 2015. Since Cycling Without Age was introduced at the nursing home where she lived, the bike rides with her neighbour, Torkild, had become a good reason for her to keep maintaining her good appearance – she was always being ready and well dressed for the occasion. To Pia’s relatives, Cycling Without Age had made a huge difference. Knowing that their mother and grandmother had a great network of people around her and that she stayed connected with the world around her, they felt she lived her aging life in dignity. At Pia’s funeral, a number of cyclists were invited on rickshaws.
Costs and savings
Getting started with the initiative will cost an average sized municipality about 200.000 Danish kroner (equivalent to £20.000), which has to be invested in rickshaws and a ’start-up package’ from the non-profit organization Cycling Without Age, which implements and facilitates the initiative. This support takes the form of providing an online booking system and insurance for the cyclists, facilitating the network among pilots, personnel and passengers at a local, national and international level and ensuring that people share knowledge and experience and develop the movement further together. Care personnel and managers in the care homes need to invest time and energy in the initiative to keep it running. This is done in many different ways and to different degrees. The most successful cases are managers integrating the bicycle activity completely in the everyday life of the care personnel and the elderly residents in the care home.
In terms of savings, a research project is under way examining the effects on mental and social health and the economic effects that might be measured in terms of, for example, a reduction in hospital admissions and re-admissions, the use of medicine, level of depression and dementia, etc.
It is of vital importance that public institutions are open to and ready facilitate co-production initiated by civil society actors. Rule number one in co-production: Get out there and explore what is already happening.
It is important as a public service organization to let the co-producing actors formulate their own values and not to try to take over, e.g. by ‘labelling’ the kind of activity that is going on. Let it be people-centered, rather than product-centered, and leave room for several sets of values and purposes to co-exist.
When evaluating the outcomes – beware that these are complex matters, so you should not just think in terms of mass production. The value of the initiative lies in building human relationships and quality activities, not in the numbers involved. Also, its value lies in the pathways to outcomes (described above) which it opens up and which can benefit several actors, including the family and the social network of older people and people with disabilities.
Cycling Without Age international webpage: http://cyclingwithoutage.org/
Danish webpage: http://cyklingudenalder.dk/
Films (with English subtitles)
Cycling Without Age documentary by Michael Dorgan – will be available in early 2016:
Films in Danish
About the pilot, Jesper, 57 years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4SwyhpfWDc
About the pilot, Christian, 12 years: https://vimeo.com/135518575
About an elder passenger, Finn: https://vimeo.com/134717099
About this case study
The case study was written by Anne Tortzen, Ph.D. student of Roskilde University, for Governance International in January 2016.