Senior Citizens' Councils has been selected as the Danish nominee initiative for Open Government Awards through an open nomination process in which everyone - citizens, organisations, companies, and public authorities - was invited to nominate initiatives. From the pool of nominee initiatives, representatives from civil society organisations, Danish Red Cross and Transparency International Denmark, have selected one initiative. Danish Red Cross and Transparency International Denmark give the following reasons for their choice:
- "Senior Citizens' Councils in local authorities is a socially innovative initiative that supports senior citizens' participation in and influence on decisions and actions in their communities. The Councils is an concrete example of Danish politicians' commitment to citizen participation and user-influence, and it is a uniquely Danish institution.
- Senior Citizens' Councils are based on Danish social legislation and are tied to the local politicians and local government. The Councils have proven efficacy and have a real impact on local government policy relating to the elderly. Also worth noting is that the work of the Senior Citizens' Councils steer clear of any technology barriers; indeed the Councils actually contribute to finding ways to ensure that senior citizens are not left behind when it comes to digitisation and the introduction of welfare technology."
First established as the elderly’s own initiative to support the elderly in the community
Mutual understanding and respect across generations is crucial for the cohesive force of any society. The initiative of Senior Citizens' Councils (SCC) is a good example of a Danish democratic involvement of elderly people in creating and maintaining ‘active ageing’.
The status and role of elderly people vary across cultures - in Western culture, the elderly are often at risk of being left out of the decision-making process because people of working age are regarded as ‘more valuable’ and more ‘useful’. In Denmark, only few 70+ year-old citizens are elected for decision-making bodies in government and municipalities and, thus, the elderly have gone without representation.
As a protest against the lack of involvement in local decision-making processes, senior citizens organisations established in the 1990s by voluntary means local cooperation forums in municipalities and named these forums Ældreråd, SCC.
In 1990, citizen involvement was a completely new mode of collaboration for politicians and civil servants. But since then, citizen involvement has developed into a legitimate form of cooperation, contributing constructively to promoting and supporting politicians’ and administrations’ focus on senior citizens' needs and wishes.
Description of target users and groups
A growing and diversifying elderly population
Approximately 20% of the Danish population is elderly (will be about 27% in 2030). Senior citizens today are physical well-functioning until high up in age and many of them want to contribute to society. With a diverse elderly population, it is important to ensure that society’s systems and services are developed in collaboration with representatives of the elderly. SCC work for all senior citizens in the municipality.
The 98 SCC in Denmark comprise around 1000 members, all of whom have a broad knowledge of elderly people's way of living - their needs, dreams, and potentials.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
The link between citizens and decision-makers
In 1997, legislation came into force mandating that a Senior Citizens' Council be established in each municipality, that direct elections to the councils be held, and granting every 60+ year-old the right to run as a candidate and to vote. SCC are elected for four years by direct election among, and by, all 60+ year-old citizens. The candidates elected are in their 60s, 70s and 80s and equally split between men and women. The turnout for elections is just over 50% and rising and the number of candidates running in the elections is also rising - both evidence of an increased interest in the SCC. The object of the SCC is to work as an intermediary between city councils and local senior citizens.
According to Danish law, city councils are obliged to consult the local Senior Citizens' Council before a final decision is made on any issue relevant to the elderly population. Typical matters would be primary health care, traffic planning, infrastructure, cultural policy, and the standard of public service for the elderly and for disabled people. Most important, however, is the SCC potential influence on the city council's proposal of the municipal budget for the following year.
SCC help increase citizens' engagement in local decision-making on elderly policy by ensuring that dialogue and cooperation between the elderly and the local council are promoted, maintained and expanded. The SCC are not interest groups which work unilaterally to promote the immediate interests of their constituents; rather the decisions which the SCC influence can reach many years into the future and are thus also important for future generations of elderly people. SCC are an example of Danish democracy and innovative engagement of elderly people from civil society.
SCC make visible their work to local senior citizens through citizen hearings and debates, local newspapers and news website. The Councils have taken the initiative to mark the UN International Day of the Elderly on October 1st and organise various types of public meetings for dialogue with local politicians on the future of aging policy.
Main results, benefits and impacts
Playing a key role in local decision-making
When SCC were first established, the initiators were campaigning for more formalised dialogue between politicians, civil servants and senior citizens. They wanted influence on local elderly policy and that local politicians would seek their counsel.
Today SCC work for a better standard of public service, better traffic planning, better infrastructure and better opportunities for active ageing, and they counsel local politicians on the use of welfare technology and digital solutions (including telemedicine), care housing, local transport and policies on specific issues such as dementia, etc.
In addition to consulting the local SCC in formal decision-making processes, many local city councils involve the SCC earlier in the process, such as in the planning phase of construction of new care housing, relocation of bus stops, developing special measures for people with Alzheimer's, etc. The Council members are critical, but also view every issue as a whole and respect that it may be necessary for politicians to prioritise and make tough choices. SCC are aware of latent conflicts between the generations and seek to avoid this through dialogue with youth organisations.
A national survey among SCC chairmen, civil servants and local politicians show that all three parties generally agree that hearing statements from SCC are taken seriously by city councils and that SCC have a real impact on local politicians' decisions. Most importantly, the SCC have proven their worth, merit, and legitimacy - as emphasised by the civil society organisations in the initiative selection board.
Return on investment
A unique Danish invention
Denmark is recognised as a country that contributes to the development and dissemination of participatory democracy and the SCC is one successful and well-integrated example of this having evolved from a bottom-up grass-roots initiative to being a statutory mechanism in local government nationwide.
Being a member of a Senior Citizens' Council is a much-coveted position: On average, turnout for SCC elections is 50 % and often there is a contested election. Many of the members of the SCC have a large network and deep roots in the local community.
In 1999 the SCC established their national association, Danske Ældreråd, the National Association of Senior Citizens' Councils (NASCC), in English. This national organisation supports councils in their work, advise on specific issues, and provide training and counselling. NASCC's members are the 98 SCC of the 98 municipalities in Denmark, and the organisation is supported by the Danish Government with DKK 1,000,000 a year (approx. EUR 134,000) and is backed by the Danish Ministry of Children, Gender Equality, Integration and Social Affairs.
Inspired by the work and success of the SCC, the Danish Parliament has subsequently passed legislation on, respectively, Councils of the Disabled and Integration Councils in municipalities.