Skip to content

2021 Engagement Workshop Video: Celebrating Impact

A discussion panel about demonstrating and communicating success with real results

This discussion panel features the participants listed on the opening slide. Watch the video by clicking the play arrow. Read the transcript below.

Share this video via YouTube

The presentation transcript was created by an automated transcription tool. Portions have been edited for clarity or length. Anyone looking to quote or use information from the event is advised to compare the text to the video recording.

MIKE WATSON: We've got more to come and we're about to hear from another great group of panelists. You recall that yesterday we had panel discussions focused on the first two phases of community engagement: Collaborating With Community and Collectively Taking Action.

We're about to start our panel on Celebrating Impact, the final phase of community engagement. Together with our panelists, we will offer insights on how to demonstrate and communicate success with real results.

Before we introduce our next speakers, though, we'd like to play a video that provides an overview of the Experience Matters program, which was a partnership between AARP and Cities of Service. Enjoy the video and then we'll get to hear more about this in our next discussion.


COLETTA STRICKLAND: The benefits of being a volunteer, I think, are connecting with the people in the community.

SHAUNA SHEPHERD: What's so beautiful about volunteers is not only the relationship building aspect, but you're able to pass on generational knowledge and wisdom.

KIMBERLY BRADEN: I think that Experience Matters is a program that allows those of us who may have more experience in terms of things that we've done in the past, and be able to take that experience and to lend it to efforts of service.

MAYOR TIM KELLER: Simply put, folks who are 50-plus have several things that a lot of others don't; that life experience that is so helpful and also that desire to help.

SHAUNA SHEPHERD: The City of Fort Worth focused on financial empowerment, teaching savings, budget and credit. And the knowledge shared from our older volunteers will teach them what to do and what not to do.

COLETTA STRICKLAND: The knowledge that our program brings to the table is beneficial to anybody that makes money, anybody that has money, anybody that wants to progress.

KIMBERLY BRADEN: But we have the ability to go into communities, to neighborhoods, to individuals and also bring knowledge that may or may not be in that community because of just demographics, because of socioeconomic differences.

MAYOR TIM KELLER: During COVID our city’s approach to volunteers really was focused on continuing to find ways to volunteer even though you're in a pandemic.

SHAUNA SHEPHERD: We had to shift, we had to learn how do we reach our community at the virtual space.  We needed to reach the immediate needs of a community.

KIMBERLY BRADEN: The biggest thing was to say:  Okay now, what will we do? Who can I call that can help us to still work in these neighborhoods and to find a  plan to allow us to serve.

ANDREW WEST: One of the amazing assets at older adults bring to the community is that sense of the  community that can create with themselves. And that sense of community they can bring to the broader community.

DAVID CHENE: Senior volunteers bring a lifetime of experience insight and skills, and are extremely dedicated to the causes they support

SHAUNA SHEPHERD: A lot of people might say, What is the Experience Matters program? Why do they call it that? Because with older adults, experience matters!

MIKE WATSON: Now it's my great pleasure to introduce my colleague Rodney Harrell, Vice President of Family, Home and Community in the AARP Public Policy Institute

RODNEY HARRELL: Thanks, Mike. I'm excited to hear some of those questions later, but first I'm excited to ask my own questions of our wonderful panel that we've got gathered here today.

  • Dionne Baux [Vice President of Urban Development, Main Street America], leads a key leadership role to expand technical service offerings to neighborhood commercial districts, she has expertise engaging community stakeholders and community economic development. So welcome, Dionne!
  • And we also have with us Beth Blauer. Beth is with Johns Hopkins University, and is a dedicated public servant and international expert on government performance programs. And she works to improve people's lives are bringing data into the government's decision-making process. 

A great panel and I'm excited to talk to you all today. 

But first before we get into things we have another question using Slido. And that question is:

In one to two words, how have engaged older residents made your community more livable for people of all ages?

And so, while these responses come in, I will be asking our panelists to reflect on these themes in a moment. But clearly volunteering is by far the biggest so far.

We're seeing a lot of other good things there. Knowledge popping up, as well. Wonderful, wonderful examples here. Lived experience. Support groups. A lot of issues in the community that can be helped, I see popping up, as well. Serving on councils, leadership roles, many interesting items there, as well.

I'm curious what our panelists are thinking here. We'll start with Dionne. What do you see there? Any reactions to what folks are putting in there?

DIONNE BAUX: Absolutely! The volunteerism — and the fact that it is jumping out bold  that is so critical to Main Street’s approach to revitalization. To see that, and the audience thinking that's the place, that it’s impactful for our seniors, I'm really happy to see that. The only thing that I don't see showing up, and I will talk about that a little bit, is small businesses. These are our entrepreneurs that are developing businesses among our corridors. 

RODNEY HARRELL: Certainly there's roles for all kinds of committee members, including businesses, in making our communities better. Andy do you see anything there that stuck out to you?

ANDY TOY: I see lived experiences, especially sharing those times of hardship and resilience that a lot of, in terms of where we work, a lot of immigrants and refugees have come and they've experienced a lot of hardship, and have come through. We still believe that they are assets in the community, and we want them to participate. Sometimes it's hard to get them to participate, but once they do it's a great thing for the community to have everybody engaged at all generations.

RODNEY HARRELL: I love seeing that history element in there. I think there are few things more important to making a community a community than our best year history and connection that folks have, so thanks for pointing that one out. And Beth, what did you see there?

BETH BLAUER: Well I loved all of the knowledge and experience. We know that people in the 50-plus community are contributing so much in innovation in communities, in thinking about how to solve problems differently, they bring forward such a deep understanding of the lived experiences in community. And so being able to pull that through in better services and in thinking differently about how we operate within cities, I think, is a huge advantage of engaging more with our 50-plus communities.

RODNEY HARRELL: Absolutely. And while I have you here, Beth, I know that through the Centers Civic Impact at Johns Hopkins you successfully work with over 140 mayors from around the globe to advance the use of data and evidence. And I'd like to know if you could tell us about some of the programs that engage older adults and volunteers, and what types of data-driven insights you've been able to derive about the impact of that engagement.

BETH BLAUER: Sure. You got to see a highlight of one of my most exciting and favorite projects that we do. With our extensive partnership with AARP,  which has been such a joy and we're so lucky to be partnered, and the Cities of Service program that we've been leading from Johns Hopkins University for just about a year, it has successfully been implementing the Experience Matters program which was highlighted in the video package right before the panel.

And just to give a little bit more meat on the bones, in Experience Matters, five cities received $30,000 grants for one year, they get a Vista — so these are volunteers that come in and embed in a particular community through Americorps — to support a program that's led out of the City Hall, and then they get a bunch of consulting and programmatic support to help city leaders better draw on the experience and the expertise of their community, aligned to goals and objectives that they have as a community that are very high profile and really hard problems that the city has been trying to solve. They get support for over a year and then they also get the opportunity to network with other cities who are doing the same kind of work. I want to just kind of bring that to life a little bit.

We have some incredible proof points of why this work is so important, and the effect that it's had on a city. In Fort Worth, Texas, for example, we came into Fort Worth with a program that engaged 50-plus volunteers and that group of volunteers worked with City Hall, and a dynamic group of problem solvers within the city. They identified a problem that was focused on debt. Over 50 percent of Fort Worth residents have debt that's over 60 days past due. Another 40 percent of residents have low credit scores.

So the city with their 50-plus volunteers designed a community solution by partnering with local nonprofits, a local nonprofit called Pathfinders, that was designed to promote financial empowerment of residents. This is why I got so excited to see “experience” and “knowledge” as one of the key word cloud words that came up in the last survey, because what we brought was volunteers who could relate to the financial hardships that were experienced in the community, but also had some resiliency, had some of that experience in building budgets from our household, thinking about financial independence, and being able to bring that.

For the first three months of the project, we had participants that were coming in through the city, opening new bank accounts. We had 14 participants in Fort Worth that opened a new bank account and saved over $200. All of this was matched by the city. We had fourteen 50-plus volunteers committed to eight hours of virtual training — so this was training that was designed specifically for city residents to help improve their financial literacy, to give financial coaching and to help really build sustainable emergency savings for people who were experiencing deep financial hardships.

The effect was not only for this group, but also for the total community, where we start to really build up this muscle, this skill, around how we can support our neighbors in devising long term saving strategies. It's a really excellent example of the way we can leverage some of that knowledge.

We have several other great examples of this work. In St. Paul, Minnesota, we worked through the pandemic and sort of immediately were able to bring in our 50-plus volunteers to come in and really help with provision of meals, with thinking about housing challenges that the city residents were facing.

All of the core issues that we know many cities were facing through COVID, we were able to activate that network of 50-plus volunteers through the Experience Matters Program to really deliver high quality, really great programming and support. Overall, the five grantee cities engaged around 377 volunteers, 93 percent of them were 50-plus volunteers. It's incredibly exciting to think about the ways that we can lead with data as we think about engaging, and how we can start to demonstrate this collective impact that we're having.

RODNEY HARRELL: Wow, that's really impressive, and it's like the adage of many hands make light work. It really comes to play here, with all the volunteers helping out in those city examples. Thank you for sharing that.

Andy in your work you've made it a priority to draw on the wisdom of elders, and I know the example that Elder Story Café, which you led in your former role with SEAMAAC, with funding from the AARP Community Challenge, as a matter of fact. You created a multi-generational gathering spot where older community members could share stories, and stories are so important.

You also were instrumental in creating a leadership council of elders to help make decisions in the community, and are working closely with AARP to advocate for accessory dwelling units (ADUs), one of those housing solution that helps older adults who want to age in place. Lots of great examples there. My question for you is: Why the focus on elders? And what have you gained from that approach of focusing on that population?

ANDY TOY: The Leadership Council, actually I didn't start it, but that is part of SEAMAAC’s work, is really giving a voice to everyone. In fact, we started working on a plan for a local park, which is the largest greenspace in the community. The plan is called Making Room for Everyone and that's what a park should be. It shouldn't be just for some people. It's a very diverse community, so we needed to really reach people, and one of the ways we reached people was to have many smaller meetings, and really try to pull out the voices of the community.

Often times, unfortunately, elders, especially if they don't speak English as their first language, are not engaged at all in planning for the community. So that was really important to us, because we know they have a lot of information, they've got a lot of knowledge, they've got a great lived experience. As an example, there were benches in the park, and one of the big things was, ‘Hey! We need benches that are in the shade! We need more benches for people to sit!’ It's a really important thing for older people, so they can walk and sit and relax as well.

And restrooms in the park — that became the number one thing that people wanted. Certainly, that was something the elders help to push forward. 

The community is about one-third Asian, so elders have a tradition of being respected. But when they moved to United States, oftentimes they're left behind because they don't speak the language, and oftentimes the children become the interpreters — and they become almost the elders. It's really important for us to acknowledge the value of having the intergenerational connection, and making sure that elders are valued by the younger people.

The Elder Story Café was a great example of people telling stories about how it was. They lost family members, they escaped with their lives, and they were so grateful to be in America and having gone through that hardship. But they're resilient, and that's something I think children can learn, and young people can learn from the elders.

So that's part of our work at SEAMAAC, which I’m no longer at, but I still connect to that.

And I just want to mention real quickly that we have a couple of great people. We've been working with the AARP local office — Yocasta Lora and Grace Rustia in Philadelphia — and they've been great allies and we're working right now to promote accessory dwelling units in Philadelphia. That's a way for families to live intergenerationally and be connected and age in place. Philadelphia is an older city, and it's of course a city, so we need policies that really reflect that and support our aging population.

RODNEY HARRELL: That's great. Lots of sharing between generations and, of course, making sure that both our communities and our housing options are there for people regardless of their age. I think that's really exciting and great work. So thank you for sharing that.

I'll turn now to Dionne, who mentioned the business community was missing earlier. As you know, older adults are an economic force. And the over 50 crowd is controlling nearly 80 percent of the U.S. net worth at present. Main Street America works to build vibrant commercial districts. So I’m curious about how have you engaged older residents in commercial district revitalization projects. Can those strategies be used to support economic recovery from COVID-19 that we're all facing now? And other kinds of issues? 

DIONNE BAUX: Great question, Rodney. To build on something Andy just noted, we believe our main streets are for everyone. Everyone deserves access to a vibrant neighborhood, a place that has a thriving local economy that celebrates all of the character and a culture from the different demographics that live in a community, as well as features inviting public spaces that make our residents feel like they belong. This is their district.

I will say that the silver economy or the 50-plus, which I broadly fall in, so as I was preparing my remarks for this, I was like, ‘Wow! You're speaking of yourself.’

There are volunteers for our main streets, and the conversation about the shared experience, and the lived experience they bring to these Main Streets, are vitally important. This is the intergenerational connection of connecting to the younger adults that are coming behind them to really understand how to work, and participate, and volunteer.

We know many of our seniors now, at this time, this is their second act in their life. So they're really looking for things that are more self-fulfilling and aid in the development of revitalizing your community. They're the largest consumer base, they're responsible for half of the U.S. consumer spending.

There is a unique need, or critical need, that their input is included in what types of businesses are recruited on these districts, what types of services are offered in a commercial corridor. And then, finally, I mentioned this group is our new entrepreneurs. Some of them have the ability, because they have more access to capital, but I will look, say, in our distressed neighborhood commercial districts, some of the new entrepreneurs have to do this because of job loss or career changes, etcetera, and they're bringing yet again that lived experience into creating a new business. We're seeing their input in neighborhood commercial district programming.

I'll provide an example in Chicago, from the greater Chatham neighborhood. Essentially, the Greater Tenants Initiative, also led by someone in the silver economy, activated a restaurant festival. And what they did was create all of these parklets along the district to repurpose the parking spaces and lanes for 14 of their food businesses during the summer months during COVID. It started before COVID, so really this was something they continued to ensure they were providing as an opportunity for businesses to still operate, have some outdoor patio seating.

Parklets provided some of the basics that Andy just noted. It offered increased options, seating and places for folks to rest. It expanded opportunities for social gathering and community cohesion and community pride. It also provides that opportunity, and I said this a little bit earlier, for the local community— that business community— to ensure they are meeting the needs of those residents, and meet the needs of the local interests and culture.

The final thing that I will say on this point is, you know, going back to this this group being our new entrepreneurs on the corridor — there has been a surge in entrepreneurship. And, as I said, for some reasons, because people have the capital to do it, or access to do it, or in some reasons it's just necessity, and they have to do it.

The Kauffman Foundation records back in 2019 that more than 25 percent of new entrepreneurs were between the ages of 55 to 64 years of age. Guardian Financial and the Small Business Alliance most recently indicated that 43 percent of the country’s small business ownership are those that are owned by people that are 55 and older. So just support services that our main streets are providing for these new entrepreneurs, as well as including the silver economy as a part of their discussions, is really critical to the success in the future of many of our main streets. Main Street is back. Local businesses are locating on our main streets.

But we have to be sure that we're being thoughtful about the diversity of age ranges on these Main Streets and ensuring that, again, this is a place that's rich in character, and it's featuring everyone in a district, because these Main Streets are for everyone.

RODNEY HARRELL: Indeed, they are. It's a great talk about the benefits of including older adults and engaging older residents. We've talked about that a lot over the past two days.

I want to ask this question of all of you from a different angle:

What are the perils of not engaging older adults?

How can we change the predominant mindset to be more inclusive?

And what are the unique contributions of older adults and impacts of their engagement to celebrate? 

ANDY TOY: There's a couple thoughts I have about that. In particular, in communities where there are a lot of cultures, a lot of a mix of cultures, we don't want to lose that connection to where people came from. Whether it be food or clothing or maybe even religion, there is a core connection that we want to keep, that people have, and value.

If that’s lost, it's a real loss for the community. One of the things we did was a food truck — a nonprofit food truck called Sophie South Philly East. We've been incubating chefs from different communities, from different cultures, and it's really great to see people share those dishes and music, and culture, so that adds a lot of life and vibrancy to community.

But on the other hand, I think the other potential loss — when we let the elders sort of go into isolation, when they're all by themselves and they're not part of the civic circle. They become isolated and that can be very detrimental health-wise — mental health and physical health. At the very beginning of the pandemic we were having weekly meetings of our elders. We had a great elder circle that was very diverse, different languages being spoken and interpreted, and we had to close down during the pandemic.

What we were able to do was start delivering food, and that was actually the beginning of another program where we started to just engage people by delivering food to them and making sure they were not isolated, and that they were being taken care of in terms of health issues and things like that. It's a mental health issue as well, so out of that grew a much larger project of hunger relief that SEAMAAC is now one of the largest in Philadelphia. 

But it all started with the elders program and making sure people didn't feel like they were, there was nobody who cared, or they were disconnected. We're hoping to get back — or they are hoping to get back — to in-person sometime. We don't even know when, unfortunately, but that sense of isolation is a real loss with a real health impact. It's a real loss to the community when you don't have those connections.

RODNEY HARRELL: It certainly can be. Isolation so tough one. Beth, do you have any thoughts here?

BETH BLAUER: Fostering that intergenerational knowledge transfer is so important at the community level and within the workforce. One of the things we say is please don't count out our 50-plus adults who are working within the workforce, because they have some of the most critical institutional knowledge, and when we don't tap into that, we are setting ourselves up for failure every single time.

I want to make sure that we emphasize that point. From a program design, we need to put our communities at the center, and that includes our older communities. If we're not doing community-centric design as we think about programs, we really risk creating non-inclusive programs that are not going to actually meet the needs of all residents. 

Having a 50-plus  engagement around the way we're designing programs [is essential], especially if we think about the billions of dollars that are now coming into local communities through the federal relief programs. We're seeing a lot more flexibility on the program designs, and we’ve got to make sure that we're centering the needs of our 50-plus adults in the community. You do that by engaging them in the design process, by bringing them in to help understand the best way to deliver services, to think about the service array. When we don't do that, we end up with these issues of isolation. We end up creating long-term health challenges, increased health costs and also missing out on the rich opportunities to bring that experience into every single thing that we're doing.

RODNEY HARRELL: It’s crucial to capture all groups within a community. Dionne, do you have any thoughts to close us out on this question?

DIONNE BAUX: Absolutely. Not to echo Beth or Andy’s comments, what I will add is that I definitely agree with the community-centered design programming and ensuring that we're considering the 50-plus as we're doing this work.

But remember, this is a vibrant group. A 50-year-old looks a lot different than the 50-year-old in the past, right? So these folks are still working, they’re a part of the workforce. Some have more capital to be able to invest back into the communities. Some have more time since their children are either away at college or they're empty nesters now. They have the time to commit to volunteer on these community revitalization efforts and city planning. It's such a large segment of our population that will continue to grow.

[We need to think about] how we're marketing to them, and maybe even sometimes the negative perceptions that are thought about when you think about a 50-plus year old. They're sometimes thought about as frail and don't have the ability to be as vibrant, or as they used to be in the past, and that's a misconception.

Of course, we have different segments and there are different groups that we need to be able to consider. But isolation definitely is a piece of all of this and we don't want that to happen. So we want to ensure they are being included in the process, that they are being thought about in the process, but also see them as your think partners. The experience they bring to the table, the wealth they have, in some instances, and to bring to the table. So really considering them in a different way than they've been messaged toward, or talked about, in the past.

RODNEY HARRELL: Certainly, change is needed there.

I've enjoyed this, but I want to try to squeeze in one more final question before we get to the audience here. And it's that through this workshop, we want to equip participants with tools, resources, strategies for getting work done in the community — in their communities.

And with that in mind, if we could do this in one minute each: What should we be ready to do differently, as a result of this panel? 

Tough question. I’m going to start with Beth. What do you think?

BETH BLAUER: Okay, one minute, here we go. Intentionally engage older residents and other impacted groups early in that program and service design. And continue that engagement into implementation and obviously any volunteer work that may be available. So not just on the workforce side, but also on volunteerism. Match metrics to the scope of the public problem and include metrics that highlight the impact of older residents and volunteers.

Go beyond counting the number of people that you're engaging, and actually connect it to that impact in the community, and I guarantee you're going to see a whole new field come to life in the way that you can leverage your older adults in some of the most critical work you're tackling as a community.

RODNEY HARRELL: That’s a great one. Thanks. Okay, Dionne, what do you think we should be doing differently after this panel?

DIONNE BAUX: That's hard in one minute. Beth hit all of the points right. But I will say, it needs a community planning process. Look at the seniors, already 50-plus-ers, as your mentors that can really help guide through this process and guide some of the younger individuals that are coming into the work. Many of these folks have committed a lifetime to committing service back to their communities, or have been resilient and moving forward, or resilient in barriers that may have impacted their communities. So tapping into their wisdom and their knowledge is vitally important for the success of all of these programs. And volunteerism. Volunteerism. Volunteerism.

RODNEY HARRELL: Certainly don't want to lose that knowledge of volunteerism. It’s key. All right. Close us out on this, Andy. What do you think?

ANDY TOY: I ditto everything that's been said, but I think that the diversity of voices is really important to really maximize what we can learn, and what we can get, how we can grow our communities, and have better communities. And I like to think about creativity as a piece of it — both cultural, whether it’s food, or clothing, or music. We've had our elders doing really amazing artwork, actually. So it doesn't end when you turn 50 or 60 or 70. You can continue creating and growing and giving back to the community as a volunteer, or just by showing your knowledge and your perspective. It's a great thing. So I hope that what we’ve done with our artwork, and photography, and intergenerational, trying to think about an intergenerational photography program, actually, will be really cool. But that's coming, and I think just having a voice and really respecting that, and appreciating the value that everybody brings to the table.

RODNEY HARRELL: I think that's a great note to end on from my questions.  I thank you all for answering those. I want to bring Mike back in with us to help us with some questions from the audience. Mike?

MIKE WATSON: Thanks, Rodney. And thanks to all of you. It is your time to ask questions of our panelists. We have so many good questions that have come in, and also some great conversation happening, with the questions. So I'm going to go ahead and start here. Andy, you mentioned creative approaches, and this question is right in that line. Would love to hear your favorite strategies for communicating impact to residents and stakeholders:

What are some creative or untraditional approaches that you've tried?

ANDY TOY: Always have food available, for one. I'm a big believer that food is, and food that's made by local folks is really great, not McDonald's, necessarily, but something that really reflects the diversity of the community, and the talent that's within the community. It's unbelievable how much talent is really in every community and that we just don't see it in front of us sometimes. 

I don't know if they're untraditional, but we've had art shows. We've had folks creating batik or other kinds of artwork painting. And then they get to show it to the community, to the broader community, whether it's children doing it, it or seniors doing it, it’s really wonderful to be able to share that and to show what their vision is.

And the one thing I said that we were planning, that they are planning because I'm not there anymore, will be an intergenerational photography program where an elder and their grandchild, perhaps, would actually go around taking pictures of what they saw in the community and what that means to them. I think that would spark a really great conversation. That's something we're going to be doing and AARP is actually supporting that, so thank you, again, AARP.

MIKE WATSON: That’s great. Thank you, Andy. Dionne, do you have anything to add to that?

DIONNE BAUX: Ditto everything Andy just noted here. I really liked the intergenerational photo campaign. That's something that we've pushed out to some of our Main Streets, but I will also just note celebrating. Celebrating their hard work, and newsletters, and community portals.

We have some of our communities that host and really produce the number of stories, or blog posts, in community portals, and it gives them an opportunity to showcase their projects and showcase some of their volunteers. They do this, often through breakfast events or a lunch event, so they may not be so outside of the box, but in places where we have really deep relationships with city government, the mayor may come out to be a part of some of those volunteer events and award celebrations. So just ensuring that they're always telling the story and talking about the success: and talking about who led the success. It's generally the volunteers, and the different types of community partners that we work with.

MIKE WATSON: So another great response. Beth, do you have anything to add?

BETH BLAUER: I'll just say, from a very technical perspective, because this is sort of my bread and butter when it comes to measuring impact, is that when you are thinking about a new project, to engage your volunteers or your older workforce, and your community, to start the metrics conversation as you're designing the program itself. That way you know what you're measuring, and you can track it over time.

Also make sure that you're actually focused on a problem that is experienced deeply in the community, that it's something tangible, that there is going to be something that can be measured, and think about the way that we can partner across City Hall, across our volunteer base, in a way that will provide a dividend on that specific outcome. And then look at those measures, habitualize the use of saying, “Is this working? Are we having the desired impact? Are we actually thinking about this in the right way?”

Continue to build the muscle within the programs themselves to hold themselves accountable. Think about whether or not the investments that they're making, both in the time and in having the right people, are actually helping to yield the right outcome on the other end of the project or program.

MIKE WATSON: Fantastic answers from all three of you. We're running short on time! We have so many great questions in, so I'm going to ask that we try to do these next couple questions in kind of a lightening round, or answer in the form of a tweet, if that's possible.

I want to talk about this one: Volunteerism and entrepreneurship for economic empowerment must coexist. Volunteerism has profound limitations if it is divorced from teaching a person to fish. So,that's less of a question and more of a comment. But are there any places or examples you've seen where that integration has happened well, and what have the results been?

BETH BLAUER: I think financial literacy is a great example where you can seed some of this knowledge and individual people in the community, and that creates a permanency of that knowledge, and it can flourish within a further network. So imagine the way we know that knowledge transfers in social media and in other places. You've got thinkers in the community who have these skills, who can bring those skills to more and more people they have close contact with.   

DIONNE BAUX: I would say the Main Street approach. And not to be too pushy on our approach, but our approach is just about that: teaching local communities how to fish and understanding that they can develop from within. There are entrepreneurs there. How do you get them involved?

ANDY TOY: Yeah, a quick note. You can have volunteers doing cleanups on commercial corridors, which we've had. We've had elders actually doing it, which is great to see them out there doing something really productive while the entrepreneurs are out there, doing their thing. So it's not one or the other, it's both.

MIKE WATSON: Love that. And speaking of both, one of the things we're seeing around measurement, and Beth, I think you answered this well, but want to ask this question:

What about impacts outside of the built environment? When impact is less tangible, how do you measure it and integrate it into your storytelling?

BETH BLAUER: There are lots of measurement frameworks out there, so you can actually look to already existing measurement frameworks, whether they are the sort of global frameworks on well-being in communities, Happiness Index, there's lots of alternatives to regular GDP measurement of impact, or impact in growth in a built environment that can be used to really understand what does it feel like to live in a community, and how resilient or healthy or those communities.

I encourage everyone to sort of seek those out. I'm also a great resource, so if you have questions, I'd be happy to follow up with anyone. But really looking at what already exists out there. Don't try to recreate the wheel yourself. Look at places like the OECD. Look at places like the Sustainable Global Development Goals. They have very rich, locally-based measurement frameworks that can really help you understand what the quality of life is like in your community.

MIKE WATSON: That's great advice. Always better to steal an idea or steal a framework and have to recreate it yourself. Andy, let's go to you next.

ANDY TOY: A simple measurement of impact would be, "How many people are using the park? How many elders are using the park?" We do surveys looking at who's using the park, but we also survey people and ask their opinions. We're hoping to see, in a few years, that there's an improvement in that. If there isn't, then maybe we weren't doing our job.  

One last thing I’d like to point out is that, at the high level, a lot of this makes sense, but at the very ground level, it's about building trust amongst people. You have to spend time at the ground level working together, and then building that trust, and then bringing everybody along and really having them feel like they are part of it, they're not just part of an experiment, or something. Their voice is being heard.

DIONNE BAUX: I will build on what Andy said about building trust. It is so important that we spend time doing that. Those measurements could be in a form of the number of new partnerships built, the number of meetings and individuals that participated in, and actually worked on projects together. Projects that they developed and actually implemented together. I'm really glad Beth mentioned the Well-Being Index, because it is hard, and it is difficult sometimes for communities to understand how to value quality of life and changes and happiness in the communities. All of the resources that have been shared are fantastic.

MIKE WATSON: Again, three great responses. This has been such a fantastic panel. I want to thank you all for joining us. Rodney, Beth, Andy and Dionne, this was fantastic.

Page published October 2021

Our Free Publications!

See the complete list at

Follow Us

Contact Us

  • Email AARP Livable Communities at

  • Ask about the AARP Livability Index by completing this online form.

  • AARP Members: For questions about your benefits, AARP The Magazine or the AARP Bulletin, visit the AARP Contact Us page or call 1-888-OUR-AARP (1-888-687-2277).