Valuing lived experience: AGE-WELL formalizes compensation process for older adults and caregivers engaged in network activities

With a long-time commitment to meaningfully engage older adults and caregivers in all aspects of AGE-WELL, the network has developed a compensation guideline to formally attach value to the time and expertise of its key stakeholders ‒ older adults and caregivers.

The new AGE-WELL Guideline on Older Adult and Caregiver Engagement Compensation systematizes the process for compensation and was co-developed with older adults and caregivers. It is designed to guide network decision-making on compensation levels for older adults and caregivers engaged in network activities and programs, such as startup “insight panels”, advisory committee work, webinar and conference participation and grant making processes, such as research relevancy review.

While AGE-WELL has long provided honorariums to older adults and caregivers for their contributions to network activities, the guideline articulates network principles of older adult and caregiver compensation that are reflective of the value of their time and effort and provides a roadmap for ensuring fair compensation across a broad range of programs.

“Older adults and caregivers are important partners in all that we do as a network. We wanted to standardize the process for compensation for individuals whose lived experience contributes so immensely to our work, and we wanted to make sure that we’re doing that equitably,” says Bridgette Murphy, AGE-WELL’s Managing Director who co-wrote the guideline alongside Dr. Susan Kirkland, AGE-WELL investigator and board member, whose work within the network focuses on the meaningful inclusion and engagement of older adults in research.

“An important feature of the guideline is that it builds in choice – letting older adults and caregivers choose whether or not they wish to be compensated, and how. We wanted to leave that up to older adults and caregivers and support them on a case-by-case basis. As we started to develop this policy, this was a significant consideration brought to us by members of our Older Adult and Caregiver Advisory Committee (OACAC) which guided its development,” said Murphy.

Ron Beleno, Co-Chair of AGE-WELL’s OACAC, notes that having various options available for compensation, from cash to gift cards, and having the choice to accept or decline compensation, is important for older adults and caregivers involved with AGE-WELL.

“Older adults and caregivers get involved with the network for numerous reasons and we have to be understanding of their “whys.” They may want to give back through their time and may choose to not receive compensation, or they might also have limitations to compensation, considering their income or disability benefits, for instance,” said Beleno. “Seeing that choice in the guideline as a default is important.”

Older adults and caregivers are notified of compensation when they are presented with an opportunity to participate in one of the AGE-WELL network’s activities. At that time, they have the option to accept or decline compensation and to change their minds afterwards. Since its rollout, the feedback from the network’s older adults and caregivers on the guideline has been positive, according to Amanda Jenkins, AGE-WELL’s Community Engagement Manager who oversees the implementation of the guideline.

“Older adults and caregivers have experiential knowledge that is essential to the work we do. Their active engagement in technology research and development contributes to the creation of products that are useful and ‘fit for purpose,’” said Dr. Kirkland. “Their contributions to the governance and activities of AGE-WELL ensures that their voice is heard and incorporated into decisions and strategic directions. A standardized compensation process is one tangible recognition of the many contributions that older adults are making to the AGE-WELL Network.”

“I’m proud that AGE-WELL has taken this approach to support older adults and caregivers, and to value the lived experience that they bring to the table,” said Beleno. “In the research and innovation community, to be innovative by implementing a model of compensation with choice, to me, is quite leading-edge in Canada. For AGE-WELL to take the lead and make a platform for others to see how we value our stakeholders, sets an example for many other groups out there.”