In an OU Research Excellence Awards (REA) first, one winner will be decided externally. New to 2022, the People’s Choice Award asks the public to choose the person or project they feel has made the most significant difference when addressing societal challenges.
Dr Jitka Vseteckova, a Senior Lecturer from the WELS School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care (HWSC), is one of four academics nominated. Her Ageing Well Public Talks (AWPT) Series was started in response to the world’s rapidly ageing population, with the series encouraging both the young and old to take positive steps to improve their ageing experience. To date, more than 30,000 people have engaged with the series, with a portfolio of work that has spanned across the UK, Europe and Asia.
Here Jitka tells WELS News about the project’s journey so far, and what it feels like to be nominated.
And if your mind is already made up, cast your vote for Jitka and the AWPT Series now.
Q. Jikita, what has it been like to create a project that engages with the public on such a large scale?
The AWPT Series represents the culmination of my research and teaching experience, coupled with my drive to make a substantial impact on people’s lives and enable our health and social-care systems to use resources efficiently. What this does, quite naturally, is improve health and quality of life outcomes at population level – especially for those who do not actively seek to improve their health.
The timing seems to be perfect for an intervention that takes all known barriers into account to engage wide and diverse audiences, especially when inviting representatives from diverse populations to shape the direction, co-production and delivery of the programme of talks.
The AWPT Series didn’t start big but is growing fast, due to excellent networking, popularity of the model of the Five Pillars for Ageing Well and the incredible input and co-production with our national and international collaborators. The programme has achieved excellent momentum because of the motivation of all involved in its co-production, and because of the significant and palpable need for this intervention across communities and borders.
Q. As well as being nominated for a REA People’s Choice Award, you were also shortlisted for the Best External Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange Award. What benefits have you found from knowledge-exchange exercises?
I have always been passionate about sharing the knowledge and experiences I acquire, as well as learning from other people. The AWPT Series sits in the forefront of knowledge exchange particularly because of the strong agenda of co-production and direct dissemination.
It has been, so far, an extraordinary journey of engagement with people’s life stories. We are striving to make a positive impact and support everyone with their aspirations – whether it’s leading a healthier life in their 30s to maintain an attractive appearance, or making positive steps towards staying healthy for longer in their 70s to spend more time with family outdoors.
Q. The project, like most of life, was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. What impact did it have?
Covid-19 provided an opportunity as many people had time to reflect on the natural need to stay active and healthy. As a team, we adjusted quickly and moved the AWPT Series provision online. Due to incredible support by The Open University, we were still able to make short films, record, live-stream and share talks and the overall portfolio of work in a way that was quite unprecedented. As time went by and everyone became more acquainted with online communication, our participants – sometimes surrounded or supported by their family – became more relaxed, and the online sessions became a platform that combatted loneliness.
Working online enabled us to bring the talks to audiences that we would not necessarily engage with if it wasn’t for Covid and the resulting general populations’ increasing acquaintance with online communication. We are very glad that we were able to share our series with people in Scotland, Greece, Czech Republic, Spain, France and China. This taught us to think fast, think big and think globally in terms of audiences so suddenly there were no limits to where we could deliver to.
This experience made it clear that we need to keep an online element to the programme even when we resume face-to-face talks.
Q. Finally, what would it mean to win at this year’s OU Research Excellence Awards?
It is truly a privilege and an honour to be shortlisted for both awards. I see it as a wonderful opportunity to showcase the excellent work we are all doing at The Open University. All colleagues, whether they have been nominated and/or shortlisted, are making incredible impact through the research and knowledge-exchange projects they are working on and the audiences they engage.
In addition, the People’s Choice Award has considerable potential to draw wide and public attention to the excellence that the OU is achieving in tackling social inequalities by making education – in all its forms and shapes – available to all.
Voting for the 2022 REA People’s Choice Award is now live. Cast your vote before voting closes on 3 October.
Find out more about Jitka’s research in the video below.