by Irene Tortajada, Verificat, Spain; Tero Luksua, University of Lapland, Finland; Chiara Cremonini, Housatonic, Italy.
In 2021, more than one fifth (20.8 %) of the EU population was aged 65 and over. Data shows that this segment of the population is more susceptible to misinformation, and often lack the confidence to navigate the digital information landscape. With this in mind, the SUM (Seniors United against Misinformation) project was launched in 2022 with the goal of promoting media literacy among seniors in Europe. It employs a peer-to-peer learning strategy, training seniors to facilitate workshops themselves within their communities. This method allows seniors to learn from their peers, which builds trust and fosters an engaging learning environment. The project is a two-year pilot with the purpose of creating a detailed toolkit with instructions, strategies and contents to replicate the project anywhere in Europe. Through the toolkit, SUM aims to bring together civil society actors and offer methodologies for seniors to be protagonists of the development of information and digital competencies among their peers in their own communities.
The project is funded by the Creative Europe programme, and it takes place in Spain, Finland and Italy. It is coordinated by fact-checking and media literacy organisation Verificat from Barcelona, which is also implementing the project in Catalonia. University of Lapland studies media literacy in an academic setting and implements the project in Finland. Finally, Housatonic specialises in co-design and facilitation, and implements the project in Italy.
This article lays out the activities involved in the SUM project so far, in each of the participating countries (Spain, Finland and Italy), as well as the role each partner plays in implementing the project in their territory.
Verificat is coordinating the project on a European level, and have implemented it in Spain. Networking is central in the execution of this project, as the final goal is the dissemination of the guide and the toolkit to entities potentially interested in replicating the project, organising events, or contributing to the network of volunteers.
Recruiting volunteers has been a learning process, which organisations interested in replicating the model should be aware of. Verificat contacted relevant stakeholders for this purpose, such as Rella – an association of retired teachers in Catalonia, and Universitat de l’Experiència, an educational line of the University of Barcelona targeted at seniors. This has proved a successful approach, having recruited 18 volunteers so far, 8 more than initially hoped for. Verificat have also organised 9 media literacy workshops. This project thrives thanks to the motivation of Senior volunteers. As an example, one of the volunteers, Carme, has arranged and delivered workshops herself in many small towns in her local area close to Vilafranca del Penedès in Catalunya. She has coordinated with local councils, which have advertised the events and provided a venue for them – in local libraries and civic centres.
Housatonic, on the other hand, are facilitators and designers: they help simplify complexity by visualising it and design for better collaboration. Their working method integrates Facilitation, Visualization and Design. Their role in the project covered, in the first place, the design of the consortium gatherings: given the goals of each meeting, they helped reaching them through facilitation and applying their methodologies to strengthen the planning of all project activities and the identification of the different roles for each partner involved in the co-creation process. This helped to bring out solutions and simplify decisions, creating alignment between partners and accelerating decision-making. On top of their role as co-creation facilitators, Housatonic recruit senior volunteers and coordinate the train-the-trainers and peer-to-peer workshops in Italy.
University of Lapland is in charge of implementing the project in Finland. Numerous non-profit organisations dedicated to the education and welfare of seniors have been instrumental in the execution of the SUM project. These include the Finnish Pensioner’s Association and the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation. The Train-the-Trainer sessions were conducted in the University of Lapland, municipal city halls, and even the homes of the seniors themselves. These sessions provided a comprehensive overview of misinformation and disinformation, illustrated with a wide array of examples.
In the Train-the-Trainer sessions, University of Lapland employed the co-creation method along with extensive discussions to enhance the comprehensibility of the concept of misinformation and the quality of the material they provided. Participants collaboratively developed a model to be used in their respective peer-to-peer workshops. This approach ensures that the training is not only informative but also interactive, fostering a sense of ownership and engagement among the participants. Recognising the preference of seniors for conversation over a cup of coffee, they have incorporated this, as well as traditional Finnish desserts, into their training sessions, which helps create a comfortable and cozy atmosphere conducive to learning.
The SUM project aims to create a community of practice across Europe after the launch of the toolkit. The consortium members are eager to talk with other European organisations interested in expanding or replicating the project in their countries. Together, we can help Seniors regain the confidence in their undoubted capacity to navigate the informational landscape in a digital society.