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Evidence-based health promotion for older people and instrumentalisation: comparing the influence of policy contexts in Austria and England

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Health promotion (HP) amongst older people is an increasingly prominent policy concern for governments. The development of an evidence-base and the advocacy of effective interventions in the light of this act as legitimation tools for the overall HP phenomenon – assisting the growth of state and non-state funding for public health initiatives for older people. In structuring decision-making as to which individual projects/initiatives receive funding, frameworks for acknowledging efficacy impact on formats of HP work both positively and negatively. Drawing on recent research across the EU and focusing on the specific national contexts of Austria and England, this comparative policy analysis triangulates best-practice modelling, evaluation data and interviews with project coordinators to explore how policy contexts impact on the nature and format of HP interventions. Amidst a developing awareness of what effective practice looks like, successful HP initiatives must advocate their legitimacy within narrow rules of quality, where measurable outcomes have become the keys which unlock financial resources. Findings across both countries suggest that this instrumentalisation of legitimation, driven by economic pressures and bureaucratic generalisability, threatens the rationality of HP. From a Habermasian perspective, tensions emerge between projects’ remaining reflexive towards processes and their need to articulate the ‘success’ of the interventions in a language of outcomes. Over time, in an era where resources are increasingly scarce and competition over these intensifies, a danger exists whereby the instrumentality of HP begins to separate from, and impinge upon, the capacity for projects to think and act holistically.
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Keywords: Habermas; commissioning; funding; health promotion; legitimacy; older people

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands 2: Research Institute of the Red Cross, Vienna, Austria

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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