The expandable sections below provide an outline of HAIRE's purpose, its activities and the guidance that the project has generated for future users to consider when aiming to inspire community level innovation.

Origin of HAIRE

Healthy Ageing through Innovation in Rural Europe (HAIRE), led by the Social Innovation Group at the University of Exeter, was a project that ran from January 2020 – March 2023. HAIRE aimed to bring about social innovation and the empowerment for older people. A toolkit was developed and tested in eight pilot sites in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

What was the problem?

Older adults face many challenges in rural communities. Key issues include a lack of local support and facilities, out-migration of young people, reduced access to health and social care services, poor public transport links and isolation. These issues influence wellbeing negatively and HAIRE aimed to understand them at a community level by listening to the older adults in its eight pilot sites – and then along came the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic brought a new perspective to the issues. The need to adapt face-to-face working approaches via digital support where appropriate and ensure the inclusion of older adults in local responses to social challenges became more apparent. The fragmented health and social care systems in HAIRE’s rural pilot sites added to the project’s challenges.

What did we achieve?

HAIRE introduced a new, systemic approach to understanding and responding to the challenges that older adults faced in rural communities – including loneliness and isolation. HAIRE created a toolkit that listened to communities and co-designed innovations with older adults, other local residents, volunteers, local authorities and health and social care providers.

Each community’s interests, preferences and local capabilities formed HAIRE’s innovations. These local innovations provided an inclusive culture that empowered pilot sites to voice and respond to issues.

The HAIRE toolkit in brief

HAIRE’s toolkit consisted of three tools: a Guided Conversation, Social Network Analysis and Neighbourhood Analysis. Users are encouraged to adapt the tools and the way that they are used according to their local circumstances.

All of HAIRE’s tools are designed to be administered in the community and guidance on how to approach training is provided in this Wiki. The use of HAIRE’s tools at a community level fosters a genuinely grass-roots approach to social innovation. The toolkit can bring together local people, local government, key agencies and organisations, and the voluntary sector to innovate in service design and delivery.

Guided Conversation

HAIRE’s Guided Conversation is the core of its toolkit – allowing the individual and the community to be heard and act. The Guided Conversation was co-designed by the University of Exeter in conjunction with partners from the project’s pilot sites. A locally relevant version was created for each specific location.

The Guided Conversation is a customisable, person-centred tool that allows people to reflect on their own needs, desires, interests and aspirations. Reflections are supported by creative conversational prompts and an open approach to asking individuals questions about how their local area, experiences and current personal situation influence their wellbeing. People are encouraged to think about community and individual actions that can support in improving their wellbeing.

Use the following link to find out more about Guided Conversations: Guided Conversations Guidance

Neighbourhood Analysis

The Neighbourhood Analysis tool is applied as a group activity. Individuals are invited to create a brainstorm of the resources that are available in their local area. Specific categories are used to organise and list resources. Locals are encouraged to think about connections between the resources and key information about accessing them. Informal, place-based based knowledges about a place's potential are revealed in this way.

Use the following link to find out more about Neighbourhood Analysis: Neighbourhood Analysis Guidance

Social Network Analysis

Social Network Analysis is a survey-based tool. Individuals are invited to summarise organisations and/or individuals that they connect with over certain issues and/or topics. The survey considers the strength and importance of each individual’s social connections. Key information sources and social activity organisers that are accessed and used by individuals are also gathered.

Use the following link to find out more about Social Network Analysis: Social Network Analysis Guidance


HAIRE’s approach provided pilot site partners with a new way of understanding wellbeing in the community. Wellbeing was defined on three levels: structural influences; person-centred influences and place-based influences. Through HAIRE’s work, project partners understood that each individual’s wellbeing was comprised of how these three levels of influence combined for them.

This inclusive way of understanding wellbeing provided partners with a goal to work towards beyond HAIRE. This goal is summarised below:

Guiding principle: Ensure discussion and deliberation across all parties involved in healthy ageing.

Key approach: Ensure opportunities are created for older adults to access decision-making processes and contribute to shaping local services.

Partners have worked on the goal above during the project and have built connections to ensure inclusive social innovation can take place after HAIRE. Overall, HAIRE has succeeded in gaining the participation of older people, so that they have a voice. They are empowered to co-design and/or improve access to services and products that meet their needs and aspirations. The key legacy of HAIRE is that each pilot site can promote a new approach to listening to its community and are able to identify and call for change where needed.


HAIRE’s principles make its approach to social innovation transferable. The project’s tools (Guided Conversation, Neighbourhood Analysis and Social Network Analysis) can be used together or users can choose to adapt and implement the tools that they deem most useful.

Importantly, the project’s Guided Conversation - the key component of its toolkit - is customisable in many ways. The use of locally relevant conversational (verbal and visual) prompts to understand what is important for someone’s wellbeing sits at the heart of the approach. Examples of how HAIRE’s Guided Conversation has been adapted for other contexts include:

·       The co-design of a ‘Talking Deck’ (co-designed with CoLab Exeter) in Exeter, UK. The Talking Deck is a set of cards that are used to facilitate conversations with and support for people with complex lives (such as individuals who have experiences of homelessness).

·       In Somerset, a rural county in the UK, the Guided Conversation is being customised for young people. A youth engagement charity is helping with co-design work.

·       HAIRE's Partners in Le Nord, France, created a board game version of the Guided Conversation. Older adults in care homes used the game to speak about specific topics that influence their wellbeing, e.g. mobility and social and cultural opportunities.

·       In Herselt, Belgium - an area adjacent to Laakdal (one of HAIRE's pilot sites in Belgium) - volunteers have used a shorter version of HAIRE’s Guided Conversation to concentrate on how the living spaces of older adults influence their wellbeing. Volunteers use the Guided Conversation to build trust and understand challenges around difficult topics, e.g. end-of-life care.