Queensland Stay On Your Feet® - Toolkit Phase 3 Ambassadors
What is an ambassador?
For falls prevention, an ambassador is a community member who wants to assist local older people to maintain their independence and activity, is interested in learning and sharing information on how to reduce falls in older people, and helping to motivate and support people to make the necessary changes, in an informal, friendly and non-threatening manner .
Ambassadors are not trained to give professional advice about health or medical matters, but rather to encourage others to seek more extensive information from health professionals within their community.
An ambassador may also be described as a volunteer peer educator. Volunteering Australia defines a volunteer as "a person who chooses to undertake a defined role and activity of their own free will, without financial gain (except for reimbursement of out of pocket expenses) for the mutual benefit of themselves, the community and the organisation".
For more information on volunteering, visit: Volunteering Australia
What do ambassadors do?
During the Queensland Stay on Your Feet Wide Bay/Burnett trial project, ambassadors played a key role in raising awareness and distributing information. The need for ambassadors was identified during the trial project’s community planning meetings as they were considered a sustainable way to build individual and community awareness, knowledge and skills (capacity). As the community felt ambassadors were an important strategy, this role was built into each of the community action plans.
During the trial project, ambassadors carried out peer education by educating fellow older people, community groups and other relevant organisations about falls prevention and healthy active ageing. The main message of the ambassadors was that falls are not an inevitable part of ageing and can be minimised by appropriate action.
As part of their role as ambassadors, volunteers:
- kept up-to-date about falls prevention and healthy active ageing
- attended regular training
- kept monthly activity records
- encouraged increased physical activity
- promoted awareness through informal chats, talks to groups, local media, displays and distributing information resources
- worked with local agencies in an advocacy/community development role
- referred people to appropriate health professionals and community services for specific health advice
- supported local implementation of community action plans .
In addition, several ambassadors completed training as Tai Chi for Arthritis leaders and Fit for Function Strength and Balance exercise leaders. Ambassadors established a total of ten new classes in ten towns.
The 20 ambassadors involved in the Queensland Stay On Your Feet Wide Bay/Burnett trial project made significant achievements. From December 2003 to November 2005, ambassadors carried out:
- 3,791 informal conversations about falls prevention
- 510 group talks, attended by 7763 people
- 144 displays
- 343 contacts with relevant organisations .
Benefits of being an ambassador
The Queensland Stay On your Feet Wide Bay/Burnett trial project ambassadors reported the benefits of being an ambassador as:
- making a difference to older people's lives
- enjoyment from being involved in the project
- meeting local people and helping the community
- increased knowledge and awareness from the training provided
- receiving positive feedback and response from people
- seeing the successes of the project .
Working effectively with ambassadors
To develop the role of ambassadors, the Queensland Stay on Your Feet Wide Bay/Burnett trial project team sought assistance from Stay On Your Feet WA® (Injury Control Council WA) and the Northern Rivers Area Health Service. Both of these programs identified the following factors as vital for a successful ambassador program:
- clear roles and responsibilities
- comprehensive ongoing training
- regular contact and support
- adequate reimbursement of costs and clarity about guidelines
- insurance cover and clarity about legal protection and status
- working in line with national volunteering standards .
Stay On Your Feet WA® Volunteer Guidelines
The Injury Control Council WA developed Stay on Your Feet WA® Volunteer Guidelines to capture key learnings based on working with volunteers from the program’s beginnings in 1995 and its subsequent expansion across Western Australia. The guidelines are based on Volunteering Australia's National Standards for Involving Volunteers in Not-for-Profit Organisations. For more information, contact the Injury Control Council of Western Australia (ICCWA) by calling (08) 9420 7211 or visit: Stay On Your Feet® Volunteer Guidelines
National Standards for Involving Volunteers in Not-for-Profit OrganisationsThis document provides a best practice model for volunteer management and involvement. These standards should form the basis of any volunteer based project/program, as they will help volunteer managers/coordinators ensure that volunteer rights are protected, their role is clearly defined and they work in safe and healthy environments. These standards can be obtained for a minimal cost from Volunteering Australia by calling (03) 9820 4100 or contacting your state branch.
A one page definition and explanation of the basic principles behind volunteering is available here: Definitions and Principles of Volunteering information sheet
A copy of the Universal Declaration on Volunteering is available here: Universal Declaration on Volunteering
Should I involve ambassadors in my project/program?
Ambassadors, or volunteers as peer educators, have been a key element of Stay on Your Feet projects/programs in New South Wales (1992), Western Australia (since 1995) and Queensland (2003 to 2005). More recently, the Council of the Ageing (COTA) has also trained peer educators to conduct education sessions on falls prevention.
The "Up and About" pilot project conducted in Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula evaluated falls prevention information presentations by peer educators. Results showed that those who attended the sessions displayed a higher knowledge about the factors that prevent falls, made more changes to their home and yards such as installing grab rails, adding non-slip surfaces and buying safer footwear . People who had fallen or who perceived falls to be a problem in the years ahead where more likely to take action to prevent falls . This project showed support for peer educators as an awareness raising strategy.
However, there is little published evaluation research on the effectiveness of involving ambassadors. Support for peer education in falls prevention is based on internal project/program reports as a part of a multifactorial approach.