Big data is increasingly serving cities as they track the efficiency of public services for senior citizens. In Thailand, Chaimongkhon Supromin and Sirirat Choonhakhlai from Kasetsart University conducted a study published on December 29 to understand how Thai municipalities exploit their public services to improve the quality of life of senior citizens. The study also identifies the factors that influence success in providing public services for senior citizens by the municipalities in Thailand.

With eight million Thais over 60 years old accounting for 13 percent of the country’s population, Thailand has the third most rapidly ageing population in the world. It is expected that by 2040, Thailand’s senior citizens will reach 17 million, accounting for 25 percent of the population. Out of the eight million Thai senior citizens, only 15 percent have reported that they need assistance with their daily living activities, which may imply that Thai municipalities have provided ample care and service to their seniors, especially since most of Thai’s senior do not have children to care for them.

The researchers identified three models that Thai municipalities have adopted to cater for their senior citizens. They first defined what they called the “Traditional Public Administration” model, as the model in which the municipalities arrange activities and services for senior citizens according to rules and regulations. This includes things like monthly allowances, basic health check-ups during the allowance paying period, and annual National Elderly Day activities.

The second model is called the “New Public Management” model. It’s the model where the public sector assigns or collaborates with the private sector to provide public services for the senior citizens of each city.

Similarly, the third model, the “New Public Governance” model, relies on collaborative networks and partnerships. For example, in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, municipalities following this model established a center that is dedicated to senior citizens – the Municipal Elderly Quality of Life Development and Career Promotion Center. The activities in the centers of this kind focus on social-bound senior citizens, without leaving the home and bed-bound behind; the municipalities recruit volunteers to take care of them.

As for the factors that influence the improvement, according to data gathered from the interviews, it was found that local leadership plays a significant role in improving the living conditions of a city’s ageing community. Therefore, the municipalities were one of the Local Administrative Organizations that had autonomy in policy making. “The municipalities have their autonomy in administration, in budget allocation, in personnel management, in strategic planning or policy making according to the laws,” says a scholar in local administration subjects.

The municipalities were thus able to freely make policies, plans, and projects for their senior citizens. In both city and town municipalities, a Division of Public Health and Environment as well as the Division of Social Welfare were established. In smaller-sized municipalities and subdistrict municipalities, a Community Development Division was established to take care of plans, provide public health care and give career training for senior citizens.

The government has also been supporting senior citizens by issuing various national laws. For example, the Senior Citizens Act B.E. 2546 (issued in 2003) imposed various mechanisms to drive projects for the elderly; the National Committee of Senior Citizens was established to be the responsible party for making the policies to protect and control the elderly’s rights. Section 11 in the Act mentions that each senior citizen should receive protection, promotion, and financial support as fundamental rights.

Although legal grounds are established on the national level, Thai municipalities are tasked with the responsibility of allocating the elderly a monthly allowance while having the power to customize the implementation process according to both the capacities and needs of each municipality. “In fact, our municipalities succeeded in policy implementation because of participation. We have a lot of participation from others,” says the Head of the Department of Social Welfare Promotion, town municipality in the northeastern region. “Especially, we have collaboration from the community and the community itself can drive the elderly’s project to the success. So the municipality received the Good Governance Award. If we don’t have participation from the community, we cannot succeed like today.”