How formal navigators interpret their roles supporting families

Laura Funk (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)
Wanda Hounslow (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)

Quality in Ageing and Older Adults

ISSN: 1471-7794

Publication date: 10 April 2019



The purpose of this paper is to examine how formal navigators interpret their roles supporting families of older adults.


This study was an interpretive inquiry informed by critical gerontology and discourse analytic methods. Interview data were collected and analyzed from 22 formal service providers who helped older adults and their families navigate health and social care resources in one Western Canadian city.


Although acknowledging structural barriers to service access, participants emphasized individual empowerment as their dominant strategy, interpreting their roles as providing information and education about services. In part, these interpretations may reflect the limited nature of their ability to help broker access or advocate; in part, they may also reflect the broader political and economic discourses surrounding care in Canada.

Research limitations/implications

When providers position navigation and access to care as individual problems, this can obscure structural burden as well as potential inequities among older adults. Future research should examine whether navigational role interpretations are similar or different to those of navigators in other regions. Navigators in other health and social care contexts may enact differing meanings in their work.

Practical implications

Although formal public navigators can play an important role, approaches that go beyond providing information may better meet families’ needs for support.


This is one of the first studies focused specifically on providers’ interpretations of the meaning of navigational work in health and social care for older adults, and to extend a critical gerontological gaze toward the issue of system navigation.



Funk, L. and Hounslow, W. (2019), "How formal navigators interpret their roles supporting families", Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 10-19.

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