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How can we create a social movement in health? In this 5 minute video, the RSA asked health and community leaders to help explain.

Not exactly sure what people mean by the phrase “Health as a Social Movement”? As part of our work with NHS England, nef and Nesta, the RSA asked health and community leaders to help explain the term and the ideas behind it. This five-minute video is the distillation of several hours of footage from two events hosted by NHS England that brought together health practitioners, patients, and community leaders. The RSA was keen to understand what it would mean to create a social movement in health and why it is an important endeavour. While there is no exact definition, some clear trends – and tensions - emerge.

Within this group, it was taken as given that ‘health’ is more than just treatment as a response to an acute illness, it is also living well to prevent illness or to manage a chronic condition.

We asked the event participants ‘how would you describe the idea of health as a social movement to a friend or family member?’ A common theme that emerges is around empowering people to engage in health-creating or health-maintaining activities outside of (or alongside) the formal health care system. Creating a social movement in health requires energy from within communities to support and respond to their particular needs. Communities may be place-based, tied together by a mutual geographic location, or condition-based, linked through mutual health conditions or interests.

Another trend among the respondents was to highlight how much good practice already exists. Some noted that the formal health care system should support the informal initiatives. But can social movements be engineered? Or must they grow organically? Can and should we create the conditions for social movements to take shape? In some cases, the view was that the way to do this was for the formal health care system to remove the barriers to getting involved with healthy initiatives, and simply get out of the way of what is already working. The logic here is that if existing initiatives can be supported and scaled, there’s potential for them to grow into larger movements beyond the formal healthcare system to promote healthy living for us all.    

Part of the RSA and the other national learning partners’ work will be to explore the questions above about the nature of social movements and how they could play out in relation to health. Nesta will be publishing a primer document which reviews the theory and history of social movements in health and beyond, and highlights some of the some of the opportunities in this area. This is due to be published in September. Nef is working closely with six vanguard models of health and care  around how they create change. And the RSA will be supporting the wider group of vanguards to develop a network to share their learning about how to facilitate healthy living practices.  

Together, the national learning partners are asking how can good practice be adopted and spread? Indeed, one of the tensions that emerged when we asked respondents about how to encourage wide-scale take up of a given behaviour or activity, was around the role of facts and figures versus personal stories. While not explored in this initial short video, we will be thinking about these two different approaches as we try to learn more about how individual-level behaviour change can be scaled up to group-, population-, and system-level change.  

Look out for updates on this project as it progresses. Autumn highlights include a public event hosted at the RSA and the upcoming publication of Nesta’s primer on social movements. In the meanwhile, we hope you enjoy the video and that it helps to introduce the major underlying themes of health as a social movement.  


Find out more about the Health as a Social Movement project


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