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Improving People's Health: Applying behavioural and social sciences to improve population health and wellbeing in England

The first steps to implementation and a road map

  • Public Health England
  • Faculty of Public Health
  • Association of Directors of Public Health
  • Behavioural Science and Public Health Network
  • Local Goverment Association

Leadership of our organisations

Make available knowledge and skills from the behavioural and social sciences mainstream within all organisations that commission, research, design, deliver or evaluate public health services:

  1. Key stakeholders develop implementation plans to deliver on their functions of this strategy
  2. Senior leadership of stakeholders subscribe to the strategy and provide support to staff who are leading on behavioural and social sciences
  3. Promote the employment of people with behavioural and social science training directly within public health teams, to support public health organisations in developing this specialised skill set

Wider system leadership

System leaders commit to a systems thinking approach, to work collaboratively across organisations, to be aware of how complexities affect the impact of their work, and to use transdisciplinary approaches where appropriate:

  1. Acknowledge the value added from behavioural and social sciences, advocate for them, and celebrate success
  2. Encourage synergistic approaches to change behaviour across individual, group and population levels (where appropriate)
  3. Provide topic-based leadership for various public health functions (e.g., Making Every Contact Count, health literacy, self care, tobacco, obesity, physical activity, alcohol, occupational health, immunisation, screening etc.)
  4. Promote evaluation of behavioural and social science interventions and behavioural and social science approaches
  5. Facilitate coordination of activities and resources across the system
  6. Encourage systematic investigation of the cost-effectiveness of interventions
  7. Use a comprehensive approach to identify key behaviours that need to change

Access to expertise

Assist policy makers and decision makers to understand and apply evidence and approaches from behavioural and social sciences to public health problems:

  1. Increase opportunities and resources for behavioural and social science experts to work with policy-makers and practitioners
  2. Map and increase opportunities for fellowships, placements, and internships for behavioural and social science academics into non-academic organisations
  3. Signpost to centres of excellence for behavioural and social science

Tools and resources

Support the development, continuous improvement, and implementation of a coherent and systematic framework for a behavioural and social science approach through the provision of a range of tools and resources:

  1. Develop and promote tools to enable practitioners, policy makers and commissioners to use behavioural and social sciences
  2. Produce and update intervention design, practice, and commissioning guidelines
  3. Develop and optimise access to behavioural and social science tools and frameworks (e.g. quality standards, evaluation frameworks, commissioning templates)
  4. Agree a quality framework and processes for how and when to apply existing tools

Capacity building

Build a public health workforce that is appropriately skilled and competent to commission and deliver behavioural, social and structural interventions:

  1. Conduct a needs assessment of the level of behavioural and social science knowledge and skills required by segments of the workforce
  2. Strengthen behavioural and social sciences (knowledge, skills, use) in pre- and post-service training, and focus on practice change
  3. Leverage financial incentives for the workforce to develop capability, opportunity, and motivation
  4. Develop training pathways at all levels of expertise
  5. Ensure that behavioural and social sciences in professional competencies and standards are implemented and assessed effectively
  6. Regulate and support professional requirements where appropriate
  7. Consider an accreditation system for behavioural and social science providers to give quality assurance
  8. Provide online training and development resources
  9. Facilitate workshops and scientific meetings

Research and translation

Advocate for behavioural and social science research funding streams in public health and the development of collaborative and multidisciplinary research capacity (with a focus on applied approaches):

  1. Strengthen the portfolio of health research with increased support for research involving behavioural and/or social science
  2. Encourage representation of behavioural and social scientists on funding panels
  3. Develop new funding streams for implementation science, which may include the use of behavioural and social sciences, to promote the uptake of behavioural and social science research findings into clinical, organisation and policy contexts
  4. Encourage research funders to collaborate in the funding of multi-disciplinary research
  5. Encourage funding of knowledge exchange and impact generation capacity, capability, and activity, to make best use of high quality evidence that is fit for purpose and enable academics to work with policy makers and practitioners
  6. Continue to judge behavioural and social science funding applications based on pathways to impact plans and engagement with end users
  7. Encourage collation and funding of datasets that collect behavioural and social science data that can inform public health research and policy
  8. Encourage funders to support multi-disciplinary training for researchers from MSc studentships to post-doctoral research posts, including new training avenues to support multi-disciplinarity
  9. Support the development, uptake and adoption of behavioural and social science innovations in the health and social care system

Communities of practice

Strengthen or establish vibrant networks/communities of practice, improve quality of service, and promote exchanges of scientific information and professional experience:

  1. Facilitate knowledge of resources available across the system
  2. Map and strengthen liaison between organisations
  3. Support early career networks
  4. Strengthen collaboration across disciplines and between different functions of the public health system
  5. Strengthen links and knowledge transfer between behavioural and social science research centres that produce high value evidence, and the public health professionals that use it
Timeline Priority category Exemplar deliverables
On launch Tools and resources Partners have created an initial list of useful and validated behavioural and social science tools for public health practitioners in this strategy (to be signposted from all partner websites if possible)
Communities of practice Behavioural Science and Public Health Network create a community of practice formed from the Health Psychology in Public Health Network
Communities of practice Behavioural Science and Public Health Network and Public Health England create an online forum to provide support to public health practitioners who want to apply behavioural science to improve health outcomes. This will include development of a resources and tools section
Research and translation Department of Health and Social Care establish new Behavioural Science Policy Research Unit
Evidence and theory Partners support calls for case studies that highlight theory, evidence and mechanism of action and publish these on knowledge hubs
Year 1 Multiple categories Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Public Health, Behavioural Science and Public Health Network, and Public Health England conduct an initial survey of the behavioural and social sciences in practice across local government
Leadership of our organisations Public Health England develops and publishes its internal behavioural science implementation plan
Access to expertise Partners establish a panel of behavioural and social science experts who are willing to advise public health policy-makers and practitioners
Tools and resources Behavioural Science and Public Health Network and Public Health England host a live online list of behavioural and social science models of practice and case studies
Research and translation Public Health England explore the potential for enhanced behavioural and social science research infrastructure
Capacity building Behavioural Science and Public Health Network to host an online list of supervisors, trainees and public health opportunities to support Stage 2 Health Psychology training
Capacity building Health Education England publish Behaviour Change Framework and supporting toolkit for workforce development
Research and translation Research to understand the role of individual and organisational behaviours and develop solutions will be important to the new Economic and Social Research Council priority area of Innovation in Health and Social Care
Access to expertise Behavioural Science and Public Health Network and British Psychological Society Division of Health Psychology create a contact directory of behavioural science experts and public health professionals
Communities of practice Behavioural Science and Public Health Network establish Fellowships to promote the mutually beneficial relationship between behavioural science and public health.
Guidance for employment Association of Directors of Public Health and Local Government Association produce a brief guide to employing behavioural and social scientists in public health with a template job description
Year 1-2 Access to expertise Economic and Social Research Council seek feedback from PHE on their Impact Toolkit to better enable academics to engage with local decision makers and public health professionals
Communities of practice Partners form a central network to strengthen liaison between organisations and invite others
Tools and resources Coventry University with Warwickshire County Council, with support of Public Health England, develop their commissioning guidance that supports the procurement and delivery of quality behavioural science
Year 2 Leadership of our organisations Partners assess the number of organisations that subscribe to this strategy
Capacity building Health Education England and partners review pre- and post-service training for behavioural and social science competencies
Capacity building Faculty of Public Health reviews whether behavioural and social sciences in professional competencies and standards can be implemented and assessed more effectively
Capacity building Partners scope a system for voluntary accreditation for behavioural and social science providers
Tools and resources All partners aim to signpost to each other’s tools and websites for behavioural and social sciences
Ongoing Evidence and theory Partners support public health applications for funding support such as the Local Government Association behavioural insights programme
Evidence and theory Partners apply behavioural and social science theory and evidence to our own products and services (e.g. General Medical Council training on unconscious bias for decision makers; Department of Health and Social Care Collaborate programme to improve open policy making)
Wider system leadership Health Education England and Public Health England continue to embed behavioural science into the delivery of Making Every Contact Count
Wider system leadership Royal College of General Practice commissioning guidance for Clinical Commissioning Groups to demonstrate the case for behavioural and social sciences
Wider system leadership Royal College of Nurses continue to develop web content to support behaviour change and initiatives to support MECC with NHS and Public Health England
Capacity building Public Health England delivers a rolling programme of Behavioural Insights Masterclasses to local public health practitioners
Capacity building UK Society for Behavioural Medicine, British Psychological Society and Public Health England encourage research and translation through support such as: seed awards; PhD funding; bursaries, prizes and awards for promising researchers; annual scientific meetings; research and practice CPD events; and support early career researcher networks
Capacity building Behavioural Economics in Health Network provides a PhD Summer School in Behavioural and Experimental Health Economics, with bursaries for PhD students in the UK and EU
Capacity building Behavioural Science and Public Health Network run award and networking scheme for research students and practitioners who are integrating behavioural and social sciences and public health; deliver Continuing Professional Development events for those working across these areas; host training recordings on their website; organise scientific meetings and practice-focused meetings; award bursaries; and organise practice-focused training sessions.
Capacity building Operational Research Society training course on behavioural operational research
Research and translation Initiatives like the UK Prevention Research Partnership should encourage all new funded projects to have a Knowledge Broker to join up evidence generated and the potential users of that evidence
Research and translation The UK Prevention Research Partnership is supported by nine funders and is likely to feature behavioural and social sciences researchers and approaches
Communities of practice Economic and Social Research Council and PHE collaborate to signpost Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Accounts to public health professionals
Communities of practice UK Society for Behavioural Medicine Fellow role to support engagement with policy and practice

Table 5. Proposed timeline for implementation of the first steps in the strategy.