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Engaging everyone in public health policy


In contemporary health, social care and education practice, there is a real need for research which can be quickly and easily translated into real-world situations. Research that is co-produced by practitioners, academics and the public provides the clearest opportunity to implement strategies and programmes that are relevant to the needs of everyone involved. This is the thinking put forward by Professor Dorothy Newbury-Birch, Dr Grant McGeechan and Dr Natalie Connor at Teesside University. Working with Durham County Council, their research has explored 'co-production' as a method of enabling rapid adoption of public health research and cost-effective outcomes.

The Research

Researchers from Teesside University spent one day or more a week on-site with Durham County Council working on projects, reports and publications. This collaboration led to the production of 12 research-informed evaluations.

Specifically, their research sought a better understanding of support mechanisms in the areas of mental health, teenage pregnancy and suicide. The findings from the research, which ranged from looking at mental wellbeing interventions for men, to a school-based mindfulness course and a teenage parent support programme, helped to inform and improve these mechanisms for the future.

One study on health promotion in school settings demonstrated the wide variation among senior academy and trust leaders in how they perceive the role of academies in promoting health and wellbeing, as well as the varying uses of individual school health policies versus a centralised trust strategy.

Stakeholder engagement has been at the heart of these studies, using mixed methods such as semi-structured interviews and focus groups as well as quantative surveys and analysis to gather insight from key parties.

The Impact

This research has had a transformative impact on the working practices and policies of Durham County Council - leading to the development of a framework for co-production and the allocation of internal resource for research-informed evaluations. Participation in research has also contributed to the personal and professional development of public health staff, policymakers, and research participants.

Perhaps the greatest impact can be seen in changes made to Durham County Council’s mental health and suicide policy. Co-production has played a vital role in developing a number of regional programmes including the County Durham Teenage Parent Support and Teenage Parent Apprentice Programme and the Youth Aware of Mental Health Programme, ensuring they speak directly to their target audiences.

A significant evaluation of a real-time suicide alert system by Durham County Council showed a marked increase in referrals to support services. Following a successful pilot system, Public Health England requested a series of reports with London, Cheshire and Merseyside regions, with a view to testing whether a real-time suicide alert system could be rolled out nationally.

“This new approach to evaluation has significantly transformed the way we operate and has a resulted in an increase in evidence-based decision making. This has ensured policy serves our communities appropriately, reducing risk and leading to better outcomes for all”.

Deputy Director of Public Health at Durham County Council

Centre for Social Innovation

The Centre for Social Innovation collaboratively seeks new avenues for public innovation surrounding contemporary national and international challenges which threaten the physical and emotional security of individuals, communities and societies.

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