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Taking a bold leap to embed physical activity in health systems

Tom Underwood, of NHS Horizons, continues our series of blogs looking at the innovative partnership between the NHS, OHID and us, who have worked together on the Moving Healthcare Professionals Programme.

17th April 2023

by Tom Underwood
NHS Horizons

Horizons are a team that facilitates transformation and innovation across the healthcare system by using large-scale change techniques to build energy and broker connections.

In 2021, we joined forces with the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) and Sport England to deliver the Moving Healthcare Professionals programme (MHPP).  

This ambitious initiative, running since 2017, aims to embed physical activity within health systems to support people to stay healthy and to support the management of long-term conditions.

Together, we are working to help ensure this becomes the norm, rather than the exception.

This work provides a great opportunity for us to connect the dots to other large-scale transformation work we are leading across the NHS and to maximise the benefits for individuals, society and the healthcare system.

The potential to drive change is hugely exciting, but it’s also a leap into the unknown.

Below are some of the approaches we’ve explored together and some highlights from what we’ve learnt along the way.

Together, we are working to help ensure this becomes the norm, rather than the exception.

Valuing skills and experience

Driving this work has been less about building the biggest team, and more about building momentum, a shared understanding and vision, and involving the right people at each stage to create stronger connections and networks.

To do that, we have built a diverse team of people and stakeholders across health, sport and physical activity, who can look across each other’s broader areas of work.

This group, with its ability to look across our collective broader areas of work, have built a shared understanding and the trust needed to generate physical activity solutions to a range of challenges faced by the NHS.

This ‘framing loop’ approach, a key part of the Model for Large-Scale Change, has helped us spot connections, bring partners together and introduce new voices, skills and experiences to learn from and to amplify other strands of our work – for example the #SolvingTogether platform.

Embracing uncertainty

One of the key things we’ve learnt from this partnership is to embrace uncertainty and to not shy away from moving into new spaces and concepts, in order to develop solutions.

Like many programmes and partnerships, we have been using the Double Diamond approach to design as a framework, which involves thinking divergently – generating lots of ideas – and synthesising and distilling them to develop a smaller number of concepts and approaches, before starting to work on solutions.  

This has helped to generate imaginative ways forward through co-design and innovation.

In practice, we have strung lots of Double Diamond phases together, continually going through cycles of diverging and converging, to create a ‘diamond necklace’.

Cross-sector design events, like this one in Cambridge last May, have played an important role in convening people, generating new ideas and consensus and ongoing connections between programmes of work across health, wellbeing, sport and physical activity.

These events – the ‘big diamonds’ in our necklace - have enabled the problem and solutions to be considered holistically and informed the actions prioritised by the team.

Smaller diamonds are the day-to-day conversations where new opportunities, energy and connections are identified, or where existing ones flourish and mature to add a new depth of understanding.

How we've used the double diamond model:

An illustration of the double diamond model - a series of larger diamonds, linked by smaller diamonds

Looking to the future

As transformation experts with credibility and trust within the NHS, our aim in this partnership has been to open doors, build connections and frame conversations in a meaningful way.  

The different approaches outlined here have helped to build a social movement for change within the NHS and to find the disruptors who can help bring it to life.

Health and physical activity stakeholders commented within the independent programme evaluation that the programme has contributed positively to whole-system change, with greater recognition of the value of physical activity.

They feel the system has changed and that, in places, it is more ready to embed physical activity - 'the tide is turning'.

The programme, underpinned by our new partnership approaches, is signalling, and facilitating, greater collaboration between the health and physical activity sectors.

We’ve laid strong foundations for continuing to develop our thinking with partners and to realise the benefits of a whole-systems approach to promoting physical activity.

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