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Event to explore findings from whole systems approach


An event for local authorities, which will explore how to tackle the country’s growing obesity epidemic using a whole systems approach, is set to be held in Leeds.

In 2015, Leeds Beckett began a three-year programme, to identify ways in which local authorities can create a whole systems approach to tackling obesity.  The team’s progress on creating a route map for tackling obesity will be shared at a workshop, which will take place at The Met Hotel from Tuesday 11 July to Wednesday 12 July.

The three-year programme, funded by Public Health England, aims to enable local authorities to make a major step change in their ability to tackle obesity through a more coordinated approach. Previous research has suggested that only by taking a whole systems approach – linking and aligning a whole range of sectors and influences including planning, housing, transport, children’s and adult’s services, business and health - can local authorities make significant inroads into tackling obesity and improve quality of life, make better use of resources and create sustained prosperity for local areas.

Organisers of the workshop will share some of the process and materials that have been developed to date as well as inviting local authorities to explore how the materials work in practice and advise on how can they be improved.

Complex issues such as obesity are the result of a web of inter-relating causes and influences, many of which are outside the control of individuals. To bring about change, we need to find ways of changing parts of the system, and that requires us to bring together many stakeholders and agree where in the system we will try to make changes – and to align all of our efforts and actions against those points, pushing back against the forces that are making it too easy for many people to put on weight. Whole systems working focuses not just on individual components or partners, but on how the system as a whole can work better together. Whole systems working is a framework that brings together all those with a contribution to make, to understand that obesity exists in a highly complex, moving system,, to identify where as a network we can make changes and then for stakeholders to mobilise and align resources in the most effective way around those points.

Through the programme the Leeds Beckett researchers have come to realise that the skills and process for creating a whole systems approach can be applied to many other complex social issues, both in public health and more widely – so skills to be a “Whole Systems Change Agent” should be transferrable to many other challenges, which we hope will make the workshop and materials even more useful to pressurised staff..

The Leeds Beckett team are currently creating a route map and set of supporting materials that should enable Local Authorities to create their own local approach. The route map will set out a series of five phases to support this process, combining preparation and analysis by the local authority lead team with two main workshops with stakeholders to share thinking, generate, prioritise and align ideas:

  • Creating the environment for change: building a local understanding of the reality of obesity and its impact on local prosperity and wellbeing
  • Understanding causes and current actions – how the local system works
  • Identifying key points where we can intervene to change the existing system
  • Building and aligning actions around these points
  • Creating and maintaining a flexible and dynamic network to drive change and ensure that efforts continue to be aligned against these points

Sessions at the workshop will include an overview of whole systems approaches and their benefits, including practical ways to explain this to colleagues as well as a workshop identifying and getting stakeholders on board, inside and outside the local authority including “selling” the benefits of involvement.

All of the sessions will combine explanations, demonstrations and delegates trying out the ideas, as well as discussion and feedback on how they would work in practice. 

More information about the Whole Systems Obesity Programme can be found at www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/wholesystemsobesity.

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