Friday, 15 June 2018

The Government’s new Clean Air Strategy – hope or hype?

Dr Susan Hodgson, lecturer in Environmental Epidemiology and Exposure Assessment at the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, Imperial College London

© 2018 Imperial College London
Air pollution was been high on the agenda at Imperial College London recently, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove choosing to launch the Government’s new Clear Air Strategy at Imperial’s Data Science Institute[1]. To coincide with this launch, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a new tool, developed by Imperial and the UK Health Forum, to help local authorities estimate the health-care costs due to air pollution - an estimated £157 million from exposure to fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide across England in 2017[2].

Academics and researchers worldwide have worked over many decades to produce an evidence base of high quality research which now clearly links air pollution and health. Globally, 4.2 million deaths are attributed to outdoor air pollution, with 91% of the world’s population living in areas where air quality exceeds health-based guidance limits[3]. Figures for the UK also make grim reading, with an estimated 40,000 deaths per year attributable to outdoor air pollution[4]. While research on this topic makes an unequivocal case for action, Government policy to improve air quality for public health has been found lacking, with the UK (along with France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Romania) being taken to the European court of Justice for failing to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide.

© 2018 Imperial College London
The new Clear Air Strategy[5] outlines how the Government plans to protect the nation’s health. The stated intention of halving the number of people living where concentrations of fine particulate matter are above 10μg/m3 - the concentration of an air pollutant is given in micrograms (one-millionth of a gram) per cubic meter air or 'µg/m3' - by 2025, if achieved, would reap a significant health dividend. However, the focus on a ‘personal air quality messaging system to inform the public…about the air quality forecast [and] air pollution episodes’ places onus on individuals to avoid exposure, rather than creating clean and safe environments within which to live. While there is a place for such messaging, when more than 2000 education/childcare providers across England and Wales are within 150m of a road breaching the legal limit for Nitrogen dioxide pollution (25 of which are in the North East and more than 1500 in London)[6], is it clear that a population based approach is required to tackle this pressing public health issue.

The Strategy also restates the previously announced plan to phase out conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040, to be replaced by zero exhaust emissions vehicles. This is a positive step, but not sufficient to tackle traffic-related pollution. What comes out of the exhaust represents less than half of vehicle emissions; ‘clean’ vehicles will still generate pollution from tyre and brake wear, and re-suspension of road dust, as explained by Imperial PhD student Liza Selley in her 2016 Max Perutz Science Writing Award-winning essay[7].

The Strategy proposes steps to address not just road traffic pollution, but also shipping, aviation, agriculture and industry, and links health, the environment and economy, marking a welcome move away from silo thinking. There is also mention of ‘appraisal tools and accompanying guidance…to enable the health impacts of air pollution to be considered in every relevant policy decision that is made’ – it is not clear if this extends beyond policy decisions on air pollution, i.e. represents a move towards a coherent ‘health in all’ approach[8], but, if so, would represent a welcome prioritisation of health across Government departments.

© 2018 Imperial College London
Focussing on cleaner vehicles and technological solutions can only offer a partial solution to reducing the impact of air pollution on health, so it is good to see modal shift towards public transport and active transport is mentioned (briefly) in the Strategy. There are funds to support bus and rail infrastructure to improve public transport, and an ambition to double the levels of cycling by 2025 - though this would only raise levels from 2% to 4%, compared to 39% in the Netherlands[9].

If the Government is serious about adopting a more holistic approach to the environment, health and economy, then I feel far more could have been made of the great potential to tackle air quality, sustainability and health collectively. We need ambition and vision to create sustainable cities, and approaches to transport and living that reduce air pollution and additionally tackle inactivity and obesity, which are key drivers of population health. Barcelona’s Institute for Global Health recently launched its #CitiesWeWant initiative[10], which highlights some of the features we need to be prioritising in our cities to benefit future health and wellbeing. We have the research evidence to support these priorities, but Governments will require buy-in from experts and demand from the public to enact bold change. Those passionate about improving our environment for health have the opportunity to voice their views via the Government consultation on this newly launched Clear Air Strategy, which will inform a National Air Pollution Control Programme due March 2019.

The views represented here are those of the author, Dr Susan Hodgson.

Susan is a lecturer in environmental epidemiology and exposure assessment at the MRC- PHE Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College London. Her research focusses on understanding how interactions with our environment (including air pollution), influences health.

More details at:


Friday, 8 June 2018

Young people in the UK drink more energy drinks than any other countries in Europe

Posted by Amelia Lake, Associate Director of Fuse and Reader in Public Health Nutrition at Teesside University and Shelina Visram, Senior lecturer in public health at Newcastle University

It would be a bit shocking to see children and teenagers drinking espressos, yet it’s socially acceptable for young people to reach for energy drinks to give them a quick “boost”.

Energy drink sales in the UK are now worth more than £2 billion a year

Unaffected by the economic crisis, energy drinks are the fastest growing sector of the soft drinks market. Between 2006 and 2012 consumption of energy drinks in the UK increased by 12.8% – from 235m to 475m litres.

These drinks are very popular with young people – despite coming with a warning (in small letters on the back) that they are “not recommended for children”. A survey conducted across 16 European countries found that young people between the ages of ten and 18 in the UK consume more energy drinks on average than young people in other countries – just over three litres a month, compared to around two litres in other places.

More than two-thirds of young people surveyed in the UK had consumed energy drinks in the past year. And 13% identified as high chronic consumers – drinking them four to five times a week or more. Research also suggests that these drinks are more popular with boys and young men.

What goes into energy drinks?

Energy drinks are usually non-alcoholic and contain ingredients known to have stimulant properties. They are marketed as a way to relieve fatigue and improve performance: “Red Bull gives you wings”.

They contain high levels of caffeine and sugar in combination with other ingredients, such as guarana, taurine, vitamins, minerals or herbal substances. A 500ml can of energy drink for example, can contain 20 teaspoons of sugar and the same amount of caffeine as two cups of coffee.

Caffeine stimulates the central and peripheral nervous system. Consumed in larger doses, it can cause anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, gastrointestinal problems and heart arrhythmias.

In the UK, there are no clear recommendations for caffeine intake for adults or children, although both the Food Standards Agency and the British Soft Drinks Association recommend that children should only consume caffeine in “moderation” and that caffeine content over [150mg/l] should be declared on the packaging. The current scientific consensus is that [less than 2.5 mg a day] in children and adolescents is not associated with adverse effects.

Should we be worried?

The evidence indicates that these drinks do not give you wings – or any other positive benefits. In fact their intake in young people, is associated with adverse health outcomes. There is growing evidence of the harmful effects of these drinks. Teachers are concerned about the detrimental impact these drinks have on pupils in their classrooms. There is also a known association between soft drink intake, dental erosion and obesity.

Lesser known are the effects of the cocktail of stimulant ingredients – such as guarana and taurine – contained within these drinks.

Our recent review of the scientific literature set out to look for any evidence of associations between children and young people’s consumption of energy drinks and their health and well-being – as well as their social, behavioural or educational outcomes.

We found that for young people, drinking energy drinks is associated with a range of adverse outcomes and risky behaviours. They are strongly and positively associated with higher rates of smoking, alcohol and other substance use – and linked to physical health symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, hyperactivity and insomnia.

Why do young people buy them?

We also spoke with young people about their intake of these drinks. Discussions with our participants aged between ten and 14 indicated just how accessible and available these drinks are. They are also cheap – in some cases significantly cheaper than other soft drinks, as one of the girls we spoke to explained:

"I think it’s because like a normal can of Coke is like 70p, and [own brand energy drinks] are like 35p."

Our research found that energy drinks are often marketed on gaming sites and linked to sports and an athletic lifestyle – and are particularly aimed at boys. Taste, price, promotion, ease of access and peer influences were all identified as key factors in young people’s consumption choices.

Speaking with parents and teachers about these drinks there was confusion. Parents themselves identified the need for more information about energy drinks – and many admitted to not being fully aware of the contents and potential harmful effects on children.

Should they be banned?

Image used in a recent campaign led by Jamie Oliver
to ban the sale of energy drinks to under-16's
Recently there has been a move to restrict the sales of these drinks to under 16’s – an approach which has also been taken by other countries. This saw the self-imposed sales restriction by many larger retailers – including most supermarkets – to not sell to children under 16. But many places still continue to sell to young people – including convenience stores, which offer a wide range of brands, flavours and package sizes.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee’s enquiry into energy drinks called for submissions in April 2018 and will be reviewing in June 2018 – when we will also give oral evidence.

Of course, legislation to prevent the sales of energy drinks to under 16’s would be helpful. But the marketing of these drinks to young people through computer games and their association with sports is also a much wider issue. Far reaching discussions are needed about the direct and indirect marketing of these drinks (and other food and drinks) through multiple platforms other than TV – particularly through computer games.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Prevention by any other name would smell as sweet

Guest post by Tom Embury, Public Affairs Officer, British Dietetic Association

Next week, June 4th - 8th is Dietitians Week 2018, where the British Dietetic Association and its members and allies celebrate the work of dietitians. This year’s theme is “Dietitians Do Prevention”, which intends to highlight the important role that dietitians have to play in prevention and public health. We know nutrition and hydration underpin so much of our health and getting it right can reduce the impact of illness, aid recovery, or prevent some diseases and conditions altogether.

NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, in the most recent frameworks from NHS Scotland and the Northern Irish Health and Social Care Service and is embodied in the principles of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act.

It has been made clear by everyone from Marmot to the NHS Confederation that we need to strengthen prevention and that it should be everybody’s business. Despite this, many dietitians (and indeed healthcare staff in general) still don’t think of themselves as doing prevention or public health, especially as so many work in hospital settings, delivering acute care. Our recent 2018 member survey has shown that 40% of our members don’t feel that they do prevention or public health activity. This may be because they don’t have the time or resources, despite wishing to do so, but in some cases, it is because they don’t see public health as part of their remit.

Of course, we believe all our members “do prevention” and public health, but not everyone will call it by that name. Indeed, the term public health often seems to have quite a narrow definition, associated with the work of local government public health teams. This is important work, but by no means is that everything public health entails.

This is why, in preparation for Dietitians Week this year, we asked all our specialist groups for their view on how they do prevention. Our specialist groups cover pretty much all of the areas of dietetics - from paediatrics to older people, public health to critical care. What we found is that there are dozens of words and terms used to describe activity that is essentially a form of prevention.

Some were variations, like primary, secondary or tertiary prevention depending on where you work and what types of illnesses your patients have. Others, such as Making Every Contact Count or Healthy Conversations, relate to specific campaigns or initiatives. In areas like Mental Health or Paediatrics, a whole different language can exist. Even rehabilitation or recovery after acute illness is a form of prevention - preventing future episodes, further hospital visits or complications. One great example comes from Fuse itself – the research carried out into the impact of energy drink intake amongst young people has had an impact on national level policy making.

This is why we are trying to celebrate prevention in all its forms and with all its various names. Dietitians are and should to a greater extent be a core part of the public health workforce.

Our incoming Chairman, Caroline Bovey, highlighted this issue with terminology and understanding at our recent Annual General Meeting. She asked the crowd of over 100 dietitians to raise their hands if they were involved in public health. Some hands went up but they were definitely in the minority. She then asked who had a twitter account where they talked about diet and nutrition – far more hands shot up. “You are all”, she said, “doing public health dietetics”.

So, whether you’re having a healthy conversation or making every contact count, supporting rehabilitation or reducing hospital admissions, celebrate the way that you do prevention. We can’t let the terminology get in the way of sharing best practice or spreading good ideas. We’d love you to tell us about it as part of Dietitians Week! Get in touch via

Friday, 25 May 2018

Public health isn’t good politics

Knowledge exchange lessons from the 4th Fuse international conference (part 1)

Posted by Peter van der Graaf, AskFuse Research Manager, Teesside University

When I attended the Fuse knowledge exchange conference in Vancouver, B.C. earlier this month, I did not know that some Canadian squirrels are black.

I also did not know how much knowledge exchange was embedded in Canadian research. In the UK we are struggling to get researchers involved in knowledge exchange while working in an academic system that does not reward these activities. For Canadian researchers this is a fundamental part of their job and firmly embedded in the CIHR (the Canadian equivalent of NIHR) mission statement: "… excel the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians" (Canadian Institutes of Health Research Act).

As surprised as I was to see black squirrels skirting the trees in Stanley Park in Vancouver, I was also surprised by the number of Canadian presenters at the Fuse conference who pointed to the impossibility of translating research evidence into practice.

For instance, Steven Hoffman, made a convincing case about public health being not good politics and therefore difficult to translate into policy. He argued that everything that public health does makes it invisible to policy makers. For example, we focus on prevention instead of treatment, which is much more difficult to observe and showcase.

An image from Steven Hoffman's presentation
Moreover, the more successful we are (when we prevent population diseases from spreading), the greater our invisibility becomes (there is no longer a disease to worry about) and, consequently, the more difficult it is to ask for more resources to keep prevention efforts up.

We also focus on supporting long-term chronic conditions instead of delivering acute services that can provide an instant solution to health problems. Furthermore, our data, as a population science, is based on statistical lives instead of individuals with a face and story. This all makes public health a hard-sell to politicians.

But it is not only our modus operandi that causes this hard sell: the system in which policy makers operate makes the use of research evidence unlikely. Paul Cairney from the University of Stirling explained in his talk that policy makers must ignore almost all the evidence that they are presented with to make decisions. They do this, not by weighing up the evidence carefully as we as researchers would like them to do, but by taking shortcuts, which Paul described as ‘bounded rationality’.

Policy makers either select evidence that helps them to reduce uncertainty about how to achieve their goals or, (and this is the more popular option) they apply their gut-level, emotional, belief-driven knowledge to reduce ambiguity about policy options. Moreover, policy makers are often not in control of the policy process and therefore they cannot tell us what evidence is useful, when and how it will influence the decision-making process.

If public health policy is not good politics and research evidence is a hard sell to policy makers, what can we do to make a better investment case for public health? Luckily both speakers provided their own shortcuts for making it more likely that public health and our evidence would be heard and used by policy makers:

1.) Recraft the narrative. Smoking was banned in public places not because smoking was harmful to smokers but because the campaigns focused on the dangers of second-hand smoke to the wider public, particularly children. By reframing the story from an individual blame game to an emotive public issue, public interest could be galvanised and used to put pressure on national Government to take action, building on local interventions already in place with a proven evidence-base.

2.) Take account of how democracy works: politicians need votes. As public health researchers we need to give them glory in the eyes of their voters and provide them with opportunities to leave a visible legacy. We could this by advertising our successes more clearly and by making it personal. Eugene Milne, Director of Public Health at Newcastle City Council, summed this up in a simple statement: "...‘it could happen to me’, mobilises people".

3.) However, to do this effectively, we need to be aware of hierarchy in politics and different policy contexts and networks. Most importantly, we need to be able to navigate diffused decision-making processes. As Paul emphasised in his presentation, policy makers have different ideas about what counts as good evidence, and there are many ‘policymakers’ across many levels and types of government. In other words, there are many sources of policy relevant knowledge that public health research evidence has to compete with.

It will take time and long-term relationship building to understand and navigate the different policy contexts, networks and types of evidence used in both. Unfortunately, public health students are generally poorly equipped to navigate these networks. Steven Hoffman remarked that we are not equipping our PhD students with knowledge of political systems and, in not doing so, set ourselves up for continued failure to make public health and our evidence visible to policy makers.

This does not mean that each student should become a political expert and advocate fiercely for her/his research findings. But it does entail a student being able to recognise their role in the wider system that they are part of, including various political networks and contexts. How can we teach our students to act from their position in a political system in a way that will make public health more visible?

This brings me back to squirrels. The squirrels that I encountered in the park stood out because they were black; a different colour to the common British grey and (less common) red squirrels that I’m used to seeing. In a similar vein, we could make our PhD students stand out by teaching them how to take evidence shortcuts in the political system.

Sharon Hodgson, Shadow Minister for Public Health, speaking
at an event in Sunderland
When I returned to the UK, with more appreciation for squirrels, I attended a spotlight event at the University of Sunderland the next day, which aimed to increase the visibility of public health research at the university. Although heavily jet-lagged, what sparked my interest at the event was a debate that took place between Sharon Hodgson, the Shadow Minister for Public Health and various researchers in the room. They sparred about the evidence for introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol in England and whether 40p made more ‘sense’ (and to who) than 50p. The ensuing debate demonstrated many of the arguments made in this blog and therefore will be the focus of my next blog (part 2) with John Mooney, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sunderland.

We will use this example to demonstrate how Canadian experiences might inform local practice in the UK by recrafting the narrative, taking account of Labour as an opposition party, and making it personal for voters.

Image: "Black Squirrel" (11997818194_8f66516b30_z) by DaPuglet via, copyright © 2018:

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Getting physical activity research moving

Posted by Louise Hayes, Research Methodologist, Newcastle University and the Fuse Physical Activity Group

So, we all know we should be more physically active – the evidence is out there. People who are more active are less likely to suffer from many chronic diseases, have more energy, better mental health, sleep better…… But how do we get people to be more active?

We knew researchers across North East England were working on physical activity related research and we knew that practitioners were delivering physical activity interventions, with the aim of getting more people active. What we didn’t know was who was doing what and whether or not the evidence from the researchers was getting to the practitioners or if the practitioners were delivering evidence-based intervention or evaluating their interventions. So, a little over five years ago, Martin White, the then Director of Fuse, Laura Basterfield and I (two physical activity researchers at Newcastle University), set about getting physical activity researchers from across the region together. We wanted to provide a forum for researchers to share information on current and future research and to identify opportunities for collaborations across individuals and teams conducting PA research in the Fuse partner universities. The inaugural Fuse Physical Activity Workshop (#FusePAW) was held at Newcastle University in May 2013.

It quickly became apparent that there was an appetite for a Fuse Physical Activity Group to be formed to build upon the enthusiasm for collaborative working and developing a shared physical activity research agenda that was in evidence at this first PAW. Several people also made it clear (and yes, we do mean you, @Scottylloyd1979!) that there was a need to widen the base of the group to include our practitioner partners involved in delivering physical activity interventions on the front line and to build relationships across sector boundaries. And so the Fuse physical activity group was born!

Liane Azevedo and I took on the role of leading the group, along with a team including Scott Lloyd, Caroline Dodd-Reynolds, Alison Innerd and Natalie Connor representing the North East Universities and public health partners. Since then we have had twice yearly Fuse PAWs, hosted by each of the five Fuse Universities and covering a range of topics from inequalities in physical activity to measurement of physical activity and physical activity during pregnancy. We’re proud to say that we’ve achieved an equal balance of academics and practitioners attending the events.

From the outside it might look like it’s been plain sailing – we’ve attracted an amazing cast of physical activity researcher royalty to present at our events, (see the list below - to name but a few!). On the inside there has been blood, sweat and occasional tears! Will the speakers agree to come? Will anyone sign up to attend? Will there be enough parking spaces/coffee? Will we be able to afford fruit during the breaks or just (unhealthy, but delicious) biscuits? (The latter has often been uppermost in the minds of some of our delegates if the feedback we receive in our, now infamous, shiny blue feedback box* is anything to go by!)

We were nervous that attendance might suffer when austerity measures cut into our budget meaning we were no longer able to provide lunch – but happily attendance has steadily increased and we have begun to attract individuals from outside the North East and sometimes even from outside the UK!

It was great to celebrate our tenth PAW on 20th April 2018, following #Fuse10 on 19th April, and to think about our previous events. All the hard work definitely felt worthwhile as we reflected on the many interesting presentations, workshops and discussions that have come out of the FusePAWs as well as collaborations, including a joint evaluation of the Redcar school pedometer intervention by Northumbria and Leeds Beckett Universities.

As #FusePAW, we have a responsibility to ‘do
’ physical activity research better and try to capture how FusePAWs inform physical activity within the region and further afield. To this end we discussed how we can work together more effectively as academics and public health practitioners to challenge traditional methods for delivering and evaluating physical activity interventions to nudge the field forwards at this event.  If you have any suggestions on how we can do this please contact me at

Watch this space for findings!

The Fuse Physical Activity Group is Louise Hayes, Liane Azevedo, Scott Lloyd, Caroline Dodd- Reynolds, Alison Innerd and Natalie Connor

Just a few of our amazing cast of presenters

Professor Ashley Cooper (University of Bristol), Dr Esther Van Sluijs (University of Cambridge), Dr Paul Kelly (University of Edinburgh), Dr Nick Cavill (Public Health England), Bob Laventure (Loughborough University), Prof Charles Foster (University of Oxford) Dr Mark Tully (Queens University), Prof Tess Kay (Brunel University), Prof Adrian Taylor (University of Plymouth) and Prof John Saxton (Northumbria University).

* Look out for our next event to see it for yourself!

Friday, 27 April 2018

Responsibility for addressing obesity in local authorities: a changing landscape?

Posted by Dr Amelia Lake, Fuse Associate Director, Reader in Public Health Nutrition at Teesside University and Tim Townshend, Professor of Urban Design for Health at Newcastle University 

Planning and obesity has been in the news again – it’s a topic that is hotly debated in local authorities across the country.

In April 2013 public health came ‘home’ to local government. This coming home meant a shift from the NHS to closer collaborations with other local authority colleagues. We wondered what it meant in reality, how did local authority staff from two disciplines - public health and planning - see their role around obesity prevention in this changed landscape? Our research [1], conducted between November 2013 and March 2014) explored the views of individuals working in public health and those working in planning within local governments on their responsibilities for addressing obesity using spatial planning.

We know that planning policy can impact on people’s wellbeing and health in terms of access to food and the environment encouraging physical activity. Using planning policy to tackle health problems such as obesity may not be novel but it could help tackle a global problem.

Our research was based in North East England. We interviewed three Directors of Public Health, one Deputy Director and four planners with a range of seniority.

There were some clear differences in their approaches to the issue of responsibility. Planners were asked about responsibility for obesity, physical activity and community nutrition. They saw a clearer link between planning and physical activity than with community nutrition, primarily citing sustainable transport, path provision and recreation, though one identified takeaways. One planner said, “At the end of the day, it’s down to the individual to address their obesity (Planner 4)”.

These differences in views on responsibility for health would suggest a difference of understanding amongst some within local government about the complex causes of obesity and how to address inequalities. However, one planner did point out that it is health professionals’ responsibility to “make the link” between planning and health, “because I don’t think people from planning would start from a health improvement stance”. This has implications for leadership and leadership roles.

Overall, our interviews identified a range of barriers to engaging with planners, including an insufficient understanding of the causes of obesity and the importance of addressing obesity via multi-agency approaches (involving cooperation between several organisations), fragmentation in the health system and conflicting priorities. Planners could be better engaged in the obesity agenda via formal incentives (e.g. written within planners’ job descriptions or regulations), and aligning priorities via ‘soft approaches’ (e.g. public health leadership roles).

There have been attempts to reunite health with planning. International evidence has highlighted the transdisciplinary (involving investigators from different disciplines) effort required to tackle obesity due to its multifactorial nature (it has, or stems from, a number of different causes or influences) and underpinning health inequalities. However, there appears to be little evidence that English planners have engaged with the new public health agenda. No detailed investigation has attempted to fully understand the barriers to engaging planners in health issues.

Gateshead City Council’s award winning
Supplementary Planning Document
Despite our region having national recognition for planning policies (see Gateshead City Council’s award winning Supplementary Planning Document), there are clearly some issues around increasing responsibility within the area of planning and health. However, this is a rapidly developing field. A recent survey of authorities in North East England, showed that all, bar one authority, now has, or is in the process of developing, guidance to prevent the proliferation of hot food takeaways (with some policy already being tested at appeal). Furthermore, a chance for planners and public health officers to meet to discuss the issue at a Fuse event on 21st May 2018 has been greeted with much enthusiasm. This suggests attitudes may be changing, particularly with planners engaged with policy development, who appreciate that health may line up with other planning aims such as protecting shopping area vitality. We will report on this soon.

The event on planning for health will be held on May 21st in Newcastle.  To register or find out more visit the event page on the Fuse website.


Friday, 16 March 2018

Knowledge mobilisation: relationship guidance for ‘stubborn’ practitioners and ‘smug’ scientists

Posted by Peter van der Graaf, AskFuse Research Manager, Teesside University

Last week, I presented at the UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum in Bristol, which is an annual event for all those with a passion for ensuring that knowledge makes a positive difference to society. The Forum brings together practitioners, researchers, students, administrators and public representatives who are engaged in the art and science of sharing knowledge and ensuring that it can be used.

Getting creative sticking to ‘unconference’ principles
One of the key note speaker, Dez Holmes who is the Director of Research in Practice with 20 years of experience in championing evidence-informed practice in social care, vented her frustration about a question she was often asked by people interested in knowledge mobilisation (KMb): where can I access training in this? Her response: you can’t! Knowledge sharing is personal and therefore a social skill that you can only develop by practising it.

The skills needed to practice KMb are everyday skills, such as listening, emotional intelligence and persuasion. Reciprocity and mutual respect are crucial in relationships and therefore in knowledge mobilisation. Knowledge mobilisers use these skills to make knowledge relatable and therefore relevant to people’s lives. Dez used a Japanese word to sum up these skills: ‘ikigai’ (meaning “reason for being”): if we can’t relate knowledge to people’s sense of self they won’t be inclined to use it.

Acknowledging feelings in knowledge mobilisation is therefore important, not least because implementation barriers for knowledge are often personal. Dez quoted the common misperception between practitioners and academics that are at the heart of the so-called knowledge-to-action gap: “scientist blame the stubbornness of practitioners for insisting on doing it their way, believing they know their patients best, while practitioners lamented the smugness of scientists who believe that if they publish it practitioners will use it”. These misperceptions signify emotions at work in the knowledge gap that need to be addressed before we can start mobilising knowledge.

A great example of on the job knowledge mobilisation learning was captured in a story told by Vicky Ward, Associate Professor in Knowledge Mobilisation at Leeds University and one of the organisers of the Forum, who reflected on her research about knowledge sharing between professionals in social care. The story, titled ‘Dealing with the carousal of knowledge’, illustrates how practitioners continuously added new and different types of knowledge to their team meetings but never really made use of this knowledge until Vicky started asking some ‘constructively clue less’ questions. These questions helped them to recognise the emotions they attached to the client cases that they were discussing and enabled them to discover patterns in their carousel of knowledge. Identifying patterns allowed the professionals to select knowledge that was most useful for each case and made this knowledge transferable.

The conference format itself acknowledged the relational and context-specific work involved in knowledge mobilisation: participants were encouraged to hone their skills in randomised coffee trials, open space discussions, interactive poster sessions, market stalls, short presentations and practical, interactive workshops. The programme was deliberately based on ‘unconference’ principles, which means that it focused on offering opportunities for conversations, creativity and collaborative learning, with much of the direction being driven by the participants instead of the conference organisers. In this sense, the conference was a training ground for knowledge mobilisers to practice and learn new skills.