Increasingly, national policy initiatives and programmes have been developed to increase physical activity (PA). However, challenges in implementing and translating these policies into effective local-level programmes have persisted, and change in population PA levels has been small. This may be due to insufficient attention given to the implementation context, and the limited interactions between local policy-makers, practitioners and researchers. In this paper we use a case study of a cross-sectoral network in Northeast England, to identify the local-level challenges and opportunities for implementing PA policies and programmes, particularly the updated 2019 UK PA guidelines.
Five focus groups (n = 59) were conducted with practice partners, local policy-makers and researchers during an initial workshop in April 2018. Through facilitated discussion, participants considered regional priorities for research and practice, along with barriers to implementing this agenda and how these may be overcome. During a second workshop in December 2018, overarching findings from workshop one were fedback to a similar group of stakeholders, along with national policy-makers, to stimulate feedback from delegates on experiences that may support the implementation of the UK PA guidelines locally, focusing on specific considerations for research, evidence and knowledge exchange.
In workshop one, three overarching themes were developed to capture local challenges and needs: (i) understanding complexity and context; (ii) addressing the knowledge and skills gap; and (iii) mismatched timescales and practices. In workshop two, participants’ implementation plans encompassed: (i) exploring a systems approach to implementation; (ii) adapting policy to context; and (iii) local prioritising.
Our findings suggest that academics, practitioners and policy-makers understand the complexities of implementing PA strategies, and the challenges of knowledge exchange. The updated UK PA guidelines policy presented an opportunity for multiple agencies to consider context-specific implementation and address enduring tensions between stakeholders. An organically derived implementation plan that prioritises PA, maps links to relevant local policies and supports a context-appropriate communication strategy, within local policy, practice and research networks, will help address these. We present 10 guiding principles to support transferable knowledge exchange activities within networks to facilitate implementation of national PA policy in local contexts.