BLOG: Why we want to develop public health research to help strengthen local government

SPHR@L is committed to support professionals in local government and understanding their need for the right kinds of evidence to support their public health responsibilities, explains Matt Egan

A healthy population both reflects and contributes to a healthy society. Securing better health adds legitimacy and value to public services. That’s one reason why local government is excited to be leading public health improvement. We know that housing, planning, community safety and policing, education, licensing and transport can have big health impacts – at least as big as the NHS.

Local authority professionals want to know what’s possible: SPHR@L is here to highlight wide-ranging opportunities to improve the health of communities. But we go beyond identifying the possible to focus on the achievable and deliverable. It’s not enough to show something works in academic research in a different place and circumstances. Professionals in local government want to know: ‘Will it work given my budget, national policy, local political realities, regulations and the concerns of community groups?’ We help these professionals to develop the right evidence at the right time to answer these questions and support local innovation.

SPHR@L does not simply translate public health research into practice-ready material. We work with local practitioners to develop a broader approach to local government research, understanding the kinds of evidence needed and the ways people apply it in their everyday work. Working together on developing evidence has great potential. People in local government do more than contract services to provide safe, clean streets, sound transport, good housing and schooling environments. They are committed to the public good. They are interested in the knock-on effects of policies – good and bad – beyond what happens to specific groups. That’s why partnership with public health research works so well and is helping local government to make a bigger difference.

Dr Matt Egan is team leader for SPHR@L and senior lecturer at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), with an interest in evaluating the health impacts of complex social interventions.

SPHR@L forms part of the wider NIHR School for Public Health Research, comprising eight academic research centres of excellence.