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Only connect: How to achieve transformation in health

Every year, the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. brings together health innovators from across the United States and beyond at the Transform conference. My talk there a few weeks ago focused on what it takes to create true transformation in health. Based on Nesta’s work on People Powered Health, I argued that it is about connecting authentic human relationships with technological progress. Transformation is created when these two drivers reinforce one another, rather than detract. A challenge captured well by E. M. Forster in the novel Howards End: ‘Only connect the prose and the passion’.

So, how does this relate to health? Well, in health, we can understand the ‘prose’ as biomedical knowledge and technological progress, and the ‘passion’ as relationships that enable people to feel motivated, supported and able to take positive action. Connecting the power of the two is a simple message. But it’s one that health systems find very hard to make happen.

Understandably, health policy and delivery tend to focus on the prose - improving treatments, processes and procedures. The drive to improve these elements often eclipses other things, such as the motivating relationships which people need to cope and indeed thrive. This leaves the people working in the health and care system as well as those seeking health and care support feeling overwhelmed, despite excellent clinical care.

However, we neglect the ‘passion’ of the workforce and citizens at our peril. Relationships that build the confidence to act and enable steps towards positive change are not an optional extra. This is the engine which makes change happen. Written guidance, organograms, prescriptions and leaflets are all props, worth little or nothing without dedicated staff and motivated citizens to turn them into action and make them consequential. And so, finding ways to ignite passion, motivation and commitment is essential, not just desirable.

We see this time and again in our work on People Powered Health. Whether it’s Alex, a father with poor mental health, finding it difficult to take his kids to the park; or an older man, Harry, frightened to leave the house because of breathlessness from chronic lung disease; or Paul, a senior health and care leader, feeling overwhelmed by the crises facing his workforce and budget. All of their lives have been changed, indeed transformed, by being connected into enabling relationships and supported to take positive steps with a renewed sense of purpose.

Nesta Health Lab has undertaken some of this work directly - such as our People Powered Results approach which supports leaders, such as Paul, and frontline teams in health and care systems to transform at pace through collaboration. At other times we’ve supported work which has been led by fantastic organisations like Unlimited Potential, in the case of Alex, and the British Lung Foundation and their Breathe Easy peer groups which have supported Harry.

We are also interested in how authentic human connections - in the form of social movements - can put pressure on institutions in creative ways from many vantage points. Social movements can be effective mechanisms of social change and, last year, we published The Power of People in Movements which gave an overview of social movements in health and how we need new ways for social movements and institutions to interact productively.

As a follow up to that, we wanted to learn from people in social movements that have gone before - to see what contributed to their success, how they worked and what that means for achieving change now. So we have looked at four well-established movements across disability, HIV/AIDS, global mental health and rare disease to learn more about them. The learning from this new research is launched today in the report We Change the World: what can we learn from global social movements for health?

The report is a snapshot - based on insights directly from social movements leaders and members - on what it takes for social movements to grow and have influence. We hope the insights are useful to others who seek to create change through mobilising people at scale.

All of our work on People Powered Health brings to life how the ‘passion’ is as important as the ‘prose’.

Author

Halima Khan

Halima Khan

Halima Khan

Executive Director, Health Lab

Halima is Executive Director of the Health Lab, which aims to create a people powered health system. Health Lab brings together Nesta's practical work on health and ageing to achieve...

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