active oswestry: creative engagement tools for social challenges

more active lifestyles mean a healthier society

Public health is a top priority for the UK Government in encouraging ‘behaviour change to help people live healthier lives’. To identify opportunities for behaviour change, new kinds of insights are needed. While statistical information and demographics can paint a broad picture of how many people participate in active living and what kinds of activities they are involved in, it does not show why people are engaged, or not engaged, in physical activity. To gain this kind of insight different research methodologies are needed.

In June 2010, Shropshire Council commissioned thinkpublic to help build a richer picture of the experiences and barriers of people engaging in physical activity in Oswestry. thinkpublic’s creative engagement tools helped reveal a more holistic picture of people’s lives that existed behind the statistics. The research informed the council’s wider programme to increase public participation in physical activity and also identified innovative opportunities for encouraging people in Shropshire to take on more active lifestyles.

In the project we designed a suite of bespoke engagement tools to deeply understand selected stakeholders of Oswestry. Through our initial engagement work we created an ‘Active Oswestry’ brand which was applied to communications such as flyers, badges and bicycles to promote and build a visual and accessible presence among the local community. We worked with 85 people to capture insights and understand how people could become more active. We focused on people undergoing a transitory stage in their lives and those in low-income households.

We then used a variety of creative engagement tools with these groups to understand their experiences and real-life contexts and to build a deeper understanding of the Oswestry community. The tools were designed specifically for the project and included:

  • Ethnographic films
  • Family toolkits that comprised of workbooks and disposable cameras for families to document their typical day
  • Vox pops on the streets of Oswestry
  • Chalkboard sketching to answer questions such as ‘What is being active for you?’
  • Wish tags for people to write a wish for themselves and for the town
  • In-depth interviews
  • Visual documentation of the local area and local people
  • A fun community event on the Oswestry High Street.

 

Our research revealed that while most people are aware of the benefits of physical activity and exercise, there are several barriers that prevent them from being as physically active as they would like to be. These barriers include:

  • time
  • money
  • transport
  • a lack of confidence
  • parenthood
  • the uninspiring nature of leisure facilities available
  • health and safety regulations
  • bad habits
  • a lack of structure to spare time
  • poor communication of available activities.

Our research approach also revealed several factors which motivate people to participate in physical activity. These include being a good parent, health benefits and the support of others. While the research tools revealed the complexities of pursuing more active living, time and money were especially linked to how active people were. By gaining insight into the context of people’s lives 10 innovative opportunities were revealed to get people in Oswestry engaged with more active living.

The UK Government advocates people and communities taking more responsibility for their own health and well being. Creative engagement tools help identify innovative opportunities for services and solutions that are citizen-led, fit-for-purpose and use the capacities and talents of local councils, communities and people.

 

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