Childhood Obesity Trailblazer Programme - Engagement

The Childhood Obesity Trailblazer Programme is an ambitious programme which aims to support the mobilisation of cross-sector action in localities across England to tackle childhood obesity.

Since October 2020 Shared Intelligence have been the Delivery Support Partner for the Learning Network. Our task is to support the capture, sharing and wider dissemination of learning between the Trailblazer areas and the wider sector. This is the second of a series of learning notes we will be producing.  It’s aim is to share key lessons learned during the delivery of the programme and examples of good practice to support and inform action across the Trailblazer network and beyond.


The Trailblazers recently met (on Zoom) to take stock and exchange learning. Engagement was a key theme of the discussion which we have summarised below.

Virtual engagement

Establishing and maintaining good relationships with partners and beneficiaries remain important factors in making progress through the Trailblazer projects. However, the COVID-19 Pandemic has created complications in this area. Engaging with those who do not have digital access has proven incredibly difficult for the Trailblazers. This is compounded by the fact that many other stakeholders may be digitally ‘burnt out’ due to the shift onto online working platforms. However, Trailblazer areas have developed several efficient and effective ways to engage with different groups despite the lack of face-to-face contact.

In terms of accessing groups for engagement activities, a key driver of progress has been the establishment of partnerships with organisations that already have strong stakeholder engagement. For example, the Nottinghamshire Trailblazer group have been working closely with the Early Years’ Service to facilitate their engagement with parent groups.  Also, offering telephone calls as a method for engagement has been an effective way of engaging with families who have limited digital access.  Another method which is being explored to enable engagement of specific groups has been the use of targeted paid for advertising.

It has been noted that the over reliance on ‘virtual engagement’ throughout lockdown has sometimes meant participants have struggled with maintaining their engagement. For example, workshops have been made shorter so as not to over-burden participants, but this has impacted on progress made towards the task. Some projects are exploring a link with creative organisations to employ alternate methods of engagement to both increase reach and access of certain participant groups and provide some innovative ways to engage. For example, Pennine Lancashire are exploring linking into a local theatre group as a way of engaging with young people.  

The pandemic has made community engagement incredibly hard, especially as teams are trying to engage with a variety of demographics.  Despite this, the Trailblazers have managed to find methods to make sure messages can be disseminated and relationships maintained. In Bradford, they have been successful in engaging with Imams who have close contact with their target demographic: young Muslims. Finding time to share messages with Muslim children is complicated as Islamic Studies are generally taken outside of school time. Therefore, having good relationships with Imams and community leaders is essential in ensuring messages from the Trailblazer can still be shared within the community. Maintaining this type of contact has been essential in ensuring progress can be resumed after lockdowns. A lot of value in maintain the relationships has come from simply asking “how are you?”.

Engagement with third parties

Gaining support and commitment to programme delivery from third party organisations has been a significantly important but challenging area for the Trailblazers projects.

Developing an understanding of where there is common ground and common goals within priority areas of work is imperative in attracting third party support and insight. Common ground brings people into shared agendas and can show how seemingly different workstreams could complement each other; highlighting opportunities for collaboration and progression.

The Birmingham Trailblazer has found value in framing conversations around the outcomes that are shared with other organisations. Specifically, the team has worked collaboratively with a group of education and training providers on how health and wellbeing can be brought more strongly into the skills and education pipeline. They have found that most progress has been made when working through the task with those embedded within the education sector rather than working it through on their own. Spending time establishing the context and shared goals was essential to this progress.

Trailblazers have found that it has been valuable involving partners as early as possible in the process and ensuring flexibility in the model of delivery of programmes. This has ensured that the projects can benefit from the insights and expertise that are gained along the process.

Although Trailblazers have experienced a range of challenges in delivering their projects during the pandemic, they have found that public health is now higher up on the agendas of stakeholders.  The current context therefore presents a good opportunity to explore new relationships. Trailblazers have emphasised the importance of creating good relationships by finding the right people to engage with within specific organisations and by giving plenty of time to building connections.  

Engagement with businesses

Taking advantage of opportunities to have conversations with high street businesses and takeaways can lead to rewarding alliances that aid in establishing cross-sector collaboration on these issues. Nottinghamshire have found a significant amount of success in with takeaways using their Hot Merit Scheme to provide healthier options. They found the most progress by visiting high streets and offering face to face explanation of the program to takeaways, this method of engagement has now been put on hold by the pandemic.  Entering conversations through a business view and communicating in a way that is familiar to them has had the added benefit of raising awareness of the issues surrounding childhood obesity for this Trailblazer. One problem with this is that face-to-face contact with high streets and takeaways requires a large amount of manpower, the incredibly large numbers of takeaways mean success is inevitably relative. Building effective relationships with environmental health teams can be a useful way of gaining business intelligence and access. If you can build confidence in the scheme through the local councils, authorities and businesses then there may be greater likelihood of being able to make cross-sector and whole systems solutions.

Top tips for relationships

  • ‘Be a bit cheeky’. Approaching people directly could be worthwhile especially in a project like this where time is a limiting factor. This can simplify and hasten the process of finding out who is and isn’t interested in the project.
  • Just checking whether people are ok. This can go a long way to helping and engaging with them in the future and keeping the door ajar. Sometimes the first meeting with a partner can be dedicated to just getting to know them rather than presenting or pitching an idea.
  • Understanding that you are not expected to be an expert in other sectors. Sometimes worthwhile to consider bringing in a consultant early on. This can help understand the views and attitudes of people you may be working with who sit outside your area of expertise.
  • Monitoring the risk of ‘scope creep’. Making sure to take a step back when new opportunities present themselves and identify how this new activity aligns with the ambition for the programme is essential.
  • Bringing stakeholders in. Young people are often an important audience. It is essential their voice is heard. In the Lewisham Trailblazer young people were not just consulted; they had the opportunity to contribute directly to the discussions.