Embedding practice and partnerships into processes

This note presents learning from the delivery of the trailblazer projects which was shared at the recent Trailblazer event.


More information about each Trailblazer project can be found on the LGA Childhood Obesity Trailblazer website. Contact details for leads in each Trailblazer are also provided at the end of this page.

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 note presents learning from the delivery of the trailblazer projects which was shared at the recent Trailblazer event. The purpose of this document is to present key lessons and top tips from the COTP and disseminate them more widely for the benefit of the sector and areas interested in undertaking similar action. Therefore this note has been written for the benefit of both Trailblazers who are delivering projects as part of the COTP, and areas across the country who are interested in this topic and who may be looking to take similar action.


Throughout the Trailblazer Event there was an overall theme of sustainability. Specifically the focus was on how Trailblazers can best embed practice and partnerships into processes to ensure the work can continue after the formal programme ends in June 2022. Within this theme, key topics were considered in identifying how to enable sustainability:

  • creating a compelling narrative
  • identifying opportunities and hooks
  • discussions with senior stakeholders
  • nurturing and maintaining community relationships.

There were also topics where key learning was shared around:

  • engaging with communities
  • test and learn.

These themes are discussed below, with areas of good practice from the Trailblazers highlighted.

As part of the event, the Trailblazers were invited to give a success and a challenge from the delivery of their Trailblazers so far. We have included an overview of the responses at the end of this document.


Creating a compelling narrative

Storytelling is powerful and has a key role to play in contributing to the sustainability and legacy of action. The experience of some of the Trailblazers is that there is an imminent need to raise the profile of their work with senior colleagues and partners and to encourage them to tell the story of the importance of the projects and what they have achieved.

The discussion at the Trailblazer Event highlighted that project teams require different types of stories to suit different contexts and audiences, from the ‘corridor conversations’ that last minutes to the board room meetings which provide space to share information in more depth.

One attendee suggested the idea of developing ‘elevator pitches’ suitable for different audiences such as internal senior colleagues, colleagues across health and social care, and delivery partners.

  • Two-sider documents: Nottinghamshire learned from what has worked in their neighbouring place-based programme, the Sport England Local Delivery Pilot, Active Nottinghamshire, and developed a concise two-sider document detailing the Trailblazer’s theory of change of one side and key findings from their evaluation on the other to share the Nottinghamshire story.
  • Linked to the above, ‘don’t reinvent the wheel’ - use what is already in place or what has worked before
  • Visually attractive infographics: Pennine Lancashire developed a series of infographics which distilled a variety of local data into visually captivating, informative resources for elected members.
  • Short animations: Lewisham will be developing a short animation of their story to engage a range of people in the conversation and encourage them to get involved. Pennine Lancashire have also developed an animation.
  • Referring to the name of the Trailblazer project rather than the name of the programme – Talking about the Early Years Food Environment project enables Nottinghamshire to convey more accurately what their project is focussing on, which enables audiences to understand the project more easily, than referring to the ‘Childhood Obesity Trailblazer’.

Other more visual suggestions included a-story-on-a-page or short animations to engage a variety of audiences in the conversation. But discussion highlighted elements important to ensuring information can be easily digested and reiterated in future conversations. These include the need for resources to be simple and visually attractive. Furthermore, project teams should be conscious of the use of language when developing resources. Specifically, language should be simple, relevant to the intended audience, and should avoid jargon.

Identifying opportunities and hooks

An approach that has been used by some of the trailblazers to contribute to sustainability and legacy of their projects is linking into other council strategies or council bodies. Specifically, Trailblazers have been identifying strategic opportunities and hooks that have longevity beyond the timescale of the COTP and buy-in within the council.

The Trailblazers gave a number of examples of the specific strategic hooks they had linked into and these are provided in the box below. Trailblazers discussed that strategic hooks around health and wellbeing are particularly high on the agenda and have been ever since the beginning of the pandemic. However, a key strategic hook that is also important and a priority amongst many senior colleagues and departments is the link to economy. Trailblazers discussed the need to explore further how this work links to economic outputs and outcomes.

  • The national focus on food - Birmingham are developing their dedicated ‘Food team’ within the council and are currently trying to identify national hooks that are focussing on food.
  • Linking into the work of the Health and Wellbeing Board – both Pennine Lancashire and Nottinghamshire highlighted this strategic hook.
  • Nottinghamshire council’s Best Start Strategy – the work of the Nottinghamshire trailblazer, Early Years Food Environment, has been embedded into the council’s strategy for Early Years.
  • Food security – Nottinghamshire have also linked into the council’s work on food insecurity which has high political focus and buy-in.

Discussions with senior stakeholders

The involvement of senior stakeholders, such as senior council officers and elected members, can be powerful in providing leadership of the projects and contributing to their sustainability. Senior officers and leaders are in a good position to ensure the work, or elements of it, continue through determining specific priorities or budget allocation, for example. Senior involvement can also help to maintain links between different but overlapping strategies across different departments.

Pennine Lancashire in particular have dedicated action to mobilise local managerial and political leaders as a priority in their trailblazer. They have been dedicating resource to engaging with and developing the understanding of elected members around the role they can play in tackling childhood obesity in their local area. Other trailblazers have also been engaging with senior colleagues and elected members to raise the profile of their work and create buy-in to taking action on childhood obesity in their local areas:

  • Learning modules, webinars and online resources available on a dedicated portal have been products developed by Pennine Lancashire in their work to develop leadership and understanding amongst elected members across their footprint. They also organised and host a 6-weekly elected member forum.
  • Strategic forums focused on food were developed by Bradford. As a result, tackling childhood obesity through a focus on food has become a priority beyond the trailblazer programme.
  • Discussions with elected members on the wider determinants of health, the whole system approach and co-production methods have taken place in Birmingham. The aims of these discussions were to develop their understanding of these concepts but also to emphasis they are not alone in trying to drive action.

Nurturing and maintaining community relationships

Sustainability of processes involved in delivering the trailblazer project, and ultimately system change, will likely require the continuation of support from partners. Partners who are key to continuing progress will likely be those who have been central to project delivery throughout. Therefore, the key question to consider is how to encourage, motivate and inspire continued action from those within the network of active partners after the programme funding has ended.

Bradford in particular are exploring the ways that they can maintain engagement with key partners to contribute to the sustainability of the programme. They have acknowledged the significant value they have gained from partners involved in the trailblazer to date but also acknowledge the hours they have dedicated, many of which have been voluntary. They are:

  • considering whether another form of investment could be harnessed
  • considering other ways they can show recognition of the contributions that have been made, for example, creating ‘champions’.

Useful links: the Bradford Trailblazer

Engaging with communities

Discussions of this topic have featured regularly in Trailblazer events, online workshops and at previous Trailblazer assemblies. This highlights how central this area is to the delivery of the trailblazer programmes and therefore the importance of getting this right.

Engagement methods

In the recent Trailblazer event, trailblazers discussed that they were still facing some challenges in trying to engage with specific communities during the pandemic. For example, when engaging with young people and children’s groups Pennine Lancashire faced challenges in finding ways to include those who were off school due to the pandemic or were having to self-isolate. Bradford also shared that engagement with young people and community partners has been challenging as a lack of continuous engagement from community partners had implications of progress and group dynamics. However the trailblazers did find success in their engagement and shared some good practice:

  • Engagement with local organisations who have links to people in the community and knowledge and expertise can be invaluable – Pennine Lancashire worked with a local theatre to reach young people and engage them in creative ways. They also brought knowledge and expertise to safeguarding policies and procedures.
  • Maintaining a hybrid approach to engagement where possible, such as physical and digital methods of engagement, is how Pennine Lancashire hope to move forward. Mixing face to face and online engagements will help combat Zoom fatigue and ensure a variety of people are being reached.


It is important to consider the language that is being used when engaging with communities as using the wrong language or framing of a concept can lead to a lack of engagement in initiatives.

Trailblazers provided a range of ‘top tips’ on things to consider when trying to convey messages about the trailblazer programme, healthy eating and behaviour change:

Top tips when considering the use of language

  • Use user-friendly language, avoiding acronyms or ‘public health’ jargon.
  • Avoid using the terms ‘obesity’, ‘fat’, ‘overweight’. More positive language and a narrative around emphasising the benefits of making healthier choices can lead to a more positive response.
  • Think about how best to frame the message that is being conveyed – how could the message be perceived by different groups of people? Is more context needed?
  • If there is a need to tackle the challenge or issue head on, ensure to create a ‘safe space’ in which people feel comfortable doing this.
  • Try a more visual approach in communications - images and real life examples can be really impactful and more engaging than just text.

Useful links: framing and language

Embedding a learning culture

The Childhood Obesity Trailblazer encourages a ‘test and learn’ approach to project development and delivery. But being able to embrace this approach fully requires the development of a learning culture amongst councils and partners.

Trailblazers discussed that this approach can often clash with other approaches particularly a traditional evidence-based model which looks for existing evidence that is data-driven and has shown measurable outcomes. Developing a shared understanding of what exactly the programme is aiming to achieve can help to clarify the expectations of a project. Defining what a success may look like in a ‘test and learn’ approach may aid in helping people accept that ‘failing’ can often be a step on the ladder to success, especially in places where a learning culture may not yet be fully embedded. A test and learn approach is one way to increase and widen the current evidence base.

Trailblazers agreed that they were in a fortunate position to be able to work in this sort of environment, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when resources were more stretched than usual; however, redefining how they view ‘failure’ has still been a difficult concept to embed. Some useful ‘good practice’ from the trailblazers experience has been provided in the box below.

  • Pennine Lancashire have drawn together an expert panel that meets every 4-6 months, convening academics and colleagues with a specific area of expertise. The panel has been particularly helpful in providing expertise and advice to help shape and inform programme delivery.
  • Nottinghamshire have found beneficial to make it clear they do not have set outcomes in their Healthier@Home meal-kit work. The partnerships and the learning they have extracted throughout is seen as the major outcome of this work.
  • Birmingham have framed the ideas of ‘failure’ as something that is not negative but positive within their trailblazer. because they can learn from it and have found that the idea of ‘test and learn’ has been creeping into other areas of work.
  • Lewisham have found that the learning they have obtained through their challenges are useful not only internally but is also applicable to much wider aspects of public health. More specifically, the lessons from their work in community engagement has fed into the borough's work with community champions.

Tales from the trail


  • Success: Development of a Developer Toolkit – taking the healthy city and planning toolkit into public consultation.
  • Challenge: The difficulty and length of time it takes to get a toolkit to public consultation via a local authority. Birmingham went first through their own SMT then through informal Cabinet, cabinet member briefing, physical activity forum, food forum, public health and wellbeing board, then finally the full cabinet.
  • Top tips: Know your governance landscape and plan your project into this. This will help ensure the work has the “teeth” it needs to gain buy-in and progress.


  • Success: The Bradford trailblazer grouped together health champions and different settings to help deliver health initiatives and ensure the place-based groups had some structure.
  • Challenge: All this work has been done on engagement but there isn’t a clear picture about what is next for these groups. How do you guide the community more with the limited time they have left in this programme?
  • Top tips: Try to start community engagement early. The Bradford trailblazer were lucky in that they already had connection in the community through prior work.


  • Success: The Lewisham trailblazer set up and held reference group meetings to ensure the work reflects the borough’s cultural diversity. This is especially important in making sure the messages coming out of the posters are relevant to diverse cultures.
  • Challenge: Coproduction has been a challenge.  Engaging with community groups has been a slower process than originally expected. COVID-19 has impacted community organisations a lot but there is also a need to simplify the language and the process of applying through the expression of interest.
  • Top tips: Make sure what you are creating considers the voices of all the cultures you are representing in your area.


  • Success: Partnership building has been a big success, especially in terms of breaking down departmental barriers. Also worked alongside children’s centre and school meals service to prototype the ‘Healthier@home’ meal kit. There has been lots of feedback from families and lots of learning that has come out of the prototype.
  • Challenge: Engaging senior leadership has been difficult. The Nottinghamshire director of PH has had a lot of work taken up by the COVID-19 pandemic. The trailblazer has struggled to raise the flag within the local authority, this is not through lack of interest but pressure on capacity and resource.
  • Top tips: The recent local elections may be a good time to shift the focus onto health. New and eager elected members might be easier to engage in the trailblazer work going forward.

Pennine Lancashire

  • Success: Engaged planners across seven different authorities.  A planners agreement has been finalised that recognises how planning can help across health, as well as encouraging the sharing of best practice, and giving advice to sustain a healthier environment
  • Challenge: High number of businesses in Blackburn that do not promote healthy eating. COVID has made face to face engagement impossible. Combine this with the prioritisation of economic recovery and it looks like creating healthier businesses will be a challenge going forward.
  • Top tips: Focusing on partnerships and sustainability for the final year of the programme: finding the best ‘bang for buck’ but also through existing programmes where key strands of the project can be sustainable.

Contact details of leads

If you would like to find out any more about the trailblazers and their activity you can contact the trailblazer leads:

[1] As part of the Learning Network, Shared Intelligence have convened events that bring together the five trailblazer areas and programme stakeholders. The aim of these events is to provide an opportunity to share experiences, learning and good practice in real time to support project and programme delivery. The most recent event took place at the beginning of July 2021.