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Frequently asked questions for applying a Health in All Policies approach

These questions and answers reflect common questions for which we frequently receive requests for practical advice. If these FAQs do not answer your question, please contact us and we will be happy to assist where we are able.

Please note that these answers draw on our experience in South Australia and therefore some consideration should be given to how applicable the answers may be to your own context.

How do you identify policy issues on which to apply a Health in All Policies approach?

  1. Opportunities arise in a variety of ways. However, our starting point is never to specifically look for something to work on. Issues where a Health in All Policies approach could help are always those which are known to senior leaders in organisations or which are high on the political agenda. By forming networks and developing trusting, productive relationships we find we are either in a position to make connections between various government departments or organisations, or, that issues emerge naturally where a Health in All Policies approach would be of mutual benefit.

Importantly, in applying the ‘partnership’ principle of Health in All Policies work it is important to seek to understand the policy issues/problems from the perspective of the partnering agency/agencies. This helps determine where the opportunities to achieve co-benefits lie. A strong engagement phase and appraising the evidence provides a firm basis for this.

How do you identify which partners to involve?

  1. Depending on the piece of work, identifying and engaging with partners happens in different ways. We are mindful that in the Health in All Policies team, we are not experts in all areas. Our work is often complex and involves multiple agencies. As a piece of work evolves, we constantly review who to involve, so that we involve the right people at the right stage. One of the benefits of having a Health in All Policies team which has built expertise over 10 years is that we often know of someone who might be able to fill the void where we do need wider input. For some work, we might set up a steering group or working group. In these instances we make a thorough assessment of who might want and need to be involved.

How do you get other agencies to work with you?

  1. Often other agencies approach us to explore areas where there may be shared interests, although, we make the approach to other agencies too. Where we approach others it is usually because we can see a gap in the policy area we are progressing and therefore request a specific contribution. It is important to involve all those with a role or interest in the work from the outset in order to build relationships and to achieve sustainable change over the long term. We involve those at senior levels in organisations as our work focuses on achieving policy change at this level. For work which requires operational level changes, we are often able to redirect people to the appropriate contacts.

The Health in All Policies work in South Australia although working from within the Department of Health and Ageing (DHA) has a central mandate and reports to the Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC). This mandate ensures there is broad senior support across government departments to work collaboratively and is a key mechanism which facilitates our work. However, we do not restrict our work to solely working across governmental departments. In addition, the Health in All Policies team at DHA is not always the lead agency in taking work forward. Sometimes we consider other agencies to be better placed and offer this role to other agencies.

During the initial engagement phase of working with other agencies we are clear that we cannot offer financial resources to support the work. In all public sector departments, financial resources are constrained and therefore, this is not usually a surprise. However, what we can offer is dedicated staff time to carefully consider the issues, generate ideas and to drive work areas forward. We also have extensive professional networks and a good foundational understanding of the roles of different agencies. This can be a valuable resource in linking people together to form meaningful partnerships to drive policy change. It may be that during a piece of work a small amount of financial resource is secured to undertake specific tasks if an area is considered to be of sufficient relevance. In this case, financial resources are usually split between all partner agencies involved.

How do you identify shared objectives between partner agencies?

  1. We firstly work to identify policy issues of common interest between partner agencies. An important part of this phase is also to build relationships and be clear about what we are trying to achieve. Determining what the shared objectives are usually comes out of having a strong engagement phase and understanding the issues from the perspective of the partner agency/agencies in order to come together for a shared objective(s).

We will also explore whether it’s suitable for the partner agency to become a ‘Public Health Partner Authority’ (PHPA). If the partner agency becomes a PHPA, an Agreement between the two agencies will be developed which may specify the shared objectives, areas of mutual interest, and key deliverables.

For health, our interest in working with external agencies usually links up with the wider determinants of health and being able to draw a line between the policy issue and the health outcomes. We often develop a ‘pathway diagram’ to draw out the connections between the area of concern and health and wellbeing. This is particularly useful when policy opportunities are not as obvious as when they are in areas traditionally linked to health and wellbeing.

Can a Health in All Policies approach be applied without a formal governance structure?

  1. In South Australia, we consider having a formal governance structure, with the right people involved, a crucial part of our success. Even if working on single projects, rather than across a range of policy areas, getting the governance in place (at the appropriate level) is critical. Both horizontal and vertical governance structures and mechanisms should be considered. The right governance structure will help steer the change that is needed as the outcome of the Health in All Policies approach.

How do you ensure that policy recommendations made by the Health in All Policies process are implemented?

  1. Senior leaders from all partner agencies are engaged in the work from the outset which is important in ensuring the work has clear relevance to organisational objectives and priorities and is given prominence within each organisation. Involvement of senior leaders is key to ensuring work is taken forward through to implementation within each organisation and through to co-implementation if the delivery requires multiple partners to be involved.

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