Policy change is complex and often buffeted by changes in the political landscape. Developing relationships with policymakers is crucial to our ability to inform policy and promote the role of evidence in decision-making.
Our knowledge brokers are the key facilitator of these relationships. They plan and build links between SPECTRUM research teams and leading decision makers in policy and practice, and look for opportunities to inform policy. Their activity helps achieve impact for SPECTRUM by supporting and amplifying the sharing of knowledge, promoting knowledge co-production and encouraging knowledge use.
Connections with Scottish policymakers
Following the latest Scottish election in May 2021, we have been working closely with Scottish Government policy teams and the Scottish Parliament to establish relationships that will enable us to share our research with policymakers and thus equip them with the information and knowledge required to support effective public health policies.
Government action on things like the price of products, how and where they are promoted and the places they are sold, can all help to reduce harm from unhealthy commodities such as tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food and drink. However, there remain significant barriers and challenges to their implementation.
The influence of powerful corporate actors on the policy process is one of the most significant barriers. A key priority for SPECTRUM is to raise awareness of the tactics used by unhealthy commodity industries (UCIs) to obstruct, delay and weaken regulation, and undermine evidence.
Raising awareness of industry influence
The Improving Scotland's Health cross-party group (CPG) brings MSPs, academics and campaigners together to improve Scotland's public health. Working together, the group aims to join up thinking and experience in tackling health-harming commodities including alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food and drink.
Prior to a CPG meeting in December 2021, SPECTRUM produced a briefing for MSPs highlighting the influence of powerful corporate actors as a barrier to progress in public health policy. Featuring research from Professors Jeff Collin, Mark Petticrew and Cecile Knai, Dr Nason Maani, and the NCD Alliance, the briefing brought together evidence on the strategies and approaches used by UCIs to influence policy.
Professors Jeff Collin and Mark Petticrew subsequently presented on this topic at the meeting, feeding into discussions acknowledging the risks of accepting industry funding and the possibility of alternatives such as levies, which could raise funds for public health activities. The CPG also discussed the need for a stronger understanding of the inherent conflict of interest that harmful commodity industries have in relation to reducing consumption of their products because of their legal duty to increase shareholder profits.
Paving the way for pioneering public health policy
With a consultation on alcohol marketing currently underway, and the upcoming MUP sunset clause, Scotland has the opportunity to lead the way with pioneering public health initiatives designed to prevent non-communicable diseases, reduce inequalities and support a healthier population.
To achieve this, policymakers must be acutely aware of attempts by UCIs to influence their decision-making and the need to actively manage conflicts of interest in public health policy. Building and maintaining links between research and policy teams is crucial as we seek to put public health before industry profit.
Access the SPECTRUM briefing | The commercial determinants of health, adverse policy influence and conflicts of interest
Cross Party Group | Improving Scotland’s Health