Social movements in health primer published

Yesterday we were pleased to be at the launch of the social movements primer by Nesta. If you want to get under the skin of what social movements in health are about, this paper is a fantastic place to start. I wish we’d had this earlier this year when we began the work in Stockport, Oldham and Tameside! The launch event was streamed live, and you can watch it here: event

You can read Halima Khan’s introduction to the document here:

Today Nesta Health Lab launches its report  “Health as a Social Movement: The Power of People in Movements”, produced as part of NHS England’s Health as a Social Movement Programme.

There is a unique power to people in social movements – one in which purposeful citizens have the determination and courage to stand up, speak out and seek change in the issues that matter to them and their loved ones. The AIDS movement, the breast cancer movement and the disability rights movement have all aimed to transform people’s experiences of their own illness and the systems which shape it.

Social movements have been gaining increased attention, especially in the context of health and care, as an effective and timely bottom-up approach to system-level change. In their purest form movements are messy, dynamic, and emergent. They arise outside formal institutions and beyond established power structures. They challenge and disrupt. They often make society, elites and institutions deeply uncomfortable as they challenge accepted values, priorities and procedures. Which is why it is extraordinary and potentially unprecedented, for the leader of a major public institution like the NHS – a system that is understandably highly controlled, with clear hierarchies, rules and protocols – to actively call for more social movements.

There are many opportunities in established  organisations like the NHS working alongside more emergent practice like movements, and the report includes over 20 examples of ‘social movement like’ work in health across the UK and in an international context.

The interface between social movements and institutions also create challenges which surface healthy tensions: How can formal institutions work with something as restless and intangible as a movement? Who is accountable to whom? Can shared purpose be created without co-opting citizen-led change? What are the limits of social movements?

This creative tension between people and institutions lies at the heart of our work on People Powered Health. This report proposes the need for a new model of engagement that draws effectively on both the efficiency and scale of institutions and the dynamism and agility of movements.

Social movements are not a panacea for all of  our health and care issues. Yet, they do represent one timely approach to the system-level transformation so urgently needed in health and care.

Download the report here:

Health social movements

And, follow the conversation at #RSAhealth.

For more information please contact:


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Barry Haslam says:

    Thank you Carey…keep up the good work.

    Best wishes,



  2. careybamberlivecom says:

    Barry, Steve will tell you, but he got a plug in for you at the report launch event as we were interviewed about what we are learning. I couldn’t persuade him to have the Benzo T shirt on under his shirt and then to lift his shirt up like a footballer (!), but we did talk about your amazing work. Hope you are well. Best, Carey


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