It’ll Take More Than A List To Climb This Mountain

Ollie Smith

April 25, 2016

Ollie Smith reflects on how just refining principles, as was done at the 2015 meeting of the Creating Health Collaborative, is not enough to catalyze practice

This commentary by Ollie Smith, a member of the Executive of the Creating Health Collaborative, was first published in our report, Eleven Principles for Creating Health

Reading through the principles and questions that arose from our 2015 meeting I am reminded of that moment on a hike when you reach what you think is the peak of the hill only to see the rest of the mountain loom large over you. It’s a moment of brief elation swiftly followed by disappointment and then, with luck, steely determination to carry on. As I take advantage of this reflective moment I find myself wondering how helpful our efforts are to those who seek to follow us. We are, after all, hoping to catalyze practice.

Since our 2015 meeting I have commissioned, on behalf of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity of which I am Director of Strategy and Innovation, an assessment of what a programme to enable communities to create health might look like. This work is being delivered by Pritpal S Tamber, the Founder of the Collaborative, and as part of it, I asked him to find UK-based entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to attend an event in London inspired by our meetings. The Charity hosted the event in mid-December 2015 and the aim was to share, learn, and work out how to apply our shared experiences in the service of communities.

As part of briefing for the event, the participants were given the emerging principles for creating health as developed by the Collaborative at our July 2014 meeting. The discussion was rich and wide-ranging. We covered similar ground in London to the discussions in New York that led to this report; the challenges of language, evaluation, and balancing citizen versus professional leadership. But could I honestly say that sharing the principles sped up or facilitated the conversation? No, I could not.

This isn’t an easy thing to admit but just refining principles, as was done at the 2015 meeting and shared in this report, is not going to be enough to catalyze practice. Knowing that some group has generated a list of things to bear in mind when trying to create health beyond the lens of health care doesn’t mean that people will follow. My hypothesis for this is that everyone has to start the journey – from bio-medical health to community-defined health – in their own way, airing their own prejudices and hang-ups and arguing about meaning until a common language, understanding, and resolve is reached.

This is one of my struggles and something that I’ll share at our 2016 meeting. It’s all very well us declaring a principle that “it’s going to take time” but I would like us to aim to reduce that time. As a Collaborative we know that we must do better than just producing a list of principles. In our steely determination to climb the mountain we mustn’t forget our duty to make the journey easier for all those who are only just starting.

Ollie Smith

Director of Strategy and InnovationatGuy’s and St Thomas’ Charity

Ollie Smith joined Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity in 2010 as director of strategy and innovation. He was previously a deputy director at England’s Department of Health, where he led a diverse range of health and health care policy and strategy initiatives. His earlier experience includes working in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit.

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