The power of people in movements for health

Nesta has launched a new 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. It illuminates the value and role of health social movements and aims to foster debate, experiments and development of a practice around social movements in health.

A health social movement is a people-powered effort to promote or resist change in the experience of health or the systems that shape it

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 health and identity 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.

The interface between social movements and institutions can 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 Nesta's work on People Powered Health. This report proposes the need for new models of engagement that draw effectively on both the efficiency and scale of institutions and the dynamism and agility of movements.

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