I like dictionaries don’t you? Their definitions are so, well, definite. Take the word ‘impact’ for instance. The Oxford English Dictionary says it is “the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another.” The Cambridge English Dictionary says it is “a powerful effect that something, especially something new, has on a situation or person:” My battered but much-loved Collins Dictionary offers the definition: “the impression made by an idea, cultural movement, social group etc.”

You get the idea. The concept of an impact implies that something measurable or quantifiable is happening as a result of a change. For example, watering the leeks on my balcony is encouraging their growth. Hmm. Possibly. The signal failure is delaying my train. Definitely. But what about the less tangible impacts of something? The creation of the UK Public Health Network for instance?

The UK Public Health Network emerged from a meeting of Chief Executives and Board members on 8 October 2014. The summit agreed that the public health profession needed a more unified voice in order to share knowledge and provide consistent advice on the priorities for improving public health. These same Chief Executives and public health leaders have collaborated through 2015 with the result that, one year on, we are reflecting on the journey so far – recognising the value of Churchill’s advice that however beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.

The Network’s impacts may not be quantified in terms of public success in delivering specific measures to address key determinants of health just yet. However, they can be qualified by trust, collaboration and commonality. Perhaps the American industrial Henry Ford provides an appropriate framework for assessment:

“Coming together is a beginning” : the Network was brave enough to start the venture by acknowledging the fragmentation of the public health profession and the benefits to addressing the financial, demographic and social challenges to health collectively.

“Keeping together is progress” : over the past twelve months, the Network has experienced consistent and sustained input at the highest levels from all 18 member and observer organisations. Although still at a formative stage, the Network is beginning to build new relationships. Embryonic trust in each other is encouraging members to be more accepting of organisational policy positions whilst focussing on the bigger picture to improve and protect the health of the nations.

“Working together is success” : the Network is learning to work together, demonstrating a willingness to find common strategic ground for public health across the UK. Policy leads across the Network are also now meeting quarterly and are working on a project to promote the idea of what public health has done for us by agreeing key public health achievements at individual, community, population and national levels. The importance of this cannot be under-estimated. Having a modus operandi that is inclusive of all four nations has never before been achieved effectively but the mechanism is now in place to make the Network a unique resource. Like any relationship, this takes time to develop. Getting it right will enable the Network to do more, both together and individually. Getting it right will build the foundations of a stronger public health system.

So where does the Network go from here? The goals for the next twelve months focus on improving communication and increasing knowledge-sharing between Network members, enabling a greater understanding of the situation in devolved administrations and the extents of current public health capabilities. It could just be yet another group – in which case sincere apologies to the 30+ Chief Execs and Chairs for their valiant and supportive input to date. But, all 18 organisations and agencies are determined that their concerted efforts will make an impression on improving the public’s health at a strategic level. The question is, will we collide with you or carry you with us?

Tell us what you think. We’d like to know how you think we are doing. Do you agree with these priorities or is there something else we should do? How should our impact be shaped in 2016? How are you measuring your impact?

As for my leeks? Well, they also need time to develop.

Our year 1 report is at: https://www.ukpublichealthnetwork.org.uk/ukphnresources/?entryid134=54515