Research student, School of Social Sciences
Health and social policy evaluation has been a consistent theme throughout working life. I employ a mix of research methods and am particularly interested in participative approaches. I$acirc; ve hopped the fence between academic research departments and organisations that use research to inform and develop policy a couple of times. As a reflection of this, I've tended to explore policy questions: What sorts of policies or interventions are implemented and why? Why do some policies, in some places, appear to $acirc; work$acirc; whilst others fail? What are the intended and unintended consequences of policy implementation for human experience? Where and how could intervention be improved?
Brief history: NCT Research Manager - Baby Feeding (2010-present); Career break (2006-9); NCT Senior Policy Research Officer (2004-5); Senior Research Officer: Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (2002-4); Senior Research Office: Inland Revenue (2002-4); Research Associate: Centre for Research In Social Policy, Loughbourgh University (1997-2000); Research Assistant, Dept. Social Medicine, Bristol University (1995-97); Research Assistant: Health Promotion Wales (1993-94).
I am employed one day a week as a Research Manager for NCT. NCT is the UK$acirc; s largest charity for new and expectant parents and aims to improve experiences of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. I undertake applied research and evaluation projects, mainly in the area of infant feeding support, with the aim of enhancing the work of the charity and of supporting the work of NCT$acirc; s volunteers, practitioners and staff.
You can visit the NCT website by clicking here.
Over recent decades mothers$acirc; decisions about feeding their babies have been framed as an area of public health concern. Increased scientific consensus around evidence for poorer health outcomes associated with formula feeding have led to a national and international policy drive to improve breastfeeding prevalence rates, with a global recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding to around six months with continued breastfeeding to up to two years and beyond. Over the same time period public health interventions have been increasingly informed by socio-ecological theory and, more recently, by complex systems theory $acirc; both of which emphasise wider context for decision-making and multiple influences on behaviour, shifting the focus on intervention away from individuals as isolated targets for change.
In Wales, a multi-faceted breastfeeding strategy, which was intended to influence the context for infant feeding decisions within different settings and to address social polarisation in feeding behaviours, has been in place since 2001. Despite this, whilst breastfeeding initiation rates have increased, so far there has been limited impact on breastfeeding continuation rates, and in less affluent communities where there is as yet no evidence of a shift towards a culture in which breastfeeding beyond the early days is normalised. Furthermore, mothers frequently feel pressured over their feeding decisions whether they breastfeed, or use formula milk, or both.
This PhD research draws on ecological thinking and concepts relating to complex adaptive systems to explore current policy challenges and to identify barriers and facilitators to effective and acceptable intervention beyond the health service. The research will modify, exemplify and develop complexity theory; linking macro-level understanding of social processes, mechanisms and policy goals to the experiences and behaviour of individuals within a case study area. The methodology is an embedded case-study. The experiences of breastfeeding peer supporters living within a low income community with traditionally low breastfeeding rates are contextualised within local social-ecology and an over-arching social policy context. Data is collected through observation and via focused interviews with peer supporters, with local , regional and national level policy and practitioner leads. Findings are generated through reflexive linking of data gathered from breastfeeding peer supporters to a wider analysis of structuring forces operating at different ecological levels.