Policy is Not Just for Wonks!



2 girls walking on a sidewalk

Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

Policy…isn’t that something that only the “wonks” of the world think about? You know the type…they run around quoting combos of letters and numbers like HB123 or SB567…or preaching that ABC policy will mean XYZ to the local community.  The reality is that, according to Wikipedia, “shaping public policy is a complex and multifaceted process that involves the interplay of numerous individuals and interest groups competing and collaborating to influence policymakers to act in a particular way.”

Many individuals never give much thought to how ideas become laws or policies nor do they think that they can help affect change in areas that they are passionate about. The truth of the matter is that while the “wonks” are an integral part of turning ideas into policy, in most cases, it really does take a whole cast of characters to affect change including both organized groups and individual citizens.

The nations’ first Physical Activity Plan that was introduced in May has been described as “policy based” but what does that really mean? Under the leadership of the, National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity a broad array of groups have formed an NPAP implementation team to work on converting the strategies and tactics included in the NPAP into local, state and federal policies that help Americans to meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Let’s look at an example….take Safe Routes to School. According to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, SRTS programs work to insure that communities put policies into place that make it safe for children to walk or bicycle to school thus increasing the amount of physical activity in their day. The NPAP consists of eight different sectors including Education and Transportation/Active Living. Under the tactics listed for one of the education strategies is: “Support SRTS efforts to increase active transportation to and from school and support accommodations for children with disabilities.” Under the Transportation and Active Living Sector there are tactics related to SRTS such as, “support annual reporting by all schools of their transportation mode split” and “expand safe routes” initiatives at national, state, county and local levels to enable safe walking and biking routes to a variety of destinations especially to schools.”

My personal hope is that the concept of “Safe Routes” can be expanded to include community places such as parks, Y’s, libraries, retail areas, etc. Imagine being able to have your children or yourselves be able to safely ride their bike or walk to the library….the benefits are endless to such a concept reaching beyond the obvious of increasing physical activity to include such things as reducing the amount of emissions in the air.

Would you like to see “Safe Routes” expanded to include other community places? What do you see the as the benefits and the challenges of this type of expansion?