Presentation at the 2014 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
Background and Purpose
Despite the evidence that regular physical activity (PA) is essential for good health, many Americans do not meet the PA guidelines. In San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, only 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 3 youth meet the PA guidelines. Strategies to facilitate and support physical activity opportunities for people of all ages must be identified and implemented at the local level. The local health department (LHD) of San Antonio initiated a multi-sector collaborative effort to increase PA among residents by establishing the Active Living Council of San Antonio (ALCSA) to create a 3-5-year master plan and policy recommendations to encourage active living in the community. The current study describes the 2-year process of forming a multi-sector community coalition and writing a plan to promote active living in San Antonio.
An ALCSA Steering Committee (SC) composed of LHD staff and community organization representatives convened to organize and launch the ALCSA. After learning about active living and PA-promoting initiatives at the national, state, and local levels, the SC set preliminary ALCSA goals: 1) Provide a forum to address active living issues; 2) Promote coordination among various sectors that impact active living; 3) Foster local PA and active living projects; 4) Promote improved access to places and programs for PA; and 5) Promote policies related to increasing PA and active living. The SC determined ALCSA’s membership will represent multiple sectors and activities should reflect current evidence and national guidelines. The SC created ALCSA membership categories to mirror the 8 sectors of the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) and added 2 general membership categories to ensure broad community representation. The 20-member council includes 2 volunteer members for each membership category. Following a coordinated outreach effort to recruit applicants, the SC selected ALCSA members and outlined initial council activities, concluding SC responsibilities. ALCSA wrote vision and mission statements, adopted a governance framework, elected officers, and devoted much time to internal capacity-building about PA and health, relying on evidence-based resources to guide discussions about PA-promoting strategies. Drawing on diverse expertise among members and participating in a variety of educational opportunities, members became well-informed active living advocates. ALCSA conducted outreach to other coalitions and organizations to identify opportunities to align and support local initiatives. Seeking broad community input about local needs and priorities related to active living, members engaged their sector constituents in a variety of ways, such as presentations to professional networks and distribution of a sector-specific online survey. Master plan development was a multi-step, collaborative process. Given the NPAP’s PA focus, multi-sector approach, and use of evidence-based strategies to advance active living, the NPAP emerged as the key resource for guiding development of ALCSA’s master plan. ALCSA adopted the NPAP’s overall structure and selected strategies which reflected San Antonio’s needs and priorities and could make an impact in a 3-5-year period. Members embarked upon a plan-writing process to articulate priorities, guide allocation of resources, establish measures of success, and generate a sense of urgency about the importance of PA to the overall health of the community. A sub-committee (writing team) led the plan-writing effort and engaged all members throughout the process. The plan includes overarching and sector-specific strategies. The writing team outlined overarching strategies, whereas sector partners took the lead on sector strategies. The writing team provided drafts for members to review and incorporated feedback received, an iterative process which took place over 7 months. LHD staff and other local leaders as well as national experts reviewed final drafts over the subsequent 5 months. This process produced the Active Living Plan for a Healthier San Antonio, a plan that reflects national recommendations and fits San Antonio’s local context.
Participatory planning required a large commitment of volunteer time in addition to LHD staff time. Though information sharing about development and implementation of local PA initiatives would have been helpful in guiding ALCSA’s efforts, we did not find examples in the literature detailing experiences of other local multi-sector active living coalitions. Despite broad conceptual support for collaborative multi-sector community initiatives to promote active living, practices supportive of equitable partnerships are challenging and demand shared leadership, transparency, clearly-defined expectations, and extensive communication.
Conclusions and Implications
ALCSA adapted the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) to a local context. The Active Living Plan for a Healthier San Antonio is a 3-5-year roadmap for transforming San Antonio into a community that promotes and supports active living among its residents.
The plan received endorsements of San Antonio’s Mayor Julian Castro and the local Mayor’s Fitness Council, which recently incorporated ALCSA as a standing committee to advance implementation of the plan. Education and outreach efforts with decision makers and sector constituents about the plan’s strategies to promote active living are underway and an evaluation plan is being developed.
Support / Funding Source
ALCSA is one of the initiatives of San Antonio’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant supported by funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (#1U58DP002453-01).