Effective advocacy is an important part of efforts to increase population participation in physical activity. Research about effective health advocacy is scarce, however, the health sector can learn from the experiences and knowledge of community advocates and those who are on the receiving end of this advocacy. The aim of this study is to explore advocacy for active transport from the perspectives of community advocates and representatives from New Zealand City councils.
Cycling and walking advocates were identified from the local contact list of Cycling Advocates Network and Living Streets Aotearoa. Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with cycle and walking advocates from throughout New Zealand. Advocates also nominated a suitable council officer at their local City council to be interviewed. Interviews were recorded and transcribed and categories of responses for each of the questions created.
Several processes were used by advocates to engage with council staff, including formal council submissions, meetings, stakeholder forums and partnership in running community events promoting active transport. Several other agencies were identified as being influential for active transport, some as potential coalition partners and others as potential adversaries. Barriers to improving conditions for active transport included a lack of funding, a lack of will-power among either council staff or councillors, limited council staff capacity (time or training) and a culture of providing infrastructure for motor vehicles instead of people. Several suggestions were made about how the health sector could contribute to advocacy efforts, including encouraging political commitment, engaging the media, communicating the potential health benefits of active transport to the general public and being role models in terms of personal travel mode choice and having workplaces that support participation in active transport.
There is potential for the health sector to make an important contribution to advocacy for active transport in New Zealand. While there are many barriers to achieving supportive environments for cycling and walking, a range of advocacy strategies were identified which could help ensure that health perspectives are considered in decisions relevant to active transport.
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