Learning from the implementation of Universal Free School Meals in Scotland using Normalisation Process Theory: Lessons for policymakers to engage multiple stakeholders

Stephanie A Chambers, Nicola Boydell, Allison Ford, Douglas Eadie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In 2014/15, Universal Free School Meals (UFSM) were introduced in Scotland and England for children in their first three years of primary school. This study examined the implementation of UFSM in Scotland using normalisation process theory (NPT), a middle-range theory of implementation, to identify areas of learning for policymakers wishing to introduce or extend similar policies. NPT is predominantly used to evaluate interventions or new technologies in healthcare settings. Qualitative data were collected across Scotland using a case study approach shortly after implementation (n=29 school-level stakeholders) and in the following school year (n=18 school-level stakeholders and n=19 local authority-level stakeholders). Observations of lunchtime in each school were conducted at both timepoints. Data were analysed using a thematic framework approach using NPT constructs and sub-constructs. Results suggested education and catering stakeholders experiences of implementation diverged most around the NPT concepts of coherence, cognitive participation, and reflexive monitoring. Lack of coherence around the purpose and long-term benefits of UFSM appeared to reduce education stakeholders’ willingness to engage with the policy beyond operational issues. In contrast, catering stakeholders identified a direct benefit to their everyday work and described receiving additional resources to deliver the policy. Overall, participants described an absence of monitoring data around the areas of greatest salience for education stakeholders. This study successfully used NPT to identify policy learning around school meals. Policymakers must increase the salience of such intersectoral policies for all relevant stakeholders involved before policy implementation, and plan adequate monitoring to evaluate potential long-term benefits.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFood Policy
Early online date29 Jun 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Jun 2020

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