Gozde Ozakinci: researching the impact of the Step Count Challenge

We have partnered with a number of universities including the University of Stirling to undertake an exciting body of research into the impact and benefits of our national Step Count Challenge.

Our Step Count Challenge encourages workplaces to find ways to be physically active through the working day.

The challenge, taking place in spring and autumn each year, encourages teams of five to amass as many steps as possible. Participating teams are motivated to take part, do their best and have fun by competing for the top spot of a national leader board, by entering our grand and weekly prize draws, and feeling the health benefits of being active more.

Gozde Ozakinci, Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Stirling was recently part of a research group exploring the impact of the Step Count Challenge. She shares her experience of the research, and why she believes that such projects are vital to the development of initiatives which promote physical activity. 

Workplaces are ideal settings for health promotion. Many of us spend much of our lives centred around work. In the wake of the pandemic, there is a continued shift in working patterns and flexibility. Some of us returned to the office and some of are now used to working in a hybrid manner For some of us, this change in our working patterns means we’re often not moving much during the day.

This is why the Step Count Challenge is so important. The challenge aims to get workplaces moving in and around our workdays. A few of us who are researchers in different fields including psychology, physical activity, and neuroscience in Scotland, have collaborated with Paths for All to investigate a variety of aspects of the Step Count Challenge. The Challenge offered us a unique opportunity to examine how walking can be increased in the context of workplaces, and its impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.

But, why is it important to cultivate these partnerships between organisations like Paths for All and academics? Having an evidence base for these kinds of programmes enables researchers and developers of these programmes to better understand what and how they work, the impact on people, and how they can be improved to maximise their benefit. Research also gives developers time for reflection – can we do things differently, make improvements and enhance what they offer so that more people join in?

Professer Gozde Ozakinci - University of Stirling in front of a pond with a swan behind her.

For researchers, understanding individual perspectives and experiences, what works, for whom and why means that we can gain valuable insight and positively develop and adapt similar programmes like what Paths for All is achieving with its Step Count Challenge.

We recently summarised our partnership research with Paths for All. In the article, we outline different ways of collaborating: whether the partnership is mainly led by the researchers (‘push’ strategies) or driven by the partner’s needs and demands (‘pull’ strategies). A truly collaborative partnership is somewhere in between: the co-production of applied research that benefits both parties and produces a body of work which is unique, informed and impactful. Evidence and insight from research programmes such as our can be applied in useful and impactful ways to inspire changes in the real world.

This is what we aim for and work towards in our partnership with Paths for All. We found that the research was not only productive (see the projects that we produced in the paper) but also fun! The process of collaborating with this group of researchers meant meeting regularly, hearing about each other’s lives and exploring the personal impact that taking part in the Step Count Challenge can have. It’s always more fun when you work with people you enjoy spending time with and having similar goals like increasing physical activity.

It has also been hugely satisfying to see how early career researchers approached the partnership and exploring important research questions. Their enthusiasm pushed us forward. Hopefully, this will help the researchers in their future careers, show them how important it is to build partnerships with non-academic partners and to build the necessary people-skills beyond research.

And you, the many Step Count Challenge participants who took part in our projects, are crucial part of this endeavour because without your participation, producing this knowledge and having an impact would not be possible. So, thank you from all of us!

You can read more about the Step Count Challenge research collaboration here www.stepcount.org.uk/research

An infographic summarising the key findings from the partnership research can be downloaded here.