Reaching consensus on definitions for food and physical activity policies – dr. liam kelly.

Today’s blog post covers research conducted as part of Policy Evaluation Network (PEN). The research was led by Dr Liam Kelly (University of Limerick) and Dr Janas Harrington (University College Cork). Other contributing authors were affiliated with SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Poland; University College Dublin; University of Oslo; Utrecht University; Wageningen University & Research, The Netherlands; Oslo Metropolitan University; and Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology – BIPS, Bremen, Germany.

An upsurge in policy evaluation research within public health sciences has led to multi-disciplinary research networks like the ‘Policy Evaluation Network’ (PEN). This multi-disciplinary collaboration highlighted the challenges in large research projects in the use and understanding of various terminology and definitions, and the need for consensus on clear, common terminology and definitions to facilitate the multidisciplinary research. This paper ( outlines the development process of the PEN definitions glossary tool, with a focus on the key domains of policy design, implementation, and outcomes as they apply to physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and dietary behaviours.

A project specific participatory process was undertaken, involving PEN researchers from seven European countries across various disciplinary backgrounds. All involved researchers were invited to identify and collate definitions that were commonly used in their research field. Terms and definitions were discussed and debated during online workshops and were discussed and refined until consensus was reached. Consensus was reached on a range of terms where the terms were understood and used differently across represented disciplines (e.g., ‘Outcome’, ‘Impact’). A conceptual “Inter-relations in policy-related concepts” diagram (Figure 1) was developed to enable navigation through an online database ( with key terms.

The definitions resulting from this participatory process has supported PEN researchers and practitioners across disciplines to reach a shared understanding of different terms related to policy evaluation. Thus, providing a platform for avoiding conflicting use of the same terms in differing contexts over the course of the PEN work programme, facilitating clear and consistent communication, and allowing for clarity within collaborative multi-disciplinary projects and in public-facing messages.    

The glossary of definitions and terms was developed initially for use within the PEN project. However, as new projects emerged (STOP, Co-Create and Best ReMap) which also focused on policy development, implementation and evaluation for healthier lifestyles; collaborations were established. The glossary as a live tool has the potential to be further developed as these collaborations mature. The collaboration provides the opportunity to provide a comprehensive, transparent, and sustainable glossary of standardized definitions and terms that potentially can be adopted across multiple projects, thereby advancing future research related to policy development, implementation and evaluation for healthier lifestyles. However, such an endeavour is not without its challenges and would depend on a project, or team, taking responsibility for maintaining the glossary and keeping it up to date.


Liam Kelly, Cliona Twohig, Catherine B Woods, Aleksandra Luszczynska, Celine Murrin, Nanna Lien, Biljana Meshkovska, Carlijn B M Kamphuis, Maartje P Poelman, Laura Terragani, Sarah Forberger, Antje Hebestreit, Wolfgang Ahrens, Janas M Harrington, on behalf of the PEN consortium, Reaching consensus on definitions for food and physical activity policies: experience from the Policy Evaluation Network, European Journal of Public Health, Volume 32, Issue Supplement_4, December 2022, Pages iv10–iv20,

PEN Special Issue Journal available at:

Further information on the PEN project available at


Dr Liam Kelly is the Programme Manager, Physical Activity for Health HRI Research Centre, Physical Activity for Health Research Cluster, Health Research Institute, Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, in the University of Limerick. 

Contact:  @liamkellyIRL  

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