A case of standardization? Implementing health promotion guidelines in Denmark

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Abstract

Guidelines are increasingly used in an effort to standardize and systematize health practices at the local level and to promote evidence-based practice. The implementation of guidelines frequently faces problems, however, and standardization processes may in general have other outcomes than the ones envisioned by the makers of standards. In 2012, the Danish National Health Authorities introduced a set of health promotion guidelines that were meant to guide the decision making and priority setting of Denmark's 98 local governments. The guidelines provided recommendations for health promotion policies and interventions and were structured according to risk factors such as alcohol, smoking and physical activity. This article examines the process of implementation of the new Danish health promotion guidelines. The article is based on qualitative interviews and participant observation, focusing on the professional practices of health promotion officers in four local governments as well as the field of Danish health promotion more generally. The analysis highlights practices and episodes related to the implementation of the guidelines and takes inspiration from Timmermans and Epstein's sociology of standards and standardization. It remains an open question whether or not the guidelines lead to more standardized policies and interventions, but we suggest that the guidelines promote a risk factor-oriented approach as the dominant frame for knowledge, reasoning, decision making and priority setting in health promotion. We describe this process as a case of epistemic standardization.

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