We highlight practical lessons from policy theories on how to promote equity through transformational changes in policymaking. Health, education and gender are at the heart of such equity policy agendas. Their advocates seek transformational changes to: policy, to reject a ‘neoliberal’ paradigm and address the social and economic causes of unfair inequalities, and policymaking, to foster collaboration and holistic government. However, they also report a wide gap between aspirations and outcomes, and many seek insights from policy studies on how to close it. Our aim is to use their common engagement with policy theories to connect their agendas, foster intersectoral dialogue, and ensure that their contributions are greater than the sum of their parts. A common take-home message is to be cautious about any attempt to turn a provocative transformational political project into a technical process containing a ‘toolbox’ or ‘playbook’.