About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

A call for local authority pioneers to join the Upstream Collaborative

We are excited to be launching a call for senior, strategic leaders from councils across the country to take part in a new collaborative network. We are specifically interested in those experimenting with new models that work ‘upstream’ of social problems, to address the underlying causes of need and create the conditions from which good outcomes can emerge.

Our previous programmes and research have shown us that some of the most complex and challenging social issues can only be tackled by addressing their root causes and conditions. And conversations with practitioners suggest that those working at the forefront of this shift need the support and insight of peers to maintain their energy and develop their practice. Together, the Upstream Collaborative will test how to build a shared movement of pioneering local government leaders experimenting with new operating models, to find more effective and sustainable ways to meet citizens’ needs and improve outcomes for and with local people.

The Collaborative will do this by providing a safe space in which local authority innovators can build relationships with peers and explore the role they play in identifying, enabling, growing and disseminating innovative responses to complex social issues.

The Nesta programme team will facilitate the Collaborative by hosting events, gathering and publishing insight and creating tools that advance and promote the Collaborative’s work. We will also offer resources, including a small experimentation fund, to help Collaborative members make progress against their goals.

By joining the Collaborative members will:


Build meaningful connections with peers working on related challenges, give and receive support and develop their understanding of where their work fits in the wider system.


Take away inspirational and useful insights, resources, best practices, and tools that will make a difference in their work and help develop their practice.


Create tools that capture and share their practices and processes within their council and externally.


Develop their personal reputation within the field, while building the profile of their initiative beyond their local network..

More details on how to register to join and our selection criteria

Why Upstream?

Imagine yourself walking up a river with a group of friends. Suddenly you see a baby in the water and so you dive in to save the child. But as you rescue one baby then you see another, and after a while you are busy picking one baby after another out of the water. Then one of your friends gets out of the water and starts to walk upstream. You shout, “Hey, where are you going? We’ve got all these babies to save.” But she replies, “I’m going upstream to find out who’s throwing babies in the river.”

As retold by Dr Simon Duffy in 'Heading Upstream - Barnsley’s Innovations for Social Justice

The backdrop of austerity is not one that easily fosters a creative mindset, especially after so long a time, during which all the obvious ideas have presented themselves. But the changing needs of ageing populations, the rapid rise of technology, changes in the way we work, impending climate crisis, combined with the ongoing pressure on funding, all demand new ideas and fresh ways of looking at the options.

Thanks to the resilience and energy of local authority innovators we are now seeing a range of emerging ideas for ways in which people’s needs can be met, delivered by different kinds of organisations in new, promising and future-focused ways. Many of these alternative ways of addressing needs - what we call ‘New Operating Models’ - entail local government working together differently either internally, or with external organisations (charities, social enterprises, community groups etc) in new types of relationships.

We’ve observed that those local authorities operating at the forefront of this change are playing a variety of different roles - as incubator, convenor, funder, partner, commissioner etc. The emerging innovations span a wide spectrum - some are creating new models of practice while others are operating at a more macro (social or economic) level.

But the really interesting and potentially game-changing ideas all tend to be working upstream of service delivery to focus instead on creating the conditions from which good outcomes are more likely emerge.

It is these ideas that we want to identify, amplify and accelerate, by bringing together the innovators behind them to support and learn from each other.

Sounds great, how can I find out more?


Jenni Lloyd

Jenni Lloyd

Jenni Lloyd

Programme Manager, Innovation Programmes

Jenni was a Senior Programme Manager, responsible for the development, management and delivery of government innovation programmes.

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Alice Casey

Alice Casey

Alice Casey

Head of New Operating Models

Alice led on a portfolio of work looking at how technology is transforming communities and civic life.

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