Last week over 400 people came together to reimagine leadership in health, at Nesta’s 2019 Future of People Powered Health Summit. It was an action-orientated day that saw people from across and beyond the health system exploring more diverse models of leadership - what they look like and how to put them into practice.
We were joined by national and local decision makers, front line staff, people with lived experience and innovators, all sharing their experience and exploring bold new ideas for a more people powered approach to health.
Here are five things we learned at the event:
Often the first thing people think about when it comes to leadership is to look up at the ‘important’ people at the top of the pyramid. But it’s time to challenge the idea that leadership only exists at the top. With the right support and context, we can all create acts of leadership that bring about meaningful changes to the health and care system.
Through our work at Nesta, we see leaders in all kinds of different places and roles. At the event, we heard from frontline trailblazers and people with lived experience. We also launched a new booklet to celebrate five years of Nesta’s People Powered Results 100 day challenge work, and brought together people who have, through this work, been involved in leading change in faster and more collaborative ways.
Ron Heifetz, a professor of leadership at Harvard has influenced our thinking through his work on ‘adaptive leadership’. A key idea is that leadership is distinct from authority. They often come together, for example, in the form of leaders in senior management positions. But it’s possible to have authority and not lead, and to lead without any formal authority - for example as citizens in a social movement.
We heard about many different examples of leadership that are bubbling up from the frontline and from communities, often driven by people with lived experience. People such as Ebinehita Iyere, who inspired the room by sharing her work building connection, resilience and positive action with young men and women in East London. Ebenhita described how she ‘turns pain into power’, building a sense of community and collaboration, and helping people thrive no matter what life throws at them.
And Sir David Behan, who talked about the importance of empathy and compassion and called on all of us to connect with our personal purpose, to harness (but not control) the many talents of our staff, build collaborative teams and look after our own well being, as we are the most important resource we’ve got in making change.
Technology and data offer a huge opportunity for everyone to be leaders in our own health and care and gain control in a way not previously possible. But if we don’t meaningfully involve the people that the tech is designed for, we run the risk of it not being useful or used.
At the event, we heard how new leadership models are drawing on new sources of data and the experience of local communities and frontline staff to create new solutions. Nesta’s work on collective intelligence is unearthing different ways of opening up leadership using new methods to collect data and build shared understanding across whole systems. We are supporting organisations like Unanimous AI, who use ‘swarm intelligence’ to bring people together in a system, for example with groups of radiologists making collective diagnoses of chest x-rays, reducing diagnostic errors by more than 30 per cent.
Without new perspectives we cannot innovate. We heard how communities across the UK are taking a lead to improve health and shape services in their areas. Vidhya Alakeson from Power to Change introduced us to different models of community leadership, and we heard how places like the Bromley-by-Bow centre in East London are helping to create spaces where communities can come together, build trust and be part of creating new approaches to health and well being.
We also heard from organisations where there are no longer top-down command and control forms of leadership, and what that has meant for how staff are making decisions together with people who use services. Organisations like the Equal Care Co-op, who are building a collaborative platform that is owned by the participants: the givers and users of care. This turns on its head the traditional power dynamic between giver and receiver.
Leadership is hard, especially when you are breaking new ground and innovating. It typically involves challenging the status quo, dealing with uncomfortable truths (your own and others) and moving through them. At the Summit we were inspired by what is possible. Alex Barker inspired us to ‘Be More Pirate’, with courageous leadership emulating the radical strategies of Golden Age pirates. We were challenged to think about what we would be willing to fight for and what rules we want to break, and we worked together to come up with new rules or solutions we want to take back into our work and communities.
It was an inspirational day and a reminder of what’s possible - as summed up by Geoff Mulgan in the famous quote “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”. Thanks to everyone who came for your enthusiastic participation and contribution!