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.

Reimagining how to help each other better

Now more than ever, there is a need to help people live well in their homes and communities.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of diversifying sources of help beyond the hospital, and of drawing on support from friends, neighbours, local groups, organisations and charities to ensure people can live healthy lives. We must think more flexibly about what ‘help’ means, and how the right help can make a huge difference.

While medical care is fundamental to saving lives, people need more than a ‘fix’ to live well every day. If we are to support people to reach their goals, we must draw on people’s own knowledge, relationships, strengths and purpose to determine solutions that work best for them.

We must think more flexibly about what help means, and how the right help can make a huge difference.

We believe this process of ‘reimagining help’ can be aided by applying insights from the field of behaviour change research to a wide range of organisations and places – community facilities, local charities and businesses, employment and housing support, as well as health and care services – all of which play a role in supporting people to reach their goals in a way that feels right for them.

Nesta, Macmillan Cancer Support, British Heart Foundation and the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change have therefore worked together to develop a universal model of ‘good help’ which can be applied to any interaction, and understood and accessed by everyone. Framing this model are our eight Characteristics of Good Help, which can be summarised as follows:

Draw and build on the social value of people’s own relationships and communities. This will enable organisations to tap into wider sources of emotional and practical support.

With so much of people’s behaviour directly triggered by their environments, look for ways to adapt those environments to enable access to new opportunities and enhance health and wellbeing.

Understanding what is important to each person will put organisations in a better position to help them change the desired behaviour and reach their goals.

Providing high-quality, easy-to-digest information at the right time helps people to feel in control during challenging times. Timing is everything.

A lack of opportunities for people to acquire new skills can be a major barrier to behaviour change – so support people to learn and practice.

Monitoring how behaviours change over time can help people to understand their patterns of behaviour, feel motivated by progress, predict when things might be getting worse and get support at the right time.

Recognise – and find ways to celebrate – people’s progress and successes, rather than focusing on what is not going well. This will reinforce and encourage behaviour change.

People's behaviour change journeys are rarely linear; most will experience large and small setbacks along the way. Supporting people to anticipate and plan for setbacks will encourage long-term success.

These eight characteristics stem from our analysis (and simplification) of behaviour change research and practice. We then worked with a group of 30 practitioners and people with lived experience to iterate and cross-check the behavioural evidence against real-life experiences. Our resulting guide to reimagining help aims to support practitioners, system leaders (such as service managers, charity directors or commissioners) and any person working in a direct ‘helping’ organisation (i) to understand the behaviour change evidence that underpins 'good help', and (ii) to develop new ideas which can be tested out in their own organisations or local communities.

While this is by no means a new idea, previous policies and programmes that have attempted to spread behavioural principles have struggled to get widespread adoption, because they’ve tended to focus narrowly on certain ‘problems’ (e.g. drinking, smoking and diet) without taking into account wider issues that affect people’s health and wellbeing. Furthermore, the knowledge and skills needed to apply behaviour change practices have been limited to practitioners in particular roles.

Illustration denotes the eight Good Health characteristics

We recognise that attempting to reimagine help is a complex challenge, and regard this guide as just one tool in a process that also requires cultural change, resources and the right system conditions. As a partnership, we have drawn on our combined knowledge and experience to think about how organisations might adapt the evidence in their local contexts – and we would be happy to talk to anyone who is interested in doing this. We also invite anyone using our guide to apply 'good help' principles to share their experiences with us, using the hashtag #ReimaginingHelp.


Esther Flanagan

Esther Flanagan

Esther Flanagan

Senior Programme Manager, Social Health

Esther is a clinical psychologist with an interest in organisational wellbeing and inclusion, digital mental health, behaviour change and coproduction.

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Tara Hackett

Tara Hackett

Tara Hackett

Mission Manager, A Healthy Life

Tara joined Nesta in January 2018 and worked in the social health team on a range of projects.

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Lynne Ruddick

Lynne is a Professional Lead, Health Services Engagement at the British Heart Foundation.