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Reimagining Services: ideas, examples & plans for the future

Eddie @ Reimagining Services

The People’s History Museum in Manchester celebrates the stories of the radical thinkers whose big ideas have shaped our society - which made it an inspirational setting for Nesta’s Reimagining Services event on Tuesday 21st May. This event brought together a diverse group of local government innovators from across the country to explore the ideas behind a programme we plan to launch in the next few weeks. The 'Upstream Collaborative' will support innovative Local Authorities to showcase, accelerate and evaluate new models that work ‘upstream’ of social problems to enable citizens’ needs to be met in empowering and inclusive ways.

As a team we've been discussing and exploring new models for meeting public needs for some time - fed by insights from our work with social innovators and their experiences of trying to work alongside local authorities.

The impacts of austerity are well understood but alongside that we have noticed that some councils appear to be responding in very creative ways and taking a leadership position within their communities to develop strategies for wider social change.

These emerging innovations span a wide spectrum and it can be hard to see the commonalities between them and express how we think they are linked, particularly as some seem to be about innovating on models of practice while others appear to be high level strategic initiatives.

But the really interesting ideas all seem to be working upstream of straight service delivery to focus instead on addressing the underlying problems that cause needs to arise or to reach crisis point. For example, the Wigan Deal uses an informal agreement between the council and everyone who lives or works in Wigan to work together to create a better borough. The way it is being applied in practice has created a whole system reform that uses the new relationship with residents to support individuals, families and communities to reduce demand for services at points of crisis.

The report ‘Heading Upstream - Barnsley's Innovations for Social Justice’ by Dr Simon Duffy of the Centre of Welfare reform helps to make sense of things. The report suggests that many resources get locked up in costly institutions and interventions that are designed to meet needs at points of crisis. It proposes that moving attention and resources upstream will enable the prevention of these crisis points and deliver better value - financially and socially. We realised that the innovations we had been noticing were upstream of traditional service delivery - they were addressing needs in a very different way with the councils behind them having to take on a number of new and different roles.

Despite the number of examples of new models emerging there is currently a lack of:

  • a coherent overall theory for understanding when and how to apply new models, and how specific to an individual place and service area those models are;
  • evidence on the impact of these new models, including the extent to which they are more effective than traditional services at prevention;
  • an understanding of what policy and organisational conditions are needed for new models to work;
  • an environment in which experiments can be run and lessons shared across the sector.

We believe that Nesta can play a valuable part in addressing these issues by bringing together councils from across the country to share their experiences and learn from each other as part of a collaborative network. This network will support participants to adopt alternatives to traditional public service delivery models to head upstream of social issues.

Jenni @Reimagining Services

As there are still so many unknowns - and so much related work by a wide array of interesting people and organisations - we’re proposing that we will treat the first year of the Upstream Collaborative as a pilot or discovery phase. Last week’s event was the first action within the pilot, designed to test our ideas and start to engage with the sector.

Eddie Copeland, Nesta’s Director of Government Innovation, kicked the day off by sharing the context behind the new programme and the thinking that’s shaping it. Much of this is captured in his articles Six alternatives to traditional top down public service delivery and New Operating Models for Local Government - Understanding the Variables. All the slides presented on the day - including those used by our panellists, are available to view here.

This introduction was followed by two panel discussions to help us explore the emergent models in more detail. The first represented those working at both the societal and community levels to create a fairer and more economically just society for their local citizens and stronger and more inclusive communities.

Our three panellists were Derek Whyte, Assistant Chief Exec at Preston City Council; Donna Hall, Chair of NLGN and Kate Ardern, Director of Public Health at Wigan Council. Together the panel explored the Preston Model, a localised approach to building a new economy; the Community Paradigm a vision for a completely new relationship between citizen and state and the Wigan Deal. The conversation touched on far ranging topics but key takeaways were captured on Twitter:

In our second panel we heard from a group of people working on practice innovations that start to highlight the complex and interlinked nature of people’s needs and how different solutions can strengthen community and individual capacity to meet those needs.

Panellists included Brendan Martin, Managing Director of Buurtzorg Britain & Ireland, who talked about how the Buurtzorg model of neighbourhood care has led to better health outcomes at lower cost delivered by happier and more engaged staff. Brendan and his team have been running pilots with the NHS and local authorities and he was able to share insight into the systemic challenges faced when trying to introduce radical new models.

Dan Ebanks is the founder of Social Value Exchange, an online auction that connects local community organisations to the public tendering process, giving them access to the resources that they need to help reduce pressure on local services.

Glyn Meredith of Leonard Cheshire Disability shared how their initiative, Innovation for Active Communities, offers adults receiving direct payments a way to pool their one-to-one support hours. This not only reduces the number of carers needed to support the activities, generating a saving for local authorities but more importantly puts choice and control into the hands of the participants.

Finally, Mark Warr of The National House Project described the challenges facing young care leavers and how their ground-breaking approach enables young people leaving care to achieve successful independence. Each House Project is a small, local business, co-constructed with young people themselves to maximise their ownership. The young people, with adult support, learn to project manage the refurbishment of properties which become their homes.

From the discussions that these stories prompted it’s clear that a shift in the balance of power is a key element binding together the disparate initiatives. There’s a renegotiation of power relationships taking place - whether it’s Preston addressing the UK's economic imbalance between North and South, NLGN reporting of the rise of the community as the key organising principle of our time, Buurtzorg enabling their teams to hold decision-making power at the most local level in service of the patient, or the House Project handing care leavers the power to own their own futures.

After lunch we were able to dig into these topics in more detail as we hosted conversations around four key questions:

  • What does ‘reimagining services’ mean to you?
    • Why do services need to change?
    • What shifts are needed in the system to effect real change?
  • Where are you with this now - what relevant initiatives are you working on now?
    • What stage are they at?
    • How do they relate to the upstream idea?
  • What are your ambitions for your current initiatives?
    • Where are you trying to get to?
    • What change do you hope to see - and for who?
  • What help do you most need to reach your goals?

Conversations@ Reimagining Services
Eddie @ Reimagining Services

We’ll be using the insights gleaned from these conversations to help finalise the new programme before launching it in the coming weeks.

If you’re interested in hearing about it when we launch then please do make sure you’ve signed up to Nesta’s newsletter and have updated your communications preferences. In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions then leave a comment on this post.


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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