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.

Nesta, Macmillan Cancer Support, the British Heart Foundation and the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change are working together to reimagine the way help is given across our health and wellbeing systems.

Why are we doing this?

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 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 move away from ʻexpertsʼ holding the knowledge and power, and instead draw on people’s own knowledge, relationships, strengths and purpose to determine solutions that work best for them.

We believe there is an opportunity to ‘reimagine help’ 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. This is by no means a new idea, but 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 the 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.

What we are doing?

Nesta, Macmillan Cancer Support, the British Heart Foundation and the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change have worked together to develop a universal model of ‘Good Help’ underpinned by behavioural evidence, which can be understood and accessed by everyone. We analysed and simplified decades of behaviour change research and practice, and worked with a group of 30 practitioners and people with lived experience to iterate and cross-check the behavioural evidence against real life experiences. Dartington Service Design Lab helped to structure and format the evidence in a way that makes it easy for everyone to understand.

Collectively, we have produced a guide which outlines eight characteristics of Good Help, which aims to support practitioners, system leaders (such as service managers, charity directors or commissioners) and any person working in a direct ‘helping’ organisation to:

  • Understand the behaviour change evidence that underpins Good Help
  • Develop new ideas or adapt offers of Good Help, which can be tested out in their own organisations or local communities.

Explore the guide

Reimagining Help

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Eight characteristics of Good Help

Organisations that draw, and build, on the social value of people’s relationships and communities will tap into wider sources of emotional and practical support which cannot be provided by practitioners alone. Explore this section of the guide.

So much of human behaviour is directly triggered by the environments in which people live. Organisations that recognise this and look for ways to adapt environments, can help people to access opportunities and enhance health and wellbeing. Explore this section of the guide.

Organisations that seek to understand what is important to each person are better able to tailor support to help people change the desired behaviour and reach their goals. Explore this section of the guide.

Providing high-quality and easy-to-digest information at the right time helps people to feel in control during challenging times. Timing is everything - the right information at the wrong time can overwhelm people or lead to them avoiding or withdrawing from much-needed support. Explore this section of the guide.

A lack of opportunities for people to acquire new skills can be a major barrier to behaviour change. Organisations that support people to learn and practice new skills will help people be more successful in reaching their goals. Explore this section of the guide.

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

Organisations that focus on recognising and finding ways to celebrate people’s progress and successes (rather than focusing on what is not going well) will reinforce and encourage behaviour change. Explore this section of the guide.

People's behaviour change journeys are rarely linear, and most will experience large and small setbacks along the way. Organisations that recognise this and support people to anticipate and plan for setbacks will encourage long- term success. Explore this section of the guide.

The partnership

Working with Macmillan Cancer Support and the British Heart Foundation offers a unique opportunity to build on their insights, influence and networks, and to help bridge interests so that people with multi-morbidities are also better supported by services, the voluntary sector and their communities.

This work grew out of a decade of work at Nesta, where we have researched, supported and championed the idea of people powered health. As part of this work, we first explored the idea with Osca, the social change agency. This included publishing an earlier report called Good and Bad Help report (2018).

We recognise that attempting to ‘reimagine help’ is a complex challenge. We see this guide as one tool in a process that will require 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 achieve this and adapt the evidence in their local contexts. We would be happy to talk to anyone who is interested in doing this.

To find out more about this programme or to receive a hardcopy of the guide, please email [email protected] or [email protected]

Project partners


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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