Please note that applications have now closed.

The Upstream Collaborative is a supported network for Local Government innovators. There may be small onward grants to accelerate or evidence your work but this is not primarily a funding programme. We will cover travel and accommodation expenses where appropriate.

The Upstream Collaborative is a network to support Local Government innovators to share, accelerate and evaluate new operating models that work upstream of social problems, creating the conditions from which good outcomes are more likely emerge.

Nesta will facilitate the network over a period of 12 months by hosting events, gathering and publishing insight and creating tools that advance and promote the Network’s work. We will host two, expenses paid, two-day residentials for two people to attend from each council. We will also offer resources, including consultancy support and a small experimentation fund from which small grants (£10-20k each) can be requested to help a few network members progress experiments that provide evidence, demonstrate replicability or help evaluation in a way which will benefit the wider group.

Applications from third sector organisations as lead organisations will not be considered, although we welcome partnerships which include third sector organisations.

"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 aging 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.

Alternative models are starting to emerge, spanning a wide spectrum - from new models of practice to higher level social and economic initiatives. Preston City Council are democratising their local economy through community wealth building initiatives, Barnsley Council are working with citizens to reinvent service provision, Plymouth City Council’s approach to social enterprises has lead to the formation of a community owned energy company, in Wigan they’re radically re-imagining the relationship between citizen and state.

Many of these alternative ways of addressing needs - what we call ‘New Operating Models’ entail local authorities creating or working with different types of organisation (e.g. cooperatives) and groups of people (e.g. volunteers); moving from centralised and hierarchical structures to more distributed or horizontal ones (e.g. platform models for social care); redistributing power (e.g. Buurtzorg’s self-managing frontline teams) and playing different roles from their usual functions as service deliverer and commissioner, instead acting as (for example) convenor, matchmaker or incentiviser (see Essex County Council’s use of Challenge prizes). These commonalities are explored in more depth in this article.

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.

The network is only open to local authorities in the UK. But we will consider District, County, City Councils, Combined and Unitary Authorities. We are looking for a good regional distribution representing urban, rural and coastal areas.

We expect that applicants will be informed by Monday 19 August.

The call for ideas will close at 12pm Monday 15 July.

Yes. You can put forward an initiative at a very early stage. However, as the Collaborative will be based on learning from active projects, only those that have been approved internally and have assigned budget and resources can be selected.

We are interested in initiatives that move attention and resources upstream of service delivery to focus on creating the conditions for better outcomes for and with communities. This is an emerging field and examples could be in any service area or at a more macro social or economic level. We want to hear from Local Authorities who are experimenting with models that may include but are not limited to:

  • Models that redefine the purpose and role of a local authority by, for example:
    • Re-imagining the relationship between citizen and council.
    • Shifting the council’s role to, for example, convenor, matchmaker, incentiviser, etc.
    • Taking the lead within an ecosystem of statutory and non-statutory partners, including citizens and communities.
    • Enabling an ecosystem of innovators.
  • Models that effect economic democracy and justice by, for example:
    • Growing alternative models of economic governance which give citizens greater investment in and control over their economic future.
    • Helping citizens assume ownership of common assets and decision-making processes.
  • Models that enable radical restructuring by, for example:
    • Devolving power through changing organisational structures and culture.
    • Reshaping the system to centre on the needs of the service user.
  • Models that devolve power to communities by, for example:
    • Mobilising communities in the cause of prevention.
    • Enabling citizens to shape policy and services.

Key dates

  • Deadline for registering your interest: 12pm on Monday 15 July. Share details of your team and initiative via the online form
  • Telephone interviews with shortlisted councils: Monday 22 July - Friday 26 July 2019
  • Confirm network members by Monday 19 August
  • First Upstream Collaborative residential: October 2019

Next steps