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.

A Catalyst for Change

In March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic required local authorities to rapidly refocus on public health. In response to this, we pivoted our research approach, working with the Upstream Collaborative to map the ways in which they were responding to the crisis and explore the implications of COVID-19 on their ways of working.

For the past decade, councils have been adopting new operating models that reflect a shift away from a conception of local government as a delivery system, and towards one which sees government as a key player in a local system that creates the conditions for people and place to flourish.

COVID-19 has greatly accelerated the shift towards new operating models, demonstrating the potential of working in this way. To respond to the crisis at speed while dealing with increased pressures on public services, local authorities had to change the way they operate:

  • A shared sense of purpose emerged, one which encouraged staff to come together to pursue the same goal without other competing priorities.
  • Some existing processes and behaviours had to scale back to allow for new, more agile ways of working to emerge.
  • Collaboration between local authorities, other public sector bodies, citizens and the voluntary and private sectors flourished.
  • Councils shared more decision-making power and lent more trust to citizens and communities.
  • More power was distributed within councils with staff to deliver on their shared purpose.

As councils move out of the crisis towards the recovery stage of the COVID-19 response, their ability to hold on to these changes is dependent on their capacity to overcome upcoming challenges. This includes financial difficulties, the pull towards reverting back to business-as-usual and the challenges communities will face in the years to come.

To conclude the research, this paper sets out an optimistic vision for the 10-year trajectory of local government in the aftermath of this crisis. It explores three scenarios that bring together the learnings that emerged from the first six months of the pandemic and the trends that will shape the future of public services.

Explore the New Operating Models Handbook

Go back


Codrina Cretu

Codrina Cretu

Codrina Cretu

Mission Manager, sustainable future mission

Codrina is mission manager for the sustainable future mission.

View profile