The People-Powered Shift

This report outlines, through examples and evidence, how public services can be organised around our compassion, connection and collective power to address the challenges we face as a society, through COVID-19 and beyond.

Over the last 10 years, Nesta has been working to make the case for a radical shift in the relationship between citizen and state, redistributing power and plugging citizens back into our places, institutions, public services and democracies. Not only will this shift better address some of the complex challenges we currently face, but it will also enable citizens to lead healthier, happier lives. This is because the challenges we face as a society, from loneliness and isolation, living well with long term health conditions, or enabling young people to thrive, cannot be solved by simple top-down solutions. Instead, they need to draw from our individual strengths and assets, supported by our social connections and community, and combined with the resources, expertise and infrastructure of the state. 

Through a series of programmes, we have researched, grant-financed and supported hundreds of people-powered innovations that put compassion, connection and collective power at their heart.

116

innovations backed through the Centre for Social Action innovation funds.

£21.8m+

funding to test and scale innovations.

100,000

people have helped 665,000 people within communities.

This paper builds on learnings from these innovations, uncovering how this people-powered shift is happening, what this can achieve, and what needs to be done to accelerate this in the coming years, particularly in light of the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. From the experiences of the innovations we have backed, it outlines eight people-powered shifts and five recommendations to enable us to respond, recover and renew in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and unlock the compassion, connection and power of individuals and communities, enabling healthier, happier lives.

Key findings

Eight shifts are needed to take forward the next stage of people-powered public services:

  1. A new understanding of collective power as one that, when shared and combined, can enable new, more and bigger change to happen.
  2. Changing public service culture and mindsets that reframe the role of citizens and communities and start with their assets, power and potential.
  3. Moving to new models of commissioning, away from procurement and towards meaningful participation and co-design with citizens and civil society.
  4. Making the creation and nurturing of social connections and relationships an organising principles for public services.
  5. Encouraging all forms of participation and collective action (not just volunteering) and lowering barriers to participation to enable millions of different small and big positive actions everyday.
  6. Creating a systemic shift in how we evidence and value people-powered approaches - changing what gets measured and valued, and developing new and more participatory approaches to generating evidence.
  7. Greater investment in the conditions and capabilities for people power to support new ideas and ways of working with citizens, communities, and civil society.
  8. Realising the neighbourhood as the key unit of change and adopting a more holistic, place-based approach to working with citizens and communities.

Authors

Carrie Deacon

Carrie Deacon

Carrie Deacon

Head of Social Action Innovation

Carrie was Head of Social Action Innovation at Nesta, leading our work on social action and people-powered public services.

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Will Bibby

Will Bibby

Will Bibby

Senior Programme Manager, Government Innovation

Will was a Senior Programme Manager working on Nesta's people-powered public services and education programmes.

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Sarah Mcloughlin

Sarah Mcloughlin

Sarah Mcloughlin

Senior Programme Manager

Sarah was a Senior Programme Manager.

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Annette Holman

Annette Holman

Annette Holman

Programme Manager, Government Innovation Team

Annette worked in the Government Innovation Team at Nesta focusing on social action priorities, specifically on the Connected Communites and Second Half Fund.

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Belinda Moreau-Jones

Belinda Moreau-Jones

Belinda Moreau-Jones

Programme Manager, Government Innovation

Belinda was a Programme Manager in the Government Innovation Team and worked on Nesta's social action and people-powered public services programmes.

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Khyati Modgil

Khyati Modgil

Khyati Modgil

Programme Manager, Government Innovation

Khyati was a Programme Manager in Nesta's Government and Community Innovation team. She is interested in democracy. civic participation and nurturing inclusive organisational cultures.

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