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Collaborative change in public services

“We need to make deliberate choices now that channel the energy and possibility revealed by the Covid-19 response, learning, identifying and amplifying activities that demonstrate new ways of working and making choices today that are designed to move the needle for tomorrow. This is about setting a direction of travel and signalling intent in the face of uncertainty, rather than simply facilitating a return to how things were before.”

The words above are from the latest in our COVID-19 series of blogs in which we have sought to understand, describe and provide practical ideas about the opportunity facing all of us involved in public services and social change today.

We are pleased to now be translating this thinking into practice, working with a number of places and organisations who want to lean from the response and use the crisis as an opportunity to shape a different way forward. 

Below are a few examples of the work we will be supporting over the next few months.


System-wide public service reform with West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA)
We are delighted to have won the opportunity to work with the WMCA Public Service Reform Directorate to explore how public services have changed in response to the pandemic and help to design and transition to a ‘new normal’. We will be engaging widely with stakeholders from across public services, exploring themes such as how services have collaborated, the new freedoms that allowed innovation, the changing role of frontline workers, the future of system leadership post-crisis and other emerging ideas for reimagination and rebuilding.

Place-based working in Oldham
We have recently begun new work in Oldham, working with the service design agency Snook to develop the borough’s approach to place-based working. The work was tendered before COVID-19 hit and - as with so much - this has changed fundamentally the context for the work. As local partners across the country have found, the COVID-19 response has accelerated learning and practice related to collaborative working in places, and shown the new possibilities of virtual integration alongside more traditional approaches to integration based on shared physical spaces. Oldham is keen to build on this progress, and the momentum towards place-based working resulting from the response. 

This is very positive but, at the same time, another legacy of COVID-19 will be the dramatic squeeze on local authority budgets, following on from a decade of austerity. Place-based working can provide an alternative to cutting frontline services: mobilising new social resources through a richer relationship with residents and communities, reducing duplication through integrated support, and maintaining a focus on prevention to build more resilient communities. The challenge of the project is to help Oldham consolidate what was learned through the COVID-19 response, and to take a collective step to deepen the maturity of its ground-breaking place-based approach. 

Place-based change in Barnet
We have recently begun the next stage of our work with London Borough of Barnet, helping to develop a new place-based plan that is owned by all local partners, and supporting the council and the third sector to forge a new relationship that builds on the collaboration that accelerated during the COVID-19 response. 

The future of local government with Nesta and the Upstream Collaborative
The work of the Upstream Collaborative, a group of 20 local authorities that have been collaborating to understand and amplify new approaches to public services, is entering its final stages. In partnership with Nesta, we are compiling learning from a year of exploration and collaboration and will be co-publishing a series of papers in September, including one which will set out learning from COVID-19 through research undertaken with members throughout the crisis. We have co-authored the cover paper that sets out key insights about the future of local public services, and also written more practical papers on new approaches to risk that will help innovation to flourish, and ways for pioneers to move innovation from the margins to the mainstream of public services.

As ever, we will share the learning from this work as we go. If you think we can help you build a more collaborative approach to social change and public services, get in touch!

Anna and the Collaborate team



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