Connecting the pioneers of future public services through the Upstream Collaborative

2 Aug 2019 12:52 PM

An exciting new partnership between Nesta and Collaborate

The future is local: we at Collaborate would argue that the most pioneering and significant innovations in UK government over the past 5 years or so have been in local government and local public services. As we have written elsewhere, we think this is because leaders in local places have looked over the austerity precipice, taken a deep breath and acted with the courage and conviction borne of their intrinsic motivation to do the right thing for local people, however tough the circumstances.

But this work is not easy. It requires people to challenge long held assumptions and beliefs about how change happens. It requires us to learn new behaviours and change cultures. It requires us to to test new ways of working, learn and adapt quickly. We have observed repeatedly how exposed individuals leading this work can sometimes be within their organisations (indeed some of us have experienced this in previous local government roles).

One of the most frustrating things for us, as people who want to support this kind of work, is that in the main, people and places are doing this work alone. They may know something about some of the higher profile examples, and have a sense that others could be trying similar things, or working with similar ideas. But in most cases, they are overwhelmingly focused on the local system, organisation, leaders, drivers and context, without much time or opportunity to look outwards at what other places are doing. And the opportunities are limited: local government is not rich in learning spaces for the people leading the work on the ground to come together to connect directly,

We think this means we are also missing the opportunity to identify what the connections are between the initiatives being developed in different places. What is it that connects the innovations in public service design and delivery, culture change, new social contracts, community wealth building and more that local places are pioneering? What can we learn from them that could help the sector more broadly? And if we connected the people leading this work in the places, what could they learn from each other that might support their work? If we are all to build a movement for change in local public services rather than support isolated examples of innovation, then we need to do more.

This is why Collaborate is delighted to be entering into a new partnership with Nesta to co-design and co-deliver the Upstream Collaborative, a new network of around 20 local authorities working at the leading edge of public services today. In different ways and through different projects, they are seeking to get upstream of demand for services, create places where people can thrive, respond to people’s needs in more human ways and work in new ways with local communities and partners. (Members of the network will be announced in August after an open application process).

Together with Nesta, we will create spaces for them to come together to learn from each other (the first will be a residential in the autumn), and help people to form mini-collaboratives to explore or work on specific issues that they are interested in together. There is also access to a small pot of funding for places, or groups of places, to use to support their work further. We will work with these places initially in an exploratory phase through to next spring, with the aim of continuing to develop the Collaborative beyond that point. Nesta and Collaborate will share what we learn as we go, with the aim of highlighting some of the core themes, insights, and models at play in these initiates in ways that are helpful for other places and all of us who want to help create future public services, today.

The Collaborate team are very excited about this opportunity to bring to life something we have believed is needed within the sector for some time, and to learn from places we do not yet know, as well as some we know well. This is an opportunity to build the movement for change in local public services, as well as to support the pioneering places and people who are leading the change on the ground. Watch this space!

For more information on Collaborate CIC, please email or visit

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