Over the last three years, Collaborate and Lankelly Chase have been working together to explore how to create place-based system change to improve outcomes for people with complex needs. Both partners want to support real place-based and systemic change – beyond individual projects, and beyond working with single sectors. Collaborate understands, and can broker and help make progress against these goals in real places. Our work together so far has been based on action research in several places (West Midlands, Greater Manchester, East Anglia) to shape and define the characteristics of place-based system change to improve outcomes for people with multiple and complex needs. We have published two research reports together that explore the behaviours required for system change in public services, Behaving like a System (December 2015), and Building Collaborative Places – Infrastructure for System Change (February 2017).

These reports set out the case for change and outline principles and frameworks to help us frame an approach to place-based change. Since the beginning of this year, the partnership with Lankelly has been about drawing on the Lankelly System Behaviours and Collaborate’s thinking and frameworks to support real system change on the ground in two places.

These two places are the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and Gateshead. Although the context of each place is different, both are interested in (and committed to) not just exploring the social and economic future of the borough, but understanding how services and institutions need to collaborate to respond to the needs of their residents and deliver purposeful place-based change.


All of our work begins with a diagnostic phase. This is a mix of qualitative and quantitative, and it is how we ‘get under the skin of a place’ and seek to uncover challenges, opportunities and tensions. We always endeavour to speak to as many people as possible from across the system (statutory, voluntary, anchor institutions – frontline to Chief Execs). The Lankelly System Behaviours were considered throughout the diagnostic phase in both places. It is this early orientation work that forms the foundation for the next stages of the work.

We have put a lot of value on the co-design of the work in Baking & Dagenham and Gateshead. This is particularly important because of the long-term nature of the partnership, meaning we have the space and opportunity to build deep collaboration and look to achieving real systemic change. We want the partners to feel a sense of ownership and accountability for the work – this will help with the sustainability of the change (well beyond our involvement).

Collaborate know that relationship building is a critical component of place-based change and so we spend a lot of time understanding the human aspects of a place (roles, identity, voice, tensions). This is also about intentionally uncovering the ‘unusual suspects’, or those that don’t always feel they have an ‘equal voice’. We do (and will) work hard to ensure we are engaging with a range of actors from across the system in both places. This is particularly critical when thinking about how to create a system that supports those with multiple and complex needs, because too often their experiences are not heard nor put at the heart of system change.

The bespoke nature of this work means we have yet to identify all the tools and techniques we will draw on. However, we believe they will include:

– Diagnostic (conversations & interviews)
– Focus groups
– Quantitative research
– System mapping
– Shared space & facilitation
– Strategic analysis
– Comparative analysis
– Collaborate frameworks
– Working with Lankelly associates.


– Length of time it will take for change to show vs need for results (particularly among senior leaders)
– Securing buy-in for a long period time from a range of partners
– Emergent nature of the work – not having clarity about next steps vs need for accountability
– Helping people feel a sense of momentum/achievement over a long period of time
– Relationship with client-funder-consultant – ensuring everyone is respectful of one another and understands the different ‘starting positions’
– Starting where people feel comfortable – this might be a few steps back (or forward) from what we anticipated
– Working with partners not just council
– Understand the tensions that existed before we arrived and find a way to work to understand and unpick these in a way that forms sustainable partnerships

Which system behaviour are you focusing on (or which of the system behaviours is the work connecting to at the moment?

There is shared purpose and vision Feedback and collective learning drive adaptation
Power is shared and equality of voice actively promoted
Accountability is mutual


Behaving like a system

Building Collaborative Places

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