Greater Manchester’s GoodLives journey

Communities at the core

With GoodLives GM, Greater Manchester

Uniquely, Innovation Unit helps places and partners solve today’s urgent problems and grow sustainable solutions for the future – building a safe and credible pathway between the two.

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Across Greater Manchester, through exciting community-led innovations, people are working together to ensure that everyone in their communities can live a good life.

Elephants Trail, celebrated in The Guardian for its brilliant work, helping people facing multiple disadvantage to recover and participate fully in their communities, and GM Moving, which helps communities to get physically active, are just two examples. 

“The Elephants Trail is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It has given me a real sense of purpose … I’m starting to feel like I have a voice and a little power in my community”

“Park football was a huge success! … One of the mum’s told me on week 5 that the improvement she has seen in her daughter’s confidence over the 5 week period had been ‘phenomenal’”

Both demonstrate new ways that public services, the voluntary sector, and communities can work together to address deep and enduring inequalities.

However, innovations like these remain firmly outside the mainstream in Greater Manchester, despite demonstrating the difference they are making in people’s lives. 

Why, even when community-led innovations have positive impact, is it so hard to sustain and move them into the mainstream of public and voluntary services?

Together with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), we have been exploring this challenge, surfacing and learning how to tackle the barriers that prevent community-led innovation moving into the mainstream. 

What is GoodLives GM?

As GoodLives GM, our aim is to help reduce inequalities, by removing barriers to community-led innovation in Greater Manchester.

GoodLives GM was codesigned with a wide range of stakeholders in 2022 and prototyped during 2023. It is facilitated by Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Innovation Unit and steered by voluntary, community, and public sector organisations across Greater Manchester.

Together we have surfaced barriers to innovation that will be familiar to everyone working in public services: from governance and decision-making that happens a long way from residents’ day-to-day lives; to short-term voluntary and community sector funding that leaves local organisations insecure. 

GoodLives GM has four, interconnected offers:GoodLives GM has four, interconnected offers: Programme Design, System Leadership Development, Movement Building and System Learning

  1. Programme design working alongside teams to anticipate barriers to community-led innovation, and help them to overcome these.
  2. System Leadership Development supporting leaders to learn together how to identify and tackle barriers to community-led innovation they encounter in their work.
  3. Movement Building making connections, helping people to find the allies they need to tackle barriers together.
  4. System Learning generating learning across all workstreams to influence strategy and decision-making

In 2023 GoodLives GM worked with over 400 leaders to learn how to tackle the big barriers to community-led innovation in GM. These leaders came from all 10 Local Authorities, NHS GM, GMCA, schools and Further Education colleges, police, probation, fire, housing and the Violence Reduction Unit. It was not hard to recruit people to the cause. All have their own stories of the GoodLives GM barriers to innovation – and all have begun to find new confidence and capability in tackling them together. 

“In this room, there are no hierarchies and no roles. There are just people exploring together what it's going to take to shift the system. It's giving me real energy to go back into my work.”

Empowering leaders through GoodLives GM

Early in 2023, GoodLives GM convened an Action Learning Set (ALS) for six senior system leaders across GM. They worked together to name and tackle the system barriers they frequently encounter.  

Reviewing the impact of their participation after almost a year, members recognised the power of the ALS to create a “massively helpful” and “much-needed collaborative space for deep reflection and joint problem-solving”. They said that being part of the ALS was a “privilege” and created a “rare opportunity to hear individual stories, and explore shared values and challenges with honesty and candour.” 

Perhaps most poignantly, members of the ALS talked about feeling “a greater sense of hope” as a result of their participation.

This group helped to design the GoodLives GM Leadership Collaborative for leaders tackling barriers to community-led innovation at all levels, and in all sectors across Greater Manchester. GoodLives GM prototyped this for the first time in Summer 2023.

Prototyping a new kind of leadership development

In the first prototype, 18 participants from health and social care, local authorities, community and voluntary organisations, and the Combined Authority worked with experienced Innovation Unit coaches to:

  • Identify the system barrier(s) they must tackle to advance their work
  • Deliver a cross-sector, real-world experiment to tackle that barrier
  • Share real-time learning in coaching groups, workshops, and webinars

Their real-world experiments tackled questions like:

  • How can we move beyond protecting the sovereignty of single organisations, to grow the joint leadership and practice we need to care for residents?
  • Are more empathetic teams likely to design and deliver more equitable policy, strategy and services?

Participants found this work both challenging and rewarding. They consistently reported feeling:

  • a sense of renewed possibility, purpose, and focus; 
  • relief at the opportunity to connect with others, in contrast to prior feelings of deep isolation; and
  • inspired by working in cross-sector teams, who in turn were energised by hope and refreshed relationships.


“The spaces that were held truly helped me top up my energy bank and lean into the hard issues when otherwise, it can become incredibly deflating and lonely. I can’t thank you enough.” Participant GLGM Leadership Collaborative

GoodLives GM Leadership Collaborative – the future

We are currently running a second cohort of 45 participants, funded by NHS GM and GM Moving, in recognition of the value of the work to their organisations.

Cohort three of 75 participants has secured funding from Fire, Probation and GMCA.

Tackling the barriers to community-led innovation may sound technical, and a bit dry – but for the GM leaders bumping up against these barriers every day, the permission to name them, and the practical and moral support to overcome them, has been personally liberating and transformative for their work.

“Good Lives GM provides a framework, the knowledge, and creates the networks to turn this quiet appetite for innovation into real confidence to innovate and ultimately needed change for communities.” Participant GLGM Leadership Collaborative

Over the course of this year, we will be gathering data on the ultimate impact of this work on residents – and the contribution of GoodLives GM to tackling inequalities in Greater Manchester.

We’d be delighted to connect you to the people we have helped to make a difference.

Explore our impact