Supporting families better by investing in community assets & local leadership

Thriving Communities

With Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire, UK

When people are given the power to shape a vision for their community, and the resources to make it happen, they grasp it. But when we talk about public services, this kind of agency is rarely part of the equation. In Derbyshire the local authority is taking a different approach. Traditionally in the role of public service provider, they are fundamentally reshaping their relationship with citizens and creating genuine collaboration. They are shifting away from ‘services’ that react at times of crises, to models which focus on prevention and empower communities to act.

The problem

£37m a year

spent on public services in Cotmanhay for 3,000 families

¼ of households

in Derbyshire live in poverty

50% of children

permanently excluded from school in England come from a family categorised as at-risk

The most expensive way to provide care for those in need is to wait until crisis point. Yet in the wake of limited funding and rising demand for care, it has become commonplace for many on the frontline of public service. Many recognise that this is neither sustainable nor desirable, and does little to channel the aspirations of collective society.

The Thriving Communities initiative emerged from a desire to better understand the needs of communities, and to radically improve support for the most vulnerable families who suffer from multiple disadvantages; financial crisis, long term unemployment, family breakdown and poor physical and mental health. Leaders in the Council acknowledged that previous attempts to do this had relied on traditional service models and that this wasn’t working; costs were going up, outcomes were going down, discontent between service providers and those in need was growing, and all the while the time and money needed to shift to a more preventative model was being redirected. It was time for a rethink.

From the outset the ambition was therefore clear, Derbyshire County Council wanted to fundamentally reshape its relationship with the citizens it supports by offering a genuine invitation of collaboration to shift the focus from reactive treatment to a preventative and empowering model of service that could drive real devolution.

“Unless we get people thinking differently, we can do whatever we want in terms of learning, but it won’t embed or flourish. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Senior Leader

Our Impact

5 local Thriving Communities Teams

devolving power across Derbyshire & working in partnership with their communities

The groundwork for Thriving Communities was twofold. Firstly, it was important to understanding why people and communities continued to struggle despite increasing intensity and cost of support for those most in need. Through a series of workshops and ethnographies involving families, front line staff and wider stakeholders, in a range of local areas, it was possible to map both the wider system of support used by families, and to identify how and when services are used. It helped uncover the root problems within the current system, and enabled staff to work alongside families in determining what success means for them; developing personalised and effective support, driven by their aspirations.

“From powerful family ties, to a strong desire to contribute to the wellbeing of others, our communities and citizens are already doing amazing things for their families and each other.” Sarah Eaton

Female writing in food diary on floor of living room Elderly lady being given a cup of tea in the garden Young man and baby taking a walk in the park

Secondly, it became clear that for real change to be rooted in the community, and for that to move beyond good will and rhetoric, the weight of decision making and responsibility had to be shifted not just from national government to local government, but to real devolution right down to local leadership and community organisations. Working in five local areas, we helped the local council collaborate with communities and local people to develop a range of prototype projects. In the Cotmanhay hub this was multi-agency, personalised coaching support for families with complex needs, and in Gamesley a way of getting people back into employment.

In each area local area organisational leaders and active members of the local community came together with public services teams, from housing to youth offending, to create local Thriving Communities Teams. These teams were responsible for genuine, local leadership that would both respond to the individual challenges that each area faced and create a shared vision of people’s aspirations for themselves and their community.

Thriving Communities is about igniting whole system change – using the ingredients for change that already lay within the community and the council’s capacity to transform, rather than create anew, support that really works for everyone. Our role has been to help draw out the evidence needed to ground this vision in reality, whilst building the council’s capacity to embed human-centred design and innovation at the heart of the process.

Thriving Communities is now one of the main priorities for Derbyshire County Council, and work has begun to roll out the aspiration led, design focused approach across the county.