Starting from people: using user journeys to develop systems change.

7 min readJan 15, 2023

I've written before about how we move from behaviour change to systems change and how you can create that movement through the lens of a 15-minute neighbourhood.

When I worked on an organisational transformation programme, I wanted to ground it in impact on the ground and, therefore, in people's lives rather than only in service improvement. So I helped select a neighbourhood to test based on need, the opportunity for change and the readiness of partners in that area.

1. Grounding organisational transformation at a neighbourhood level

That neighbourhood was Southall in West London, one of the most diverse in the country; I knew that instead of mobilising the whole community to build cohesion generically, we would need to identify an issue that could rally to avoid trying to boil the ocean.

The fantastic thing about Southall is that it's so diverse; it's got all of these challenges and opportunities. What I love about the neighbourhood is that people love getting together to help others and improve their community. How could you help make the best use of that to make it easier for people to get active and help others, their friends, colleagues, neighbours, and relatives?

We worked with the people and organisations that make up Southall to understand how we can embed physical activity into people's everyday lives.

It was about practical activities like walking to work, school or the local shops. It was about being able to cycle to get to the nearest train station so they could get to work. It was about helping them learn new skills, like for newly arrived communities learning English through playing football with their neighbours. It was also about helping them connect with others around shared interests, like growing or making food, walking dogs in the park or helping repaint their local community group. Literally and metaphorically, getting active isn't just a one-off walk; it is a journey.

2. Starting with people's everyday needs as a way to get people fit and active

Working with Uscreates (now part of FutureGov), we worked with partners to carry out an individual & collective assessment of our ability to drive change, helping us identify what will be the key factors that help us overcome organisational silos & barriers:

  • readiness of practitioners to work with other organisations & residents
  • level of influence of residents on the commissioning & delivery of services
  • the ability of practitioners to adapt services & activities around residents
  • the power of residents to drive change themselves
  • confidence & motivation of practitioners in working collaboratively

We set out the values that frame how we will overcome these. We then helped turn this into something tangible by developing their agreed-upon governance structure.

What we helped the partners surface is that to make behaviour change the norm, we needed to ensure that we allow residents to meet their basic needs and fit the change into their daily lives. That's why we started with the issues that people want us to tackle, but making sure the ways we do that help people build their confidence & ability to be more resourceful and connected.

Through this mobilisation, we secured significant external investment from Sport England and in-kind support, such as through the Mayor of London's Civic Innovation Challenge, as well as leveraging other assets to test the approach in another neighbourhood through TFL's Liveable Neighbourhood programme.

During the discovery phase, because we were starting from people's everyday needs to see how to help people get fit and active, we tested out experiments that, on the face of it, had nothing to do with physical activity — like peer-to-peer support for people in crisis, increased community connections for newly arrived teenage and female migrants. Still, these experiments helped me understand how to include physical activity as a lever.

Southall Programme — YouTube

We leveraged capacity to stretch the sector's performance, such as a service design agency and a university for their expertise in service design & data science, a local community alliance for their local connections, and housing associations for their expertise in helping startups develop business models.

What did I learn?

The key ingredient to developing this programme was

  • Developing an understanding of the different factors, capabilities & partners and how they influence each other and the steps needed to create change across a whole area
  • Considering the capabilities across a system from leader to the frontline to resident and linking impact at an individual resident level in terms of their needs, motivations & behaviours and collective impact at a local level
  • Identifying who the partners needed and their reasons & & skills and being able to test their organisation's commitment to being able to take risks
  • Bringing together partners providing standard services that could be better coordinated or brought together across strategic strands
  • Working with different services & partners to develop business models that make the project self-sustaining

Through developing this bid, we have learnt that in a neighbourhood as diverse as Southall and in a partnership as diverse as ours, it is essential to value different forms of collaborative leadership that work best in particular situations or dynamics.

3. Making the change stick right from the start

We then incentivised whole-systems change by commissioning interventions proposed by practitioners & residents working together in Communities of Practice that build on:

  • insights on the motivations, assets, needs & opportunities for change of not just residents but practitioners too
  • commitments in money or in-kind by partners to support the testing of these

We tried to help practitioners develop their collaborative leadership by tackling issues, testing, learning & scaling interventions together around each of the work packages & specific challenges.

Supported through skills development throughout the commissioning process, the interventions or activities developed not only meet need & demand but are also testing sustainability from the start — both in terms of impact on inactive residents and finances. Where there are existing activities that we surfaced that are effective in helping inactive residents, the process helped them adapt and scale.

Testing the financial sustainability of the programme to create a culture of neighbourhood investment

As well as enabling people to make their activities self-sustaining, we tested the programme's financial sustainability right from the start to create a culture of people & organisations investing in the neighbourhood, not just money but time, space, skills & people. We brought together commissioners of services, investors, employers, organisations & crowdfunding platforms to test business ​models for the programme and activities commissioned through it and individual partner organisations, building on our collective experience.

Discovering the Unseen (

How do we mobilise people around shared outcomes? (




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese