Starting from people: using user journeys to develop systems change

7 min readJul 2, 2021


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 neighbourhood to build cohesion generically, we would need to identify an issue that could mobilise, to avoid trying to boil the ocean.

The amazing thing about Southall is that it’s so diverse, it’s got all of these challenges and opportunities. What I loved 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 get active, their friends, their colleagues, their neighbours, their 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 very 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 can 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 other people around common interests, like growing or making food, walking dogs in the park or helping repaint your 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 commissioning & delivery of services
  • the ability of practitioners to adapt services & activities around residents
  • the ability 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 through developing a governance structure they agreed to.

What we helped the partners surface is that to make behaviour change the norm, we needed to ensure that we help residents 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 Mayor of London’s Civic Innovation Challenge, as well as leveraging in other investment to test out 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 actually 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, but these experiments helped understand how to include physical activity as a lever.

Southall Programme — YouTube

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

What did I learn?

The key ingredients to developing this programme were

  • Developing an understanding of the different factors, capabilities & partners and how they influence each other and the steps needed to develop 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 were the partners needed and their motivations & & skills and being able to test their organisation’s commitment to being able to take risks
  • Bringing together partners providing common 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 important 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 to develop their collaborative leadership together through tackling issues, testing, learning & scaling interventions together around each of the work packages & specific challenges.

Supported through skills development throughout the commissioning process so the interventions or activities developed not only meet need & demand but is also testing sustainability from the start — both in terms of impact on inactive residents and financial. 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 financial sustainability of the programme 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, activities commissioned through it and for 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