Lessons learnt from Changing Lives, Changing Systems report in partnership with Social Finance

On 4th November we hosted an event bringing together over 80 people from across the charitable and public sector with an interest of working in systems change. We shared learnings from the latest report by Social Finance and Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, Changing Lives, Changing Systems: Lessons from Reducing and Preventing Domestic Abuse.

The report, published on 2nd November, shares learning from Drive, a partnership across statutory and voluntary agencies focuses on tackling the abusive behaviour of high harm perpetrators to reduce the risk posed to victims and survivors of domestic violence.

Dan Jones, the report author, shared 12 actionable steps that organisations in any sector can take in effecting systems change. These steps are underpinned by a simple approach that seeks to identify:

  • Why are you doing this work?
  • Who is critical to making change happen?
  • How you can make change happen?

The event included discussions with Ravi Gurumurthy, Chief Executive of Nesta and Danielle Walker Palmer, Director of Friends Provident Foundation. As well as this, those who joined the event convened in groups to talk about the report findings, their reflections on it and how they themselves have engaged in systems change.


Initial reflections

Participants felt the findings presented were useful particularly to see the theory behind the practice of a programme like Drive with observations that it can be useful to step back from frontline delivery to explore why you are doing this work.

Specific ideas highlighted were seen as resonating strongly with some such as the need to shed egos to enable systems change. Participants felt doing this was essential to changing the narrative and growing the number of services and the capacity of the sector to respond to the work.

The importance of people came up regularly in discussions. Accepting that there can sometimes be a mismatch between the way agencies work and the way people want them to work. Organisations need to ensure that the people they seek to support have agency


Participant’s examples of systems change

Many of the participants to the event have themselves been involved in systems change work and shared their own learning and insights. Some commented that communication is really important to make sure that the work is connected to the practitioners and they’re heard at a strategic level. This requires a real understanding and investment on what is needed.

Once legitimacy of programmes has been achieved it can help make the case for collaboration and builds relationships faster.


Responses from service providers

On a similar note, specialist charities delivering these services also felt that they should prioritise the identified problem over a push to deliver differently. Acknowledging that at times this would mean saying ‘no’ to a funder, pushing back and communicating what it is they need and if this doesn’t match funders’ priorities then being willing to take risks and walk away to find the right kind of supporters.

There’s always a worry that funders may not always be interested in funding work like Drive. Linked to this observation is the need for staying focused on the bigger picture rather than just the organisational response or trying to sell the product itself.


Responses from funders

With a few charitable funders in the room we heard their thoughts and questions on how to support this kind of work as a funder. One commented that key is to have internal champions that believe in the work and are willing to back it over the long term and field any push back from others in the organisation.

For others, key is to understand the issue and spot the right idea first, and then fund it. Keeping a focus on the issue can lead to not funding some requests because they don’t solve the identified problem or the change that is needed in the system. This can sometimes mean not being able to fund good projects but focus on the issue should take priority and is what will make a real difference. Linked to this the desire to fund something that can be taken mainstream, particularly when having to negotiate with limited funder resources.

What was identified as critical is the need for funders to give time and resource towards understanding the problem from the perspective of the people most affected by it and not defining it on funders’ terms only. This means funding around problems and issues and not just organisations and interventions.


The conversation does not end here. If you’re interested in learning how you can change the whole system around the problem, you can download the report here. We’d like to hear from others that have been involved in systems change on whether the 12 lessons highlighted resonate and what else can be learned. Join the conversation online using the hashtag #ChangingLivesChangingSystems


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