Lessons about building sustainability into a place-based collective impact model from North Birkenhead Cradle to Career.

A mural on the side of a building depicting the history of Birkenhead. It says Birkenhead was once all birch trees.

When you have successfully built the foundations of your place-based initiative and the capacity for change within your community, it’s time to prioritise sustainability.

Our years of experience learning about and co-facilitating place-based and systems change work has taught us that it’s a long-term process defined by distinct phases of development.

For the “backbone” organisation that is coordinating a new collective impact programme, the first few years of delivery will focus on embedding the model. The graphic below describes those early years where you’ll be building understanding of the place and the challenges, establishing the relationships, structures and capacities to enable impact.

When a programme is embedded, it’s time for a backbone organisation’s role to evolve. To support sustainability beyond the initial funding period, relationships and behaviours must shift, you’ll move from modelling and facilitating place-based change, to building ownership among collective impact collaborators.

An arrow plotting the phases of place-based systems change journey

The North Birkenhead Cradle to Career programme is undergoing this shift, and our 2023 evaluation report — produced with delivery partner Right to Succeed — provides a useful case study.

About Cradle to Career

Cradle to Career is a place-based collective impact programme that brings together residents, local services, professionals, and community leaders to support the children and young people of North Birkenhead, on the Southwest side of the Liverpool City region. It aims to significantly improve literacy standards among children, give families easy access to the support they need, improve quality of life and create new opportunities for local children and young people.

Cradle to Career is pioneering in its application of a collective impact model in the United Kingdom. While collective impact models have been ascendent in North America and Australasia for some time, they are still novel in the UK context, and there’s much to be learned about how to apply the model to British social sector contexts and systems.

In the three years since the model was launched, the programme has become an exemplar of place-based working, demonstrating impressive improvements in student reading age and reductions in young people at risk of being taken into social care (North Birkenhead Cradle to Career Annual Progress Report – Year 3).

Given what we know about the time it takes to even create the conditions for effective place-based working, this change is remarkable.

Between May and September 2023, we worked with delivery partner Right to Succeed to explore the role of governance and capacity building in the North Birkenhead Cradle to Career programme.

We set out to understand whether and in what ways the programme’s governance structures facilitate locally-led decision making, and the role of the programme’s backbone team—staffed in these initial years by Right to Succeed employees—in enabling these structures.

In October 2023, instigated by the Steve Morgan Foundation, and supported by SHINE, UBS Optimus, Bank of America, National Lottery Community Fund, Allen and Overy, Liverpool City Region CA, the 6 local authorities and Place-Based change delivery partner Right to Succeed, the expansion of the model incubated in North Birkenhead across the Liverpool City Region was announced. This represents significant and timely investment in systemic, place-based approaches to social change.

Given this, and the rising profile of place-based change approaches in the UK, we feel it is important to share what we learned during our 2023 evaluation partnership.

What we found

A successfully embedded place-based model…

The social sector partners we interviewed were almost unanimously positive about North Birkenhead Cradle to Career. Our 2023 evaluation presents a picture of a place-based model that has embedded within the community and built collective capacity for change.

  • The programme has broken down siloes to forge new relationships and improve existing relationships among social sector providers in the area. This has both enabled the development of governance structures and enabled shared learning.
  • The backbone team has successfully assembled working groups themed around impact areas, creating the structures for and modelling ways of working that promote effective collaboration.
  • Members of the steering committee that oversees the working groups have learned a lot about what it takes to embed place-based change. They have applied this learning in North Birkenhead, the wider Liverpool City region, and nationwide.
  • Professional development training and additional funding has helped local social sector professionals develop a greater understanding of and self-efficacy around addressing the problems they’re working on collectively.

… which is ready to evolve

‘Our vision is to make the case nationally for greater power to be delegated to communities like North Birkenhead, to enable them to define and deliver the change that is required. As we move forward from the embedding phase, working collectively to explicitly focus on developing a credible, community-led route map will be key to achieving long-term, sustainable impact’.

Stephanie O’Keeffe, Interim Programme Director

North Birkenhead Cradle to Career has successfully established a place-based collective impact model, which means it’s time for the programme to evolve to support sustainability beyond the initial funding period.

The backbone team and other Right to Succeed staff were keenly aware of this need to evolve the programme for sustainability. They understood the wide range of challenges that shifting structures, relationships and ways of working could entail.

In collaboration, we arrived at a core set of priorities for evolving the model and supporting self-sufficient collective working.

  • Establishing what relationships between parts of the local system will need to look like for continued funding and collective working, and how existing relationships might need to change.
  • Defining what successful locally led decision-making means in terms of the roles of governance team members, community partners and local residents – including children and young people.
  • Building visibility into the overarching programme model for community partners and governance team members, helping them to fully own the work.
  • Creating distributed ownership of the work. For example, by supporting working group members to take more responsibility for proactively gathering evidence and presenting potential solutions to shared challenges.

How we can help you improve your place-based impact

Renaisi supports place-based and collective impact initiatives to embed in communities and evolve their approach through learning and evaluation partnership.

Cathy Hearn