Communities Driving Change, a COVID-19 learning approach

Communities Driving Change, a COVID-19 learning approach

A reflective model for COVID-19 recovery

Tower Hamlets Council
April 2019 - July 2020


Communities Driving Change (CDC) is one of the main priorities of the Tower Hamlets Health and Wellbeing Strategy, taking a radical approach to public health. Moving away from top-down models, Tower Hamlets Council aims to work alongside local people to take action for improved health and wellbeing in the borough, supporting resident-led initiatives and helping local services to be more responsive to local health needs.

Commissioned by the Public Health Department at Tower Hamlets Council, CDC is being piloted in 12 neighbourhoods across Tower Hamlets, led by local organisations including The Young Foundation. FutureGov worked in six of these neighbourhoods, supporting 2 organisations: Young Foundation and MyTimeActive. We focused on community engagement, design and systems thinking expertise.


CDC is a new way of supporting communities to thrive. It’s a different type of relationship between institutions and residents, a shift in decision-making power to communities to better guide health and wellbeing priorities. It’s about working in an open way and moving away from more traditional, top down programme delivery models. We’ve been supporting the Young Foundation on two specific aspects over the last two years; systemic approach training and their covid learning approach.

Applying a systemic approach

The Young Foundation wanted to begin to genuinely change the way people work as part of CDC, in every part of the ‘system’. We worked to achieve this by embedding system-thinking within the CDC programme.

We supported those involved in CDC in understanding how collective efforts fit in the wider change by drafting a vision for what an ideal state would look like. We mapped the forces stopping change from happening, which informed extensive engagement and co-delivery with local communities.

Once those involved in CDC had built their understanding of how they might create change, we helped them act in a systemic way. In practice, this meant:

Beyond prototypes, CDC built reflective practice into their work, continuously reviewing whether their interventions were having the desired effect in creating change.

It’s created this mind set of connectedness. Now, in everything we do, we think about how it can be linked up with other things that are going on. It’s about activating new and different systems, bringing in the right stakeholders or services who can get involved and make things operate on a number of different levels

– Laura, CDC team

COVID-19 learning approach

The Young Foundation recognised that moving from a period of immediate COVID-19 response into one of recovery and renewal through CDC would not be a linear process. It will require communities, local partners and the council, to work in adaptive ways to navigate out of the crisis in a way that builds healthier and more resilient communities for the longer term.

Working with The Young Foundation, CDC and their partners, we supported them to reflect on their response so far. The purpose of the work was to develop and support an approach to learning across the Communities Driving Change programme and beyond.

We began by analysing existing insight, collecting and capturing information and understanding the data around the themes of their COVID-19 response. How this worked with residents, across the CDC programme, other community organisations, services and the wider community.

This is an ongoing process of acting, learning and reflecting that will allow for continued working and adapting to understand how partners can play their best role as part of the recovery process.

Some of the roles we identified that CDC has been playing as part of the emergency response


Collaboratively, we designed shared priority actions that will help CDC learn from and guide their COVID-19 recovery for the biggest impact.

Opportunity 1: evolving how CDC is working with communities

In many ways the communities that CDC works with have been reshaped by COVID-19. By changing how the programme supports communities during the crisis and beyond, our recommendations centered around reaching new residents, particularly those who have become more vulnerable or those who are digitally excluded. Adjusting the programme themes to address those changes and developing new platforms that improve digital accessibility and reintroduce face-to-face options.

We’ve also recommended CDC focus on capability-building, particularly coaching and digital skills. And by developing new policies and practices everyone can participate and deliver within CDC safely, all providers and volunteers should be supported with the right training and equipment.

Opportunity 2: building on continuous learning going forward

The pandemic has highlighted that our ability to collectively learn is vital to make sure we can quickly understand people’s changing needs. We should think about learning as a group endeavour, working collaboratively to share data, insights and stories where we can. Working across the programme, there is opportunity to build on continuous learning by making sure that our approach to learning and insight gathering is sensitive and context appropriate, introducing clearly structured forums allowing programme partners to come together to share learning and finding opportunities for more regular feedback between evaluation and delivery.

Opportunity 3: communicate the work

The stories CDC captures and shares about the work are an integral part of how they work, influencing how decisions are made and enabling better collaboration between partners. By developing a plan to strategically communicate with CDC audiences and partners and creating a new way to capture stories on a regular basis, the programme can capture and share stories with people in a more strategic way for greater impact.

From our working session, we’ve recommended CDC:

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