The Collaborative Change® approach

The concept or theory of Collaborative Change is not only logical and intuitive, but also grounded in a growing evidence base and aligned with priorities across the political landscape. However, to assume that the simplicity of the theory should be necessarily reflected in the practice, would be to ignore decades of policy development and community engagement experience.

Let’s be clear: Collaborative Change doesn’t just happen

We cannot expect to open the doors to participation and expect our communities to come flooding in, ready, willing and able to define their own destiny. Opportunities for meaningful participation need creating, nurturing and managing.

With this in mind, we can delineate both the principles and the process of Collaborative Change and begin to develop an operating framework to manage complexity and guide intervention development.


The Collaborative Change approach is built around 5 basic principles. Although these can be roughly mapped against the process—the series of steps to be taken—each of this principles should be exemplified at every stage of a project.

1. Engage

At a very basic level we must engage with our communities in order to facilitate any sort of participation. However, it is essential that we ensure our engagement approaches are relevant to the community we seek to engage with. We must engage in the context of our community’s existing values and priorities.

The role of social research and reporting is invaluable in this regard. We find ways of connecting the issue we seek to tackle with the values that are already defining that community. We shouldn’t seek to change the values of a community, but find ways of aligning our issue with those values that already exist. In this we ensure we engage citizens with their own issue, rather than with ours.

2. Motivate

Following a host of distinguished behavioural economists, we distinguish between extrinsic and intrinsic motivations and seek to nurture the latter as a key to meaningful participation.

Extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards: “I want to do this because X will give me Z if I do”, the most basic example being financial incentives (see here for further discussion of this thorny issue on this blog).

Whilst such mechanisms have a role to play in some Collaborative Change contexts, we have to question how meaningful the participation will be if is driven by a crude financial transaction.

Intrinsic motivation is driven by values and builds on the engagement principle: “I want to do this because I consider it important, significant, worthwhile…”.

3. Empower

Participation without empowerment will not only result in a stunted project, but it will further reinforce the alienation that some communities feel from mainstream public services.

We have seen how even the most engaged, confident and articulate of us faces fundamental difficulties when it comes to expressing our needs. Working with communities that are alienated from the mainstream, sceptical of establishment and unaccustomed to self-advocating, these fundamental difficulties become intensified further.

We must give careful consideration to what tools we need to develop to support our citizens in understanding and articulating their needs, formulating a response to the challenge and, ultimately, delivering on it themselves within their community.

Again, we must develop these tools with the framework of existing value sets and put them directly to work in the community.

4. Build trust

For participation to be meaningful and sustainable, the citizens involved must have trust in the people and the process. They must feel that their values and their input will be respected and that, ultimately, something will manifest as a result—that the participation will be translated into a tangible benefit for the community that they can recognising as directly resulted from their input.

By approaching citizens as experts of their own experiences and understanding the assets that a community owns in terms of expertise, knowledge and capacity, the role they play in achieving our objectives intrinsically commands respect.

We must make the process as open and transparent as possible from the outset and we must build in feedback and reporting mechanisms to ensure there is clarity on the consequences of each stage of activity.

As the trust builds, the engagement will deepen, the participation becomes more meaningful and the solution more sustainable.

5. Create ownership

Transferring ownership of a solution to the community that has developed it is the ultimate objective of all Collaborative Change approaches. And whilst the degree to which this happens will vary according the parameters of each project—from the realisation that an issue is significant, to the independent delivery of a community service—the principles outlined above keep us constantly moving towards this holy grail of sustainable intervention development.



As we have seen through the 5 principles, an understanding of, and affinity for, the existing values of a community form the foundation for the entire Collaborative Change approach. Informed use of social research methodologies, going beyond traditional self-reporting techniques where possible, gives us an understanding of what defines and motivates a community, generally and with specific reference to our particular issue.


Based on this initial insight we design co-creation activities and workshops, using the 5 principles as a framework.


Working in community settings, we use the co-creation sessions that further deepen insight, introduce specific members of the community and provide the tools to being developing initial prototypes.


The co-creation outputs are analysed and developed into workable prototypes for further exploration. Stakeholders are involved in the refining ideas and ensuring that solutions are practical, deliverable and affordable.


Although we consider all projects to be in a perpetual beta phase—that is constantly, subject to development and refinement in response to live scenarios—the intervention will ‘go live’ in the community at a specific point, following stakeholder and community capacity building and channel priming.

The ‘result’ stage seamlessly encompasses the process and outcome evaluation of the project. Evaluation has to be considered an essential element of any social change process. However, given that the principles and processes of Collaborative Change take many away from the traditional approach to behaviour change, we are constantly developing more innovative, reliable and robust methodologies to track the tangible impacts of our work.


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