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How do you transform a complex mental health system? Let’s start with the basics.

Over the past four years, we’ve been creating new systems of community mental health in Living Well sites across the UK - and now we want to share our learning about how our partners have transformed systems for the benefit of thousands of people.

In a series of blogs we’ll bring to life what we’ve learned from Living Well UK so we can develop and extend a national dialogue around the UK’s mental health systems and what it might take to transform them.

In this, our first blog, we’ll highlight what you can look forward to reading over the next few months.

Our story is human, messy and complex.

Inspired by a model developed by the Innovation Unit in partnership with Lambeth, South London, Living Well sites have been designing, testing and learning new ways to build different and better systems of support, thanks to funding from The National Lottery Community Fund.

Together our partners in mental health trusts, voluntary and community services, local authorities and - most importantly - people with lived experience of mental health, have shared an ambition to transform systems, not simply improve them so they realise greater impact in people’s lives.

Our ambition is challenging. Why? Because mental health systems are complex. Unlike a complicated machine that is made up of predictable and visible parts that we can control and manipulate to increase the impact they produce, mental health systems are made up of people. It’s their relationships which create the impact.

Transforming such a complex system becomes a dynamic and fragile process, easily foiled. Yet change is both possible and rewarding. And so, as we enter our fourth year, we want to share the insight, unearthed by the people and places working to “unstick” systems and imagine new possibilities.

Our blog series will unpack the how of system transformation, grounded in stories of people making real change, people with lived experience of receiving and providing support for mental health; be they peer support workers, voluntary sector practitioners or commissioners. From imagination, to power, practice, outcomes, complex leadership, failure, and meaning making: the story we are telling is human, messy and complex.

What we’ll be sharing

  1. In our first blog of the series, we will examine some of the emerging impact that our pioneering Living Well sites are having on people’s lives and share analysis of what we have learnt about how this has happened.

  2. We will go on to explore imagination: what it is, how it is as much a resource for change as it is for maintaining things as they are, and how when collectively mobilised it can “unstick” inhibitive ways of thinking and doing.

  3. We go on to explore the human experience of transformation, recognising that systems are people and relationships, and change is hard.

  4. We will talk about co-production, and what it means to share power, reconfigure permission and autonomy, and democratise systems to hold them to account.

  5. We will explore why practice and prototyping is at the heart of Living Well systems. That innovation is a system that continues to test, learn and evolve to the needs of people.

  6. We will ask the question: how do we really know we are getting it right? We will explore outcomes, measurement and quality and who gets to decide how a system is performing

  7. We will unpack leadership and governance of complex change, and how to build capacity for adaptive leadership and greater distributed ownership

  8. We will examine failure; surfacing the dominant mindsets that lead to risk averse ways of working and exploring what it might mean to create cultures and processes that ensure we draw on failure as a resource for learning and development..

  9. In our final blog of the series, we explore public narrative, storytelling & meaning making; the why of the change. How might communities own the what and the how of transformation, and bring people together to make sense of what's going on?

This is a ‘living’ programme, where an increasing number of people and places across the UK are being inspired and influenced by Living Well ideas and ways of working. At Living Well UK, we are here to help support this growing movement. So, please follow this blog series and share the ideas, questions and challenges it raises in your local places and organisations. If they resonate with you, reach out and contact us to help you turn these conversations into action -

Watch this space for the chance to register your interest in joining our National Collaborative event in Spring 2022.


Living Well Systems UK is a programme from Innovation Unit whose mission is to grow and scale the boldest and best innovations that deliver long-term impact for people, address persistent inequalities, and transform the systems that surround them.


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