A fresh approach to leadership allowed local pilot forums to work together strategically and collectively, finding a way to give voices to the people who could drive real change.
Learning from initial approaches
The local pilot forums were originally set up around two and a half years ago to create a space for those working on the local pilot in Greater Manchester. ‘It was such a new way of working, we identified quite early on that we needed a space for pilot colleagues to come together and share what was happening in their localities. Originally we called them ‘implementation groups’ and they were more of a way to share information and check how others were getting on – like a progress update between colleagues – quite traditional and driven from the central GM team ,’ Nicole explains.
Understanding leadership to encourage change
The concept of what it means to be a leader is crucial to understand what drove the changes to the forums. ‘Everyone is a leader when it comes to physical activity in Greater Manchester – we’re not just talking about traditional managers in suits and ties,’ explains Nicole. ‘Everyone has expertise and adds value to our collective cause: to get 75% of people in GM active.’
‘Strategic leadership is about people in a position of influence or power creating a space for the people doing the work on the ground to make decisions about physical activity,’ Nicole explains. ‘We know that system change cannot occur if led by one person or organisation, therefore collective or distributed leadership is needed.’
It was this understanding that led the system to recognise that empowering people to have their voices heard would promote positive changes and encourage collective leadership. ‘They are the people who interact with local people and communities on a daily basis, so they know what matters to them better than anyone else in the system. With shared ownership the people best placed to make decisions can have greater impact on real people.’
Collaboration between localities
This strategic leadership approach in turn enabled collective leadership, which allows the system to instigate even greater changes to promote active lives. Understanding the importance of strategic leadership to enable collective leadership led to the forum format being tweaked to allow localities to take charge of agendas and chair meetings themselves. ‘The forums had been very much led from the central GM team,’ Nicole says. ‘But a co-production meeting with local leads told us they felt the forums were a bit hierarchical and didn’t always reflect the things they we’re seeing and hearing in their localities.’
As the strategic leads in this space, the central GM team took the opportunity to create a space where localities felt comfortable being leaders. An open environment, where people from all ten pilots bring along the challenges they have in a particular area, and the group offer solutions based on their own experiences. ‘Of course, to ensure key information is shared, we still need to take some ownership,’ continues Nicole. ‘But we’ve changed the format of the forums. Each month a different borough chairs the meeting, taking the lead on the agenda and choosing the topic to share. This could be anything, from how to build successful relationships across communities or the impact of Covid-19 on health inequalities in our communities. What matters is that it’s an issue affecting real people.’
A fresh approach for wider reach
The change in both strategic and collective leadership has seen a real increase in forum engagement. Attendee numbers have risen, and across a broader range of roles. ‘There’s no longer simply a representative from every pilot across Greater Manchester,’ Nicole says. ‘There’s a wider spread of people, from local authorities and the voluntary sector to colleagues from leisure and work and health, so we have a further reach to share the message about physical activity. While increased numbers are great, the most important thing is we’re beginning to see a wider range people stepping into view and sharing their knowledge.’
This approach has also started to be replicated in localities own steering groups. ‘I think it’s a real indication of the success of the change that localities are recognising the importance to creating a space that enables leadership in their own networks.’
Nicole credits this engagement as a direct result of collaborative leadership. ‘Inviting people into the space and getting individuals together who wouldn’t normally connect gives us expertise and a chance to share learnings across, and between, sectors. This is such an important learning for us, and really eye opening. We wouldn’t have seen this feedback and engagement in the space 12 months ago.’
‘Using the space to give everyone a voice is what drives true system change,’ Nicole concludes. ‘Leadership is not about seniority. It’s about understanding who can make a real difference, knowing their influence will promote active lives, and making sure their voices are heard.’
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A new campaign is launching across Greater Manchester to help people think differently about being active, and help to demonstrate the little ways that we can all find opportunities to build movement into our everyday routines.
Across Greater Manchester, partners are working together to develop an inclusive, whole system approach to enable active lives for all, as set out in the new GM Moving in Action strategy.