Finding the energy: propelling people through change and beyond

Active Gloucestershire is an active partnership who reinvented their strategy and re-routed to impact through a social movement known as we can move.

Practical Governance has worked alongside the leadership team for more than three years to help embed an inclusive approach to governance and to support a bold shift in strategy. We talked to CEO Tom Beasley to find out more about their journey developing a theory of change and a resilient plan.

Cultivating change

Active Gloucestershire had been supporting the delivery of sport at club-level in the county since 2010. During this time outgoing CEO, Deborah Potts, had built a strong understanding of what the opportunities were, what the organisation could do differently and what was right for Gloucestershire.

The Active Gloucestershire leadership team knew there were gaps in the communities taking-up sport. In order to engage and inspire those groups wider societal change was required. This meant moving outside of their comfort zone of talking about ‘sport’ and towards a more inclusive approach discussing physical activity in a meaningful way for individuals. They knew that this level of cultural and behavioural change required a social movement, and so the nucleus of we can move had taken shape.

Its purpose was to change mindsets and remove barriers: we can move was becoming an enabler of physical activities rather than a facilitator. we can move was encouraging people to co-create opportunities where diverse and disparate groups could reimagine physical activity in ways that worked for them.

Active Gloucestershire

Fast forward to 2021 and the organisation required a new energy to propel it forward. Incoming CEO, Tom Beasely continued a close relationship with Practical Governance as a key supporter of this transformation. 

Tom recalls a shift in understanding of what physical activity meant to the organisation. “We used to see physical activity as an input where to get people active you created something that got people more active. However, physical activity rates can be an indicator of how well connected a community is and what resources are available.” In identifying this insight, the team could delve deeper into making participation and access to sport more equitable and inclusive across communities.

Tom went on to explain: “If there is low employment, lack of disposable income and communities where people struggle to feed their families it’s not surprising that people aren’t thinking about doing ‘Couch to 5k’. So, physical activity is also an output, a socioeconomic indicator, of how well a place is doing.” 

This example is indicative of a new dawn at Active Gloucestershire – a theory of change that involved moving toward a systems-thinking approach. It was a time of navigating through complexities and ensuring that all stakeholders were aligned. The board became more diverse as did their connections to the wider network, and teams had to learn about managing complexity within a large ecosystem where one seemingly disconnected element has a knock-on effect to another. The leadership team developed a closer working relationship where strategies were developed and implemented iteratively. 

Embracing this theory of change and shifting to a culture of systems-thinking has meant a period of adjustment for staff who felt more comfortable with a more settled and predictable approach.

As the transformation was being implemented across the organisation, board roles, staff roles and responsibilities needed to evolve, as did the leadership styles of the Board and Management team to coach, support and reassure individuals and partners. Throughout this process strong, transformative leadership set the stage for forthcoming change.

Moving forward

The concept for we can move was to inspire physical activity, whatever that meant to individuals. But now Active Gloucestershire needed to work out how to affect societal, cultural and behavioural change, whilst effectively communicating the vision to stakeholders. A shift took place where the leadership team realised that this didn’t need to all be fulfilled by Active Gloucestershire. This led to the creation of system leaders across the network, who introduced behavioural change throughout the ecosystem, coached individuals, supported existing and new community organisations to explore what most fundamentally mattered to them. 

With the assistance of Practical Governance “we created our values and now they’re so well embedded that there have been a couple of times recently where our Management Team have called me out on something I’ve said” remarked Tom. Living and breathing the values of the movement has been a hallmark of effective leadership and efficient teams – where individuals have autonomy to collaborate as they see fit within a set of shared values and towards a common purpose. 

The team at Active Gloucestershire learned that complex outcomes require a shift away from conventional measures of success. Recent achievements have included:

  • Strengthening links between schools, county commissioners, district leads and voluntary community organisations to engage children in physical activities,
  • Developing a highly engaged network of community leaders that steadily grew the movement’s reach of participants and introduced new stakeholders,
  • Enabling tens of thousands of inactive people to become physically active by taking up activities they are passionate about through a network of initiatives,
  • Helping to secure a legacy of ‘play nurture’ within the county’s schools.

In the near future, the management team is planning an event for cross-network partners where they will share stories, talk about their successes and bring people together across the movement to share learnings and to support and inspire one other.

Learnings

Tom shared with us a few key learnings from his journey: 

Embrace uncertainty
Mistakes will happen and so by adopting a more experiential ‘test-and-learn’ approach mishaps are embraced as learning opportunities. 

Change stems from leadership
Leadership must model the way by displaying the behaviours and attitudes they want to establish across the wider network.

Network engagement is key
The network of funders, partners and community leaders is paramount in the journey. By listening to feedback from and working alongside all stakeholders Active Gloucestershire have been able to contribute to a more rigorous and resilient ecosystem. 

Have confidence!
Whilst there might be some gaps in knowledge it doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong track, a little bit of confidence goes a long way.

Cath Harris

View posts by Cath Harris
Cath is an ethical consultant, marketing strategist and charity trustee. She is passionate about sustainability, purpose-led organisations and women's economic equity.