'Navigators' and 'system change brokers'

Please note; we are in the midst of a thorough re-construction of these pages. For the moment, there may be some duplication of material from elsewhere; and probably some broken links. Bear with us. Its a lot to cover......

In 2013, a major UK national charitable funder, The Big Lottery, which has an increasingly useful role in finding experimental approaches, announced a multi-million pound programme, the Fulfilling Lives' 'Complex needs' programme, to promote and fund innovative attempts at 'system change'.   One such approach was the creation of local 'system brokers'.

'System brokers', or 'navigators', will work both within a service, and in the gaps between services.  According to how the brokerage is set up, they may either themselves work as, or oversee the work of a small team, who are each tasked with assisting and 'navigating' a caseload of clients with multiple complex needs through the various pathways in the local services eco-system.

But the brokers' key role, in addition, is informing and promoting change within that system itself, where it is found, from direct experience, to be necessary. They have an explicit mandate to inform the system's commissioners on where there are systemic gaps that will need systemic change.


In the Library we now have a video of an interview with Alex Smith and Ray Middleton, system change brokers in the Newcastle and Gateshead project, where they outline the approach.

See also the two recent Lankelly Chase reports on the need for, and the pre-conditions for, whole system thinking, and system change.


The key to this role is that there is in principle an ambition locally to create a comprehensive 'system', with 'buy in' from the major agencies that need to work together, and that are committed to discovering where change needs to happen, in their own area, by learning from frontline staff.

Without this commitment to person-centred action learning, at system level, the learning in the system tends instead to be filtered through internal institutional process, that tend to confirm rather than adapt the status quo, leaving the individual worker - the 'street level bureaucrat", struggling to reconcile society's  fragmented and contested priorities.

One of the aspirations - but so far un-tested - for the PIE Abacus software is that it may provide a more systematic channel by which the experiences of lone workers on gaps and barriers, pooled in their frontline teams' assessments, can then be communicated directly to local commissioners.


NB: Another of the Fulfilling Lives pilots involves testing out the Housing First approach in the UK context; and Housing First, which calls for a radical simplification of the multiple pathways from the street to independent housing, is thus in itself an "off the peg" systemic change approach. Another approach is radical budgetary devolution, in the form of Housing and/or Recovery Vouchers, that the individual can spend as they chose.


Further background reading/listening/viewing

PIElink pages

A PIE of pathways : HERE

Spaces of opportunity : HERE

Gaps and barriers : HERE

Whole systems and systemic change, : HERE

Whole systems evaluation : HERE


Recommended viewing

System change brokers" : an interview with Alex Smith and Ray Middleton : HERE 

An introduction to the Stoke on Trent Multi-agency Resolution Group in : HERE


Library items

'Reaching out: an action plan on social inclusion' (UK Cabinet Office) : HERE

'Learning from the history of the CPA' : HERE 

'Conflict, ambivalence and contested purpose'  : HERE

'Theory of Change: a summary': from Lankelly Chase : HERE 

'On Behaving Like a System' from Lankelly Chase : HERE 

'10 Strategies to End Chronic Homelessness' United State Interagency Council on Homelessness*   : HERE

'Exploring effective systems responses to homelessness': Naomi Nichols & Carrie Doberstein (for The Homeless Hub) : HERE

'Do 'complex needs need 'complex needs services'? Part Two'   Robin Johnson : HERE 

Big Lottery Fulfilling Lives' Complex needs' programme : HERE 



(*NB: the details here are US-centred, but the overall approach is relevant elsewhere)