Listen and Learn: Uncovering insights from the frontline

Christine Owen

Christine Owen

Christine Owen
Senior Manager
Christine joined the People Powered Results team at Nesta in 2020 to lead the team’s work in Scotland, working closely with the Nesta in Scotland team. There is now a...
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Christine Owens heads up our work in Scotland. Here she shines a light on a new method of curating insights that emerged during the pandemic.


To blether is “to talk or chatter”, a word often used informally in Scotland. A good blether can help us through a tough time, and we have even learned over the past year to blether using technology as we listen to people around us and the experiences, emotions and stories that they share. 

The global pandemic has shone a light on the power of people’s stories.  By talking and listening to people we have learned together about how we have lived and worked differently during this time. Hearing about how other people have coped has helped me to manage better without seeing my friends and family (and more importantly, live and work from home with my lovely teenager!).

The People Powered Results (PPR) team at Nesta believe people closest to issues are the experts but often their experiences aren’t listened to in a meaningful way, which makes it harder for them to influence change. This often results in a disconnect between leaders, policy makers and frontline teams. Assumptions are often made about how policy or process is translating on the ground without much insight of what this looks like practically.  

Listen and Learn

As a team we have always valued the richness of data that can be drawn from people’s individual experiences. Combining different types of data to develop insights, challenge assumptions and shift perceptions are integral to how we work. As we adapted to working differently as a team in March 2020, we began to develop a brand new approach to curating insights.

Our Listen and Learn programmes shape recommendations for the future by supporting systems to explore and understand the world through the perspectives of people delivering and experiencing services. This means strategies and plans of action are developed based on insight and real data. The PPR team are now using this mode of working with organisations across the UK.

Here are two examples to bring this method to life.

Covid-19 – A Local Authority response

Midlothian, in the central belt of Scotland, found itself in the same position as communities across the UK last year, facing an unprecedented challenge of how to respond quickly to a global pandemic with far reaching consequences for people locally.

Responding to this need, we worked in partnership with Midlothian Council, to reflect on what they were experiencing and help shape how they work in the future. Whilst the experience of the pandemic has been incredibly challenging, it has also served as a catalyst for change. Across the local authority staff have rapidly adapted to working completely differently, delivering more services remotely and trying to maintain business as usual while supporting people through the crisis. Midlothian wanted to capture that learning and better understand how it could shape the future.

As this work has evolved, we are now working with the council and local communities to support the co-design of one of their new services and develop their first people powered strategy.

The ethos of this approach is shown in the words of Grace Vickers, Chief Executive of Midlothian Council Scotland:

“Our people are our biggest assets…by listening, learning and utilising the skills and talents of all our individuals we can truly make a difference”

Impact of Covid-19 on how we engage with people

Big Hearts Community Trust is the official charity of Heart of Midlothian Football Club in Scotland, who use the power of football to change the lives of the most vulnerable in their communities. 

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on how Big Hearts deliver and engage with people and has seen them emerge as one of Edinburgh’s key community anchor organisations operating in Edinburgh with strong connections with local communities.

Using our Listen and Learn approach, the PPR team worked with the Big Hearts Leadership Team to inform and shape Big Hearts’ new strategy. This involved speaking to over 200 people from diverse groups of stakeholders, through a detailed survey and virtual workshops.

Big Hearts staff and their board are now looking to develop their future strategy informed by people and co-designed with their staff and board members. Their aspirations are to continue to Listen and Learn from people around them and their stories. Big Hearts General Manager reflects on the PPR Listen and Learn approach:

“For the first time we are talking about things like values, what we’ve become”

People’s stories, how they are listened to and how the richness of that data can be used to empower change is at the heart of our PPR work. We care deeply about supporting people closest to the issues to take action in an increasingly complex world and we’re excited about the opportunities that our new Listen and Learn method brings.


 To find out more about all our new methods, take a look here.

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