Our approach


We work with teams of practitioners across the local authorities to create a culture for change by prioritising the voice of practitioners and unlocking their potential

We enable them to make the small changes they see day-to-day that could make a big difference to the time they spend with children and families. Small changes are those within the local authority’s scope of influence that could change now without any changes to national regulation or legislation, such as streamlining processes or making changes to how a duty system works.

Term Definition Example
Small change Small changes occupy the space between making no change and full system change. They are experiments, based on ideas that come from the ground up, about how to do things differently, to enable more time to be spent with children and families, and are changes that are manageable and achievable. Social workers shared that they would often have to wait hours for senior manager authorization to access a food voucher for a family. This created a lot of frustration, stress and pressure for practitioners. This was voiced and managers changed the process allowing social workers ownership over the vouchers. This eliminated the difficulties and saved time being spent on waiting for approval.

We build on small changes and what we learn to co-design a different way of working alongside social workers and leaders. This involves designing and implementing a local blueprint for wider change; to create a system that allows more time to be spent with children and families and enables practitioners to do their best work.

Term Definition
Local blueprint The local blueprint is a dynamic plan for learning and experimentation, outlining changes to structures, processes and cultures that are needed to create the enabling conditions for continuous learning with practitioners around these experiments.

As part of our initial scoping of partner local authorities we identify partners that are:

  • enthusiastic about the potential for direct social work practice to bring about positive change for children, young people and families;
  • in agreement that the current social work system is not always working as it should;
  • willing to listen meaningfully to staff about what is getting in the way of them doing their best work.

(Step 1) Ambition-setting

As part of our initial scoping of partner local authorities we identify partners that are:

  • enthusiastic about the potential for direct social work practice to bring about positive change for children, young people and families;
  • in agreement that the current social work system is not always working as it should;
  • willing to listen meaningfully to staff about what is getting in the way of them doing their best work.

With a partner in place we identify specific teams to take part in the programme. We meet with the supervisors from those teams to build relationships and to help them explain the project to their teams. We hold launch events to introduce ourselves to the teams, and in our first workshop we define the values and behaviours that everyone wants to commit to bringing throughout the lifespan of the project. Since our approach depends partially on initiating cultural change within local authorities, we believe it’s important to start with these foundations; the values we bring to work inform how we interact with one another and thus, the working culture of our service

We then define the vision for the system – asking practitioners and leaders what values and principles they think should be at the heart of children’s social care. We then understand the barriers to working in this way.

ambition setting

(Step 2) Making small changes

In the second phase of our programme we start with the ‘Small Changes Inspiration Programme’. This is a programme made up of three workshops that enable practitioners to identify and make small changes that begin to tackle some of the barriers in the way of achieving their vision for children’s social care. At the heart of the programme is Crescendo’s four-step model for creating small changes: Mission, Develop, Influence, Grow

We first encourage teams to focus on ‘Mission’ where they are guided to decide on the mission strands for their small changes. Mission strands arise through an interrogation of the barriers that stand in the way of the vision, theming and prioritising to give focus for the small changes. For example, if there are a range of barriers relating to communication within a local authority, the mission strand could be “Investing in positive and constructive feedback”.

The teams then develop a range of small changes designed to address their mission strands, before prioritising and creating action plans. The action plans provide a series of questions to consider next steps:

  • Why is this small change necessary and how will it enable better relationships with children and families?
  • What does success look like for this small change?
  • What steps will you take to implement the small change?
  • How will you track progress and hold one another accountable?

For it to be most impactful the teams consider who the key stakeholders are and how to influence them. Together we consider who in the system needs to be on board to incorporate or facilitate the small change. As the teams learn more about their service through the attempted delivery of their small changes, they grow as leaders and change-makers, as does the local authority’s capacity for change. The small changes approach enables teams to learn more about their service, facilitating bigger system change through the creation of a local blueprint.

small changes

(Step 3) Co-designing a local blueprint

After 16 weeks of supporting practitioners and leaders to make small changes, we bring them together to sensemake around their experience of making changes in their local authority context. Doing so helps them collectively to understand the system they work within and discover both the barriers and enablers to allow practitioners more time to be spent building relationships with young people and families. Crescendo then support the practitioners and leaders in each local authority to create a plan for change – ‘a local blueprint’. This local blueprint identifies a series of ‘pillars’ – areas of the service which could be reformed to better support practitioners to work effectively. We break these pillars down into a series of experiments and recommend that the local authority trial them to overcome systemic barriers and establish enabling conditions for continuous learning. Here, we draw from the Human Learning Systems (HLS) approach to public management; a strategy for delivering public services that prioritises relationship-building and continuous testing and learning as an alternative to the traditional ‘managers, markets and metrics’ approach to reform. We believe our method of co-producing small change cycles and a local blueprint stays true to the core component of HLS – the establishment of continuous learning cycles, particularly for those on the front lines of a service – but tailored to a children’s social care context.


(Step 4) Embedding a culture of listening, testing and learning

Throughout the Crescendo approach, we support each local authority to develop a culture of listening, testing and learning within their organisation. This culture is developed across three stages, each of which embeds a familiarity with and aptitude for innovation and evaluation within the workforce:

  • Making small changes: Teams design small-scale innovative improvements to their service and ways of working, to better align social care practice with their vision for the sector. We encourage teams to investigate the implementation and success of these measures and use those learnings to inform the future cycles of small changes and the development of the local blueprint.
  • Co-designing a local blueprint: Each blueprint consists of a series of ‘pillars’ – areas of the service that can be reformed and that have been uncovered through the small changes phase of work. Here leaders and social workers collaborate to think about what is needed to affect change.
  • Developing formal avenues for developing and implementing change: We encourage teams to create spaces where staff from across the local authority can discuss areas of their service that aren’t working as they should and which prevent them from doing their best work. These spaces maintain the momentum for the Crescendo approach to change, long after we have ended our formal partnership with the local authority.

Our overall approach to affecting system-wide change through the development of a culture of testing and learning can be summarised as the following process:

diagram four