Harnessing the power of the relationships, resources and trust that exist in communities, the U.K.-based, independent charity, NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) is increasing citizen engagement in public health services by creating and delivering services "with users rather than for them." Dubbed co-production, the goal is to tap into underutilized resources and connections by encouraging service users to help shape the services they rely on. The result is healthier, more connected communities and an increased efficiency in the delivery of public services.

Through its People Powered Health program, NESTA has brought together 20 new public programs aimed at helping a variety of people including students, elders, people living with long-term illness, those suffering from mental illness, people with disabilities, people in recovery, returning prisoners and more.

Below are five of the programs that illustrate the potential of peer-to-peer networks to enhance the health and well-being of communities from NESTA's recently published, People Powered Healthcare Co-production Catalogue, which documents a total of 20 programs.

Families and Schools Together (FAST)
With a goal of building relationships across families, schools and communities, FAST is a flexible, family-oriented program focused on assisting at-risk children to achieve the “best life chances possible.” A two-stage program, FAST initially relies on a team of professionals (social workers, nurses, teachers, community leaders) to pool their resources and experience during an eight-week, multi-family intensive to put a plan in place for the participants. During the second stage, the professionals back away and the program becomes participant-led, allowing for a network of peer-to-peer support that focuses on reciprocity, skill-building, communication and experiential learning.

Homeless Health Peer Advocacy (HHPA) Drawing on the experience of people who have previously been homeless to assist those who are currently homeless, HHPA uses a “peer approach” to improve access to health services. Through a training and mentoring program, “health advocates” become resources for homeless people by helping them to identify and find appropriate health providers. The advocates also provide healthcare workers with valuable insights into the challenges that face the homeless population.

Service User Network (SUN)
A support network developed by and for people with longstanding emotional and behavioral problems, SUN aims to connect people with shared experiences in an effort to decrease isolation, provide mutual support and encourage the sharing of skills and coping techniques. Going beyond the idea of support groups, SUN is shaped and continually re-designed by its members and all members play a role in delivering care in times of crisis.

KeyRing Living Support
KeyRing is a series of local networks designed to support “vulnerable adults.” Each network is made up of nine adult members and one volunteer, all living independently within a 10-15 minute walk of each others. The idea is to help people to stay in their homes by drawing on the strength of a networked community to help with tasks both large and small. It may be one member helping another to organize bill payments, or it may be the entire network showing up to help clean up after a disaster, as happened in 2008 when one member’s home was flooded.

Local Area Coordination (LAC)
LAC assists people with disabilities by supporting them to live the lives that they envision for themselves. Rather than defining people by their needs, LAC assigns Coordinators who assist individuals and their families in developing their own capabilities by tapping into local networks, assets and resources. By having a Coordinator who acts as an ally and centerpiece, resources can be more efficiently located and shared and the development of a wider community of support and community can emerge.

Cat Johnson


Cat Johnson | |

Cat Johnson is a content strategist and teacher helping community builders create strong brands. A longtime writer, marketing pro and coworking leader, Cat is the founder of Coworking Convos and