A Shift reset: Our renewed focus for the future

Following on from our blog about becoming a self-organising, ‘leaderful’ team, here Louise and Rachel share a glimpse at Shift’s renewed and refreshed focus for the future. Read on to find out about our three best roles, our dream themes for the year ahead, and what’s coming up next for Shift.


Where are we coming from?

For the last couple of years, the Shift team has been on a journey to becoming a flatter, roles-based organisation – something we wrote about here. We’ve been designing the way we work based on three key principles: autonomy, accountability and transparency. It’s been a ride: we’ve enjoyed some highs, navigated some lows, and learned as a team to hold more space for the unknown and the unfamiliar.

Now, we describe ourselves as a ‘self-managing team’, but our journey is far from over. We still want to remove or change our job titles; we’re getting used to new ways of making decisions; we’re constantly checking ourselves that we haven’t accidentally replaced our old hierarchy with new, unequal power dynamics. It’s empowering, energising and enlightening all at once!


Where are we headed?

One thing we know is absolutely fundamental when you let go of hierarchy is having a clear, shared purpose. This is especially important in any period of rapid change – like the coronavirus pandemic, which saw us quickly adapt and expand our work in response to the crisis. So, over the last few months, we’ve been channelling our energy into moving from a Shift with a really broad portfolio of work supporting a huge range of partners, to a neater, focused Shift with a clear vision for how we play our best role(s) and add value in the world.

Here we share our work in progress – it’s something we’re really excited to put in front of our peers and partners, so please do get in touch and let us know what you think.


Our purpose

Shift exists to help charities and purpose-led organisations strengthen and sustain their social impact.

For many knotty, systemic and structural reasons, charities and purpose-led organisations can often find themselves up against barriers to finding focus, being experimental, actively learning and quickly adapting to crisis and change. Already limited resources can go to waste, and potential for impact can be limited. We want to help unlock the power, energy and capacity of people in organisations like this to break through their barriers and maximise their impact.


Our three best roles


01 Making things that work

This is our number one because we believe it’s the best way to create the biggest impact with Shift’s specific skills and strengths. Basically, we really love partnering with social-purpose organisations to make things that work. There’s a lot going on there in a small sentence, so let’s unpack it:

  • By ‘making’, we mean designing, testing, improving and supporting implementation
  • By ‘things’, we mean products, services, programmes and even strategies
  • By ‘that work’, we mean focused on and successful in meeting their intended goals for impact and sustainability
Some examples

We have a wealth of experience making things that work, from our own ventures (creating mental health tech or healthier family food) to myriad projects with our amazing partners. For instance, we’ve especially enjoyed partnering with Centre for Ageing Better to prototype support for over 50s returning to work, and with One Manchester to improve services for their residents receiving Universal Credit.

Methods we use

// hypothesis-driven design // creating value propositions // running experiments // testing assumptions // experience design and blueprinting // prototyping // continuous learning and improvement

In a nutshell: We’ll partner with you to make things that work and help you strengthen your impact.


02 Learning and unearthing

Sometimes it won’t already be clear where to start with making things that work – you may need to unpick a problem to find opportunities for change or improvements, or better understand a bigger system to find the most complementary, impactful role to play. That’s why our second strand of work focuses on learning and unearthing, helping partners build knowledge, find focus and their most strategic opportunities.

Some examples

We recently partnered with Wellcome, Beatfreeks and a team of young people to surface ways in which young people can play a bigger role in health and science research. We also supported NSPCC to create a systems view of the child slavery support and prevention landscape, to produce a set of recommendations for their future activities which went on to be approved by their board.

Methods we use

// user research // systems thinking // landscape mapping // analysis and synthesis // actionable insight // storytelling and advocacy

In a nutshell: We’ll partner with you to explore barriers to impact, find focus and spot opportunities for change.


03 Sustaining impact

We believe it’s no good working together with partners on a great new programme or improving a service if the skills and mindsets needed to keep them going aren’t embedded in the team for the future. That’s why our third strand is all about sustaining impact into the long term, by bolstering partners’ design skills and embedding helpful mindsets like experimentation, learning and adaptability.

Some examples

Shift was part of the Catalyst network, designing a programme of learning and support for organisations looking to improve their digital and design capabilities in response to the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve also recently been working with UK Youth to support and embed their newly-formed Design Team through training, coaching and a tailored learning programme.

Methods we use

// practical training in design thinking, methods and mindsets // design mentoring // coaching for impact

In a nutshell: We’ll partner with you to bolster skills and embed mindsets that help you to sustain your impact.


Four dream themes for the year ahead

Another way we’re finding focus at Shift is bringing our energy to a small number of passion areas, where we have lots of experience, love to work and see huge potential for positive change.

Mental health

We understand this area pretty broadly as there is a huge range of factors that affect people’s mental health, wellbeing and happiness. We’re especially passionate about working in the mental health space to hear voices that aren’t usually heard by those with power, on projects addressing inequity, and on services that take a holistic view – such as helping improve financial wellbeing.

Good work

At the intersection of mental health and financial wellbeing we see big questions about the role of decent, fulfilling work in people’s lives. Given that an average person spends around 85,000 hours over their lifetime working, it’s no wonder we’re a bit obsessed with how to improve people’s experiences and security around finding – and keeping hold of – good work. Recently, we’ve loved working with Centre for Ageing Better and Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing on employability projects, and putting people right at their heart.

Equitable funding

Getting funding for purpose-led work is incredibly hard, and especially so if you’re not someone who usually holds power and privilege. This fact, coupled with Shift’s own hairy experience of raising funding for social ventures, has left us pretty mad about the way that social investment works. So we’re on a mission to change it, through research, learning and – launching soon – a new fund, set up with Big Issue Invest and UnLtd to focus on putting equity back into, well, raising equity (and other types of funding!).


We believe that putting relationships front and centre is fundamental to both good design and sustainable impact. Our flagship programme, the Relationships Project – which is stewarded beautifully and thoughtfully by Immy Robinson and Shift’s co-Chair David Robinson (no relation!) – is helping to build a field around relationship-centred practice.


What’s next for Shift?

  • We’re going to down tools in the first week of April to spend time together as a team to refocus, reset and dream big.
  • We’ll be sharing more about our team of wonderful humans and each of our passions.
  • We’ll be recruiting new talent to join the team! Keep an eye on our newsletter for vacancies.
  • We’ll continue to spend time on learning, asking ourselves: What’s working? What isn’t? How do we want to develop as individuals, as a team, and together with peers and partners?
  • We’ll begin to find our rhythm for iterating and evolving Shift’s focus, thinking about how and when we respond to changing needs and opportunities.
  • And finally, we’ll be doing the work! In our view, this is actually the most exciting part. We’re lucky to be able to partner with some amazing organisations – like Wellcome, Impact on Urban Health and Mind to name just a few – to be designing, making and doing things that have a real impact. It’s a privilege to do this work, and it’s what we all turn up for.


And what’s next for you?

If any of this sang out to you or sparked a moment of “we need to work with Shift!” then we’d love to hear from you. We’re up for talking through examples of our work; how our strengths could complement your own team’s strengths; how we could collaborate with you and your networks; ways to pick apart a brief; or just come together to tackle a tricky problem you’re trying to solve. Get in touch and we’ll set up a chat.

We’d also love your feedback on our future focus, so please do get in touch with your thoughts and reflections.