• Hebe Foster

Telescope: One Year On

One year ago, on 30th July 2019, Telescope was officially born.

Ruth, Sarah and I had joined Year Here, the London-based social innovation programme, from different countries, with different backgrounds and for different reasons.

Ruth had spent her career working in policy, including for Parliament, listening to passionate, motivated policymakers as they lamented how little connection they felt with people - and feeling that same frustration herself.

Sarah’s experience working alongside brilliant colleagues at charities and voluntary & community sector organisations showed her the creativity and valuable insights of those delivering frontline services - insights that were nonetheless not being heard in Whitehall.

And I’d joined from finance, disillusioned by the city, wanting to know more about London, about social injustice, and about myself. I wanted to learn from those wonderful frontline workers with years of experience, and a broad, deep understanding of the social problems we are facing in the UK.

Over the course of the programme, we worked our way through diverse frontline placements in health, education, community & housing inequality, and environment, and tackled meaty consulting projects for the NHS and the Mayor’s Office in London. We saw that frontline/policy dichotomy time and time again. Both sides are consistently doing the best they can to tackle complex social challenges, but they’re working within a siloed system that is no longer fit for purpose.

We wanted to find a way to bridge that divide and find ways for people serving in government to work more closely with those serving on the frontline. And so we founded Telescope.

What we do

Telescope connects policymakers and frontline staff to build empathy, tools and collaboration. Our programmes encourage a more inclusive and empathetic approach to shaping policy, supporting participants to generate bold, innovative ideas as we #buildbackbetter.

We run in-person intensives and online programmes combining workplace shadowing, coaching skills, systems mapping and design thinking tools to spark true connection & generate creative ideas.

Our progress

In the last year, it’s brought us such joy to help build connections and spark ideas among the government and frontline changemakers in our society. We love seeing the benefits for policymakers of learning about challenges on the ground first hand, and the empowerment that comes from expert frontline service staff knowing that their voice is being heard.

“It’s about inspiring people to be together in making decisions. Policymakers can learn from us frontline staff, and we can learn from policymakers.” -- Sarah, Connect participant, justice sector, 2020

With the support of the Year Here Incubator programme (July - Aug 2020) and more than £4,000 raised through crowdfunding, we kicked off our work in summer 2019. Since then, we’ve run seven pilots of our in-person programme, and several focus groups and prototypes to finesse the learning experience. We focused on refugee rights and health in the first few months, working with amazing charities Age UK, Housing Justice, Time & Talents and Glass Door Homeless Charity to build our programme design.

We realised through our conversations that both policy & frontline groups needed three things: stronger connections, clearer insights, and better toolkits. So we developed a five-part in-person programme, taking inspiration from organisations like Collaborate CIC and Lankelly Chase.

Pivoting in a crisis

When the pandemic hit, our in-person programmes became impossible. At the same time, it was clear from speaking with the Telescope community that now more than ever, frontline workers and local & central government need to work together to share information and find smart ways to serve and support our communities.

Many services have been forced to close their doors and have had to quickly find ways to support people remotely, while our health services across the board are operating at maximum capacity. Meanwhile, policymakers across government are working at pace to make informed and effective choices in a rapidly changing situation, but lack meaningful access to the perspective from the frontline.

So we pivoted our activities online, launching our new Connect programme - a peer-to-peer coaching programme based on the same Telescope principles of collaboration and insights-sharing. Despite never meeting in person, our first programme participants have been able to build a strong connection and now have a series of concrete next steps to take forward. They also loved the experience.

“This was insightful, helpful and inspiring - really grateful to the Telescope team!”

-- Tom, Connect participant, justice sector, 2020

Where next?

Looking forward, we're thinking deeply about how we want to help shape the new normal. The last five months have been turbulent in many ways, exposing inequalities in our society which represent no less "wicked" problems than they did before. So there are a few strands of work we're exploring to be as constructive as possible.

We're expanding our programmes to find ways to include the voices of those with lived experience of social challenges, where appropriate.. We were delighted to work with Power With during the States of Change Learning Festival to bring in the voices of those with lived experience of homelessness (read our blog about that session here).

We are also excited to have appointed an advisory board consisting of seven brilliant individuals with diverse skills and expertise to help us grow our social enterprise - meet them here.

We're building robust anti-racist commitments into our work, both within the organisation and as individuals. You can find out more about this here.

And soon, we'll be publishing our first annual report, outlining our values, objectives, and impact in the last year.

“Covid has shown the real need for partnership working, especially with health. Hopefully this kind of working will be a positive legacy of the crisis.”

-- Jenna, Voices for Change workshop participant, June 2020

Seeing our participants learn and connect, like Jenna above, still brings us joy and motivates us. We keep doing what we’re doing because we believe strongly that empathy powers meaningful change. If you’d like to find out more, to partner with us or to explore our bespoke & regular programmes, get in touch by emailing or visit our website.

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