Innovative Commissioning: working with Age Better in Sheffield

The Beginning

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Age Better in Sheffield is a £6m Big Lottery Fund programme reducing loneliness and isolation with people aged 50+.

Commissioning of big public health initiatives like this is usually led by the local authority or clinical commissioning group, but Age Better in Sheffield is different. The programme is commissioned by the Age Better in Sheffield Core Partnership, a board made up of key players in the city (e.g. representatives from the local authority, clinical commissioning group, university, public health teams etc.) and an equal number of people aged 50+ who have personal experience of loneliness or isolation.

The Age Better in Sheffield Core Partnership wanted to commission the programme differently and they wanted coproduction to be at the heart of their approach.

What We Did

We worked with the Age Better team to use the ‘Collaborative Approach’ to commissioning outlined by TLAP in the commissioning of a series of Innovation Fund projects.

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We started by coproducing commissioning this meant looking through the commissioning process and identifying all the stages where the public, particularly people who might interact with the commissioned services, could input. We carried out extensive engagement work to better understand what individuals and communities wanted and needed to inform services design. We took a scaled approach to ensure we reached diverse audiences;

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We then commissioned coproduction. We supported the Age Better team to make clear in their service specifications that an essential feature of all commissioned services would be that they were coproduced. We worked with the team to determine how they would score and assess the tenders they received, defining the criteria for scoring and assessing applications and the questions for interviewing shortlisted bidders; we placed coproduction at the heart of scoring criteria and interview questions.

Knowing the resource, both financial and time, is often a big barrier to providers being able to coproduce meaningfully we worked with Age Better to design a process that would ensure all providers had the capacity to coproduce well. Here’s how it worked:


As well as receiving seed funding, each provider was also given 1:1 coaching on Design Thinking from a specialist in the field to support them through the process of using customer insights to inform their service model.

 The difference it made

By taking this different approach, we were able to support Age Better in Sheffield to overcome the barriers to coproduction and to ultimately achieve better service offers for their customers, creating services better tailored to community need. Here’s what some of the providers said about the experience:

"We don't ever have the opportunity to develop ideas and then respond to them to develop a better offer based on our findings - this was the first time we have experienced this type of funding in 14 years of delivery."  Luisa Golob (Ignite Imaginations)

"The seed-funding stage empowered us to explore a number of creative methodologies to engage older people in exciting and meaningful ways...we provided ample opportunities for participants to feedback on training materials, training format and other aspects of the project."  Pauline (Lai Yin Association); 

 "The seed fund allowed for extra time to talk to organisations, participants and help to shape what the project could be. The regular reviews with Age Better allowed for an open discussion and feedback on how the project had changed in these 3 months and what participants had suggested… The seed funding stage was crucial in giving a window of opportunity to research and the project." Lee Pearse (Heeley City Farm)

Emma Ward