Case study: theory of change in Norfolk


Norfolk is a large rural county covering a land area of over 2,000 square miles. It has a small number of large urban settlements, where just over half of its 900,000 (approx.) residents live, while most of the county comprises sparsely populated rural areas: its land area is around 93% rural. This mix of densely populated urban settlements and large rural areas creates a unique challenge to serving Norfolk’s residents.

Early in 2022, Norfolk County Council completed a feasibility study on potential family hub development. This included an assessment of the local system, a population needs assessment and extensive user research, including over 50 hours of recorded conversation, as well as observational insight. This provided the foundation for its theory of change, which was developed from two separate workshops held with system partners.

What happened?

Norfolk values the insights given by families, practitioners and stakeholders and was of the view that these needed to be included throughout the family hub development process. The council achieved great participation at both workshops, with representations from those supporting young people and families across the system. This included representatives from Public Health, Children’s Services, SEN Support (including the virtual school), the local integrated care board and the local integrated care partnership, midwifery, GP practices, commissioned providers such as Cambridge Community Services, which operates the Norfolk Healthy Child Programme, and Action for Children, which operates Norfolk’s Early Childhood and Family Service, district councils, the voluntary sector, and parent and carer groups.

Norfolk held two virtual workshops to develop its theory of change.

The first workshop gave an overview of what had already happened in Norfolk, including the outcomes of and recommendations from the feasibility study. It also outlined the Family Hub and Start for Life programme. This provided a good starting point for co-producing a theory of change.

Stakeholders identified how they might need to change their ways of working to meet system needs rather than individual service needs and agreed there needed to be greater collaboration. In addition, challenges were discussed and three key risks were identified:

  • Staffing. There were worries about recruitment, retention and having specialist staff. Stakeholders discussed plans for growing talent in Norfolk, for example, through supporting volunteers into employment and using some of the transformation funding for workforce development.
  • Joined-up messaging. Historically, families had sometimes been given mixed messages about services and what was on offer. To mitigate this, there was a commitment to consistent, co-produced communication.
  • Buildings. There may not always be a physical space for families to access. It was agreed that the model would be based on the best way to reach families, including through outreach, such as through the use of local community venues.

The output of the first workshop was a clear consensus for change based on needs and current gaps, opportunities and capacity to adapt, and what participants wanted to achieve (outcomes) and for whom.

The second workshop built on the first and moved towards creating a theory of change for Norfolk. In breakout rooms, the groups discussed the key outcomes they wanted to achieve for children and families, and what would need to happen to achieve those outcomes. This included changes that would be required to system ways of working to enable the change to happen. The outputs of the second workshop included collaborative agreement on the change needed and on the framework for developing a Norfolk family hub approach.

What was the impact?

The theory of change in Norfolk embraces strong existing networks and co-production in service delivery. The impact of this work has meant there is a good level of buy-in from stakeholders. These stakeholders are fully aware of Norfolk County Council’s ambitions for children and families, and have been involved in the process from the beginning. For example, they wanted continuity with the existing Flourish model and the principles of family hubs to complement this. Through building this into the theory of change and the developing family hub approach, stakeholders are able to relate this initiative to their own already embedded ambitions.

How were challenges overcome?

Adopting best practice for developing a family hub process (Norfolk adopted the National Centre for Family Hubs process) helped reassure stakeholders and gained buy-in for the approach taken.

Sessions were held virtually to ensure as many stakeholders could be present as possible. Breakout rooms, with trained facilitators, enabled smaller groups to have richer conversations which then fed back to the larger group.

There is an understanding that the theory of change may change and develop over time to meet the needs of children and families.

Additional resources

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