Asset-based commissioning – transforming systems leadership

Asset-based commissioning recognises that many of the assets needed to improve outcomes are under the control of people, communities and organisations over whom organisational commissioners have no direct control.

Hence, a much wider range of commissioning levers have to be used than with most conventional contracting and organisational market management. These levers include, influencing, mediating and negotiating, for example, community organisations bringing organisational suppliers together with local people to enable dialogue on service co-design and local politicians brokering contacts between community organisations and statutory commissioners.

Much of this effort involves encouraging mutual realignment of assets, for example, extended families offered Family Group Conferencing support so they can decide who will do what within the family, with and without organisational support, to safeguard children. Funded community builders, support communities to decide how they wish to use their assets and act, working alongside asset-based co-commissioners who work through existing catalysts and innovators such as user-led organisations, community and innovative commercial businesses.

The engagement of a much broader range of stakeholders and use of the wider variety of commissioning levers is partly facilitated by reshaping existing wide-area level partnerships as well as through other supports at the community and individual levels of commissioning. Asset-based commissioning also makes extensive use of systems leadership.

This recognises that no one single person will possess all the necessary qualities, nor should any one person hold all the responsibility for enabling wide-scale system change. Hence it works through alliances, collaboratives and partnerships rather than individual leaders.  These are driven by a collectively developed, broadly based and compelling vision, capable of engaging diverse groups around a shared purpose without the use of positional authority or hierarchical power. System leadership enables autonomous action by all through the provision of systems and processes to help individuals solve problems together and share learning.

Whilst conventional commissioning makes use of systems leadership, the form it takes, its underlying focus and principles differ from those of asset-based commissioning. Conventional commissioning mostly focuses on making best use of organisational assets to achieve sector defined outcomes with a bias towards those that it can directly control via single or cross sector contracting. It mostly exercises systems leadership through cross-sector, wide-area, and some organisationally controlled community level, partnerships. Front line staff and people who use services and communities are engaged as systems leaders to enable the implementation of overall organisationally determined commissioning plans.

Asset-based commissioning starts from the position that outcomes are coproduced by people, organisations and communities and focuses the use of all assets on improving whole life outcomes and enabling strong, inclusive communities. Commercial organisations are valued, alongside contracted publically funded services, as suppliers of food, clothing, banking, employment, leisure and entertainment services that are part of the everyday lives of people and communities.

People and communities, alongside organisations, co-commission and co-produce outcomes having an equal say in all decisions. Hence joint and strongly aligned cross-sector commissioning coupled with wider systems leadership enables the involvement of a large range of sectors, including universal services and non-contracted commercial suppliers alongside people and communities. This provides the wide-area collaboration which draws and supports community and individual level commissioning. Innovation is anticipated at the individual and community levels of commissioning and practice as well as at the wide area level commissioning. Hence asset-based commissioning empowers existing innovators, the de facto systems leaders, to continue producing change and support others to do so. In this way, it develops devolved systems leadership.

One way of beginning to encourage further devolved commissioning and practice innovation is via a Rapid Scanning day. This brings together people, communities and organisations to identify asset-based practice and commissioning innovations, spot who got them going and how.

The day can also be used to:

  • Stimulate action by example – there are always asset-based things that people, communities and organisations can just get on with that will change current practice or commissioning. During the day watch out for existing system leaders, celebrate success and empower others to move things forward.
  • Build a systems leader innovation network – help those people, community members and practitioners who have been involved in spearheading innovation to form a continuing systems leadership innovation network. Provide it with support, empower it to spread innovation and expand it as further leaders arise.

In your experience, how has asset based commissioning helped transform systems leadership?


Links to all of the above innovations and more can be found in:

Richard Field and Clive Miller. (2017) Asset-based commissioning: Better outcomes, Better value. Bournemouth: Bournemouth University. Available as a free download, in both its full (215 pp) and digested versions (11pp), from


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