Transforming Macmillan for the future: what we’re doing and why 

Published: 24 August 2023

Macmillan’s Chief of Staff Kate Stevens explains how we’re working to ensure that we can have the most impact for people with cancer right now and in the future, by giving everyone their say. 

Head and torso photo of Kate Stevens

Kate Stevens Chief of Staff at Macmillan

What we're doing

In case you haven’t seen this blog post from our Chief Executive Gemma Peters, inviting everyone to share their views on how Macmillan can have the most impact in supporting people with cancer, I think it’s fair to say that the winds of change are blowing through the organisation even more than usual at the moment. The experience of people with cancer is evolving on a daily basis, due to a broad range of factors - from pressures on the cancer workforce and our healthcare systems to advances in treatment and all things data and digital - and it’s essential that we’re on the front foot. 

In addition to providing support in the here and now, it’s vital that our organisation is looking ahead to pre-empt the needs of people with cancer in the future and focusing our efforts with this in mind. And we’re determined not to do this thinking behind closed boardroom doors. Right now, we are inviting everyone to help us shape Macmillan’s future by sharing their views about what we need to do in the UK when it comes to cancer. We’re collaborating with people with lived experience of cancer, with colleagues, with supporters, with volunteers, with professionals and with partners. We’re involving people who know and love Macmillan, people who have never heard of us, and even people who have been disappointed by us to find out where we are most needed. 

Why are we taking this approach

‘How could we not?’ might be a better question! At Macmillan, we exist to serve people with cancer and we put their needs at the heart of everything we do, by taking a holistic perspective. We know that cancer can affect every aspect of a person’s life – from their mental health and relationships to their finances and work – and over time, we’ve developed partnerships that enable us to make a difference in all of these spaces. Only by working with others can we provide services, influence governments and raise money to deliver the vital support that people with cancer need. 

And so, it’s only right that the voices of people with cancer, as well as the individuals and organisations that we work with to provide support, help us to determine how can we have the most impact in our work as we move forwards. We’re adopting an open approach, so that we can gather a broad mix of perspectives and ideas, that will help us to challenge ourselves and take our thinking to another level.

What does this look like?

Before we make any big decisions, there are several key phases that we’ll need to work through, some of which will run alongside each other simultaneously. Since July, we’ve been inviting everyone to share their thoughts on their hopes and fears for people living with cancer and where they think Macmillan can add the most value, and we’re almost at the end of this initial phase.  

Meanwhile, within Macmillan, we’ve set up three colleague taskforces to start exploring some of the key questions that we already know are pertinent:

  • - Prevention and early diagnosis: what difference could Macmillan make for people with cancer by focusing on prevention and helping to ensure that cancer is diagnosed early? 
  • - Equity: what difference could Macmillan make for people with cancer, by focusing on addressing health inequalities? 
  • - Reimagining Macmillan: how could Macmillan work differently to have more of an impact in its work?

At the end of this month, we’ll then start to work through the findings from all of our conversations and outreach so far, to identify the key questions that we need to explore further in the next phase, which will take us up until the end of the year. 

What have we learnt so far?

This is the first time that we as an organisation have reviewed our direction of travel in this way and I’m being entirely honest when I say that we’re learning as we go. 

Firstly, we’re learning lots about how to involve people in an inclusive, meaningful and transparent way. It’s not enough to put opportunities in front of people and expect them to participate at pace within our time frames. We need to work hard to cultivate trust and use this opportunity to forge new relationships with those who are most marginalised. We need to let go of control and listen deeply and openly to what people want to tell us, rather than what we want to hear. True participation is an ongoing practice and it will take time to learn how to do this well. 

Secondly, there’s benefit in being up-front about what we mean by ‘open’. Our approach is allowing us to draw on the wisdom and creativity of a broad and diverse pool of people, but this doesn’t mean that everyone should be involved in every element of the process. Being clear on roles and responsibilities - where we are opening up and narrowing down, as well as how decisions are being made and by whom - is key to us working efficiently and effectively as we develop a coherent, robust and implementable strategy, while bringing everyone along on the journey with us. 

Finally, don’t underestimate the value of learning from others. Colleagues from across Macmillan are undertaking ‘knowledge safaris’ to other organisations who have considered the future of their organisation in this way, so that we can gather their insights, build on their successes and learn from their mistakes. Thank you to everyone who has been generous enough to share their valuable experiences with us. 

Watch this space

In the spirit of the generosity that we’ve seen, we’re going to be talking openly about what we’re doing and why, what is working well and crucially what isn’t, so that other individuals and organisations might benefit from our insights and also the lessons we’ve learnt. With this in mind, this is the first in a series of blog posts that we’ll be sharing and the next blog will be coming in the next couple of weeks, exploring who we’ve involved in the work to lead it from inside Macmillan and how we’ve worked to achieve a balance between involving people with fresh perspective and also those with the necessary expertise.