Macmillan Cancer Support: Enhancing partnership value in a UK Charity

Macmillan Cancer Support is one of the UK’s largest charities, with £250m+ turnover and more than 1400 staff. It directly supports almost two million people affected by cancer through healthcare delivery (including the famous Macmillan Cancer Nurses), information and guidance, advocacy, personal support, advice to professions, financial aid, research and more. Partnerships are core to its day-to-day work with the NHS, Local Authorities and many other organisations. Macmillan provides expertise and direct funding within many such partnerships to further its strategic goals.


Macmillan needed to ensure that when providing support to partnerships, it realised clear value against its core objectives. In some cases, partnerships were creating value; however, for most of the partnerships funded at local and regional level across the UK, it wasn’t optimising impact and return.

Each regional office appointed a programme manager role to support the delivery of higher value from partnership projects. However, no method or framework was in place to ensure consistency of approach and ensure results.

Those appointed to these new roles had a range of different skills and experiences. Some had formal project and programme qualifications, while others had worked extensively in operations management.

Approach - co-design

We started exploring how a consistent programme framework would help this new role succeed. Initially, we focussed on identifying potential increased benefits from a programme framework, common language, and best practice ways of working across regional offices. A framework purpose statement emerged to which everyone had contributed.

We took time to explore both the tools and techniques already being used and the latest research and thinking about change and projects in complex multi-organisation environments – rather than jumping to an ‘off-the-shelf’ blueprint as often happens. Our first workshop with programme managers soon delivered greater common understanding plus an initial outline framework.

Following workshops took an iterative approach, reviewing reflections since the previous session, exploring and designing the next version and taking away elements to workup.
After four workshops, the group felt they had a strong framework and committed to implementing it immediately to drive their core responsibilities.

Outcome – what happened?

The group of programme managers finalised the programme framework. They successfully presented to the Executive Team and rapidly adopted it organisation-wide.

The ownership created through the co-design process has meant that Macmillan’s network of programme managers has continued to meet and develop thinking and continue to enhance the framework. Each region has rolled it out within their teams. And most now formally include the framework in partnership agreements and project documentation to assess and drive benefits.

Ed Tallis, a Regional Director, said about the work:

The work to design Macmillan’s geographical Programme Management Framework was critical to creating connection and some consistency across all UK geographies. The way the work was undertaken was open, iterative, inclusive and really effective. Instead of engaging to advise on the best method, the ‘grass-roots’ approach helped the collective team genuinely understand our capabilities and strengths, and build our own solution, creating much greater ownership of the output

Macmillan Cancer Support: Enhancing partnership value in a UK Charity