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Toby Lowe

Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership and Management

Department: Newcastle Business School

Toby Lowe 

My purpose as an academic is to help improve the funding, commissioning and performance management of social interventions (across the public, private and voluntary sectors). My research team has used complexity theory to create a critique of New Public Management approaches, particularly highlighting the problems created by attempts to use Outcome-Based Performance Management (e.g. Payment by Results) in complex environments.

We have also developed a new complexity-informed paradigm for the funding, commissioning and performance management of social interventions, and are undertaking action research programmes with public and voluntary sector funders and delivery organisations to explore how this paradigm is implemented in practice, and to support the development of a Community of Practice around this new paradigm.

My team is also conducting working as a Learning Partner for the Lankelly Chase Foundation’s inquiry into place-based system change. In this context we are exploring how learning functions as a mechanism for system change.

I began my academic life as a political philosopher (my PhD is in the concept of community in political theory). After completing my PhD I worked in both the public and voluntary sectors for 15 years. My previous job before returning to academia was as Chief Executive of Helix Arts, a North East charity specialising in participatory arts practice with marginalised groups.

From 2015-2018 I worked at Newcastle University Business School, and Open Lab. In this context I also worked with PhD students at Open Lab exploring the role of digital technology in enabling people and organisations to reflect on their performance, and to contribute to learning in complex systems.


Campus Address

Faculty of Business and Law, City Campus East (CCE)
Northumbria University
Newcastle upon Tyne


PhD, BA Hons, 

Research Themes & Scholarly Interests

My research interests are in the funding and performance management of social interventions.

My research interest began as a practice interest. As a voluntary sector Chief Executive I experienced first-hand the way in which target-based performance management mechanisms undermine effective performance in complex environments. I became an action-researcher in order to change and improve funding and performance management approaches.

As part of this work, my team has developed a new, complexity informed approach to funding and performance management:


Key areas of expertise:

  • Public and Voluntary Sector Performance Management
  • Systems Change
  • Complexity-informed management practice
  • Social Impact Bonds and Payment by Results
  • Role of digital technology in supporting performance conversations

Current/Recent Projects


Principal-Investigator Tudor Trust exploration of complexity-informed funding and commissioning practice: (2017 – 2020)

Principal Investigator: Lankelly Chase Place-Based System Change Inquiry: (2017 – 2020)




Key Publications/Outputs

PGR Supervision

I am currently co-supervising three PhD students in the broad research areas of Digital Civics, Information Systems and Public Service Innovation.

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