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Welcome to the Winter 2022 Newsletter for the Human Learning Systems Network

The dust has just about settled on Human Learning Systems week 2022 and we’re reflecting on what we learned and where we go next.

All of us who are in the business of trying to help public services become more collaborative, holistic, adaptable and upstream can see how much harder this becomes with ever greater strains on funding and ongoing uncertainty.

However, the determination and creativity of people who design, commission and provide support and services of all kinds was in full display during the first ever Human Learning Systems week, which we hosted from 10th to 14th October.

Over 700 people looking for courage, inspiration and connection registered for 25 events exploring how to work differently in complexity to enable support and services that are human-centred, adaptable and joined-up. With more than 50 speakers and 32 hours of content and conversation we explored the practice of Human Learning Systems in all its diversity and many different settings - from specific services to entire communities. HLS Week could not have happened without the event hosts and speakers, the support of the Tudor Trust and all the participants.

The first thing that was obvious is that Human Learning Systems has come a very long way in the past 7 years. From being on the margins it is definitely making its way into the mainstream. It is being adopted by Healthcare Improvement Scotland, across Integrated Health and Care Partnerships, in community regeneration programmes and in many different public services. This is extremely heartening.

What else did we learn during HLS week?

A key theme throughout the week was the need to develop support that recognises our interdependence and need for connection as human beings. We heard many great examples across different places and sectors of relational approaches in all different parts of the system, the most embedded of which are rooted in collaborative cross-sector approaches that put collective purpose, not single organisations, at the heart. This included recognition of the important role of communities within systems that support people, and we explored what HLS practitioners can learn from community development approaches.

Another theme was the importance of recognising that inequity is ‘baked in’ to our systems and to even start to dismantle that we need to use language and thinking that doesn’t dehumanise and ‘other’ people, speak with and not for people, and create opportunities for connecting across our differences. We heard a lot about the need to unlearn old habits, let go of the illusion of control, and intentionally shift and share power and resources, supported by enabling leaders who encourage us to learn and improve together. This will require us to create new infrastructures and cultures of open discovery, underpinned by genuine curiosity and listening. 

It was brilliant to hear in depth about so much positive practice that supports a Human Learning Systems Approach. This included human-centred approaches such as strengths-based coaching, social pedagogy and generative listening, collaboration practices such as systems stewardship and alliance commissioning, and adaptive learning approaches including learning partnering, community-led research and appreciative enquiry. As we listened to these practitioners we quickly saw how, wherever you start, one thing leads to another in an ongoing cycle. Human Learning Systems as a joined-up practice is spreading, and a key takeaway was that there is no one way or place to start - start somewhere and don’t wait for permission! We’ll be publishing more on what we learned from HLS Week in a series of blogs over the coming weeks. If you’d like to contribute some thoughts, please get in touch with us at

HLS Week Resources

Want to watch an HLS Week video again or share with colleague? We’ve uploaded the first 5 videos from the week to the Complexities Youtube site here and we’ll be adding more up until Christmas, so keep checking back there for more resources.

Upcoming training courses and resources from friends and partners of HLS:

An introduction to cooperatives, cooperation and cooperative ways of thinking and learning in the 21st century.

Going deeper into the systemic design of services; complexity & systems thinking – a 10-hour course

A new course to improve constructive communication that leads to greater connection

Applications open for a Qualification in Person-led, Transitional and Strength-based Response and like-minded Approaches, in partnership with Coventry University

The case study we are highlighting this month is our newest case study from Community Renewal, who are testing Human Learning System approaches in a multi-year neighbourhood renewal programme in Glasgow. John Halliday from Community Renewal spoke at one of our HLS Week events on HLS and Community Development. It was a fascinating discussion about the extent to which community work is tainted by New Public Management and if so, what HLS and community development can learn from each other.

We were delighted to post a guest blog from our HLS friends at Children England about the work they’ve been doing with young people to reimagine the welfare state. No spoilers, but, as the blog title hints, no surprise that in the ideal public services as envisioned by young people, there is no sign of anything resembling New Public Management!

HLS is still evolving

We want to hear from you – are you experimenting with new ways to be human, recognise complexity, continuously learn and nurture healthy support systems? Do you have a case study to share, or a conversation you want to have with the HLS community?

Contribute to Research

The value of learning partnerships to support continuous experimentation and adaptation is increasingly recognised. However, research is in its infancy. Northumbria University are conducting research into the practice and experience of learning partnerships, asking, how are learning partnerships structured and what are the experiences of those involved?  They want to hear about your experiences of learning partnering.  Please contact for further information. 

This newsletter has been compiled by Collaborate on behalf of the HLS Collaborative.
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