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Focusing on HLS Week 2022

The political and economic turmoil of the past couple of months has been hugely damaging for public services and those who rely on them most. 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 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 free online events exploring how to work differently in complexity to enable support and services that are human-centred, adaptable and collaborative. Along with 50 speakers over 32 hours of content and conversation we explored the practice of Human Learning Systems in all its diversity and a variety of settings - from specific services to entire communities. This is remarkable for an approach that has only developed over the past 7 years. 

HLS Week could not have happened without the event hosts and speakers, the support of the Tudor Trust and all the participants. Thank you all for your support. 

So what did we take away? 

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 recognising 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. 

Human Learning Systems as a practice is spreading, and a key takeaway has been that there is no one way or place to start - start somewhere and don’t wait for permission!

We’ll be sharing videos of all the recorded events over the next few weeks. To access resources and find support, join the Human Learning Systems community here.

Naomi Diamond,  Head of Practice

How can funders really shift power to communities? By Losing Control

Photo of Losing Control graffiti, Shoreditch by Dominic Cumming

The 20th century Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe said, “While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.” This requires a fundamental shift in our understanding of how change happens, and far reaching changes to the distribution of power and resources.

In partnership with The Social Change Agency, Collaborate co-convenes the ‘Losing Control in Funding’ peer learning network which explores how reimagining grantmaking can contribute to this vision, and make changes in the here and now. 

In a new blog we speak to two group members, Edd Fry of the Balgrave Trust and Joe Doran of Lankelly Chase. Expect radical honesty, deep reflections and a call to action for all of us working in this space!

Read it here

How flooding spurred a rethink of the relationship between citizen and state in Test Valley

In 2014 the water levels rose and submerged dozens of businesses and homes in Test Valley, a rural borough council on the edge of Southampton. Amidst the wreckage came something inspirational and moving. Volunteer organisations and community members began organising to help one another with the support of public services, first to respond to the emergency and then to rebuild.

In our recent work with Test Valley Council, we have found it inspirational to learn about how they’ve developed relationships with local communities and embedded this at the heart of how the Council operates over the past twelve years.

As other councils we’re working with (and beyond) embark on a similar journey, we spoke to Test Valley’s Community Manager, Dave Growcott, to find out more about what they’ve done and what they’ve learnt.

Read it here

What we've been reading/thinking

Developing learning cultures is a key part of our work at Collaborate. We’ve recently been reflecting on what we mean when we talk about learning, and how it is a fundamentally different concept to traditional approaches to evaluation and insight.

The book Learning to Make a Difference by Beverly Wenger-Trayner and Étienne Wenger-Trayner has been useful in helping us conceptualise what we mean by learning. It describes what makes a healthy learning space, and the different types of learning that can come from them. 

We’ve been applying this to some of our current work, including with Sport England, setting up Learning Clusters for their Local Delivery Pilots and supporting the Gloucestershire Healthy Communities Together Stewardship Group to develop a systemic approach to learning and evaluation.

Lewis Haines, Head of Practice

If you would like further information about any of the projects outlined above, or to talk to us about how we could support you to collaborate in your context, please get in touch!
Anna and the Collaborate team


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