How to amplify purposeful people, organisations and movements through collective learning

Daniel Ford
Huddlecraft
Published in
6 min readOct 18, 2023

Daniel Ford & Zahra Davidson

This blog is one of the outcomes of the event series Huddlecraft hosted between March-July 2023 aimed at collaboratively exploring how we might create ‘a Surge of Peer Learning to Amplify Impact Across Movements for Change’, and summarises a proposal we recently submitted to the National Lottery Community Fund.

A bit about us & our approach

At Huddlecraft, we’ve been experimenting and applying peer-led approaches to collective learning for the last 7 years, through peer groups (or ‘Huddles’), partnerships and open training (‘Huddlecraft 101’).

The approach we’ve developed is rooted in three ideas:

  1. Infinite potential: that people have unlimited potential to learn, and when they learn collectively, can unlock potential that they couldn’t unlock by themselves.
  2. Fractals: that groups or networks are built from the strength of their smallest units. The strength of the relationships at the smaller levels play out at higher levels of organisation.
  3. Complex contagions: that complex behavioural changes (of the kind we need to respond to global challenges e.g. social innovation, organisational change, cultural evolution) are best spread through interconnected clusters of strong relationships. Weak ties (e.g. connections through social media) are great for spreading information, but insufficient to transmit mindsets, behaviours or practices (see the great work from Damon Centola and Network Dynamics Group for more on this).

Our approach relies on putting co-learning relationships at the centre of any attempt to bring people together to learn and create change (so far we’ve sparked 6295 co-learner relationships across our programmes). It is a multi-directional approach to learning that asks each person to step in as a responsible and active participant in the learning process. This is in contrast to the ‘teacher/pupil paradigm’ that is still dominant in most of our imaginations when we think about learning.

There is nothing inherently wrong with teacher/pupil learning, and we will always need this type of transmission of knowledge for much of ourlearning in society. The issue is that it has come to dominate our learning paradigm (our deep shared beliefs and values around learning), making it hard for other approaches that we need to take root. The times we are in are calling us to learn differently: the challenges we face are constantly changing and complexifying; we are entangled in these challenges ourselves so we need to change as well; and there’s no silver bullet or expert with all the answers to our problems. So, we need forms of learning that draw on the experience and perspectives of different parts of the system to learn from and with each other about how to change together. It seeds cultures of mutual care, creativity and commitment. And it allows for unlearning as well as learning, in a safe community.

We’ve seen how this kind of learning creates change that is faster, deeper and reaches further than what’s possible when we’re stuck in a teacher/pupil paradigm. But to realise the potential of this kind of learning, craft is required. Both in design and facilitation.

Let’s bring this to life through an example of one of our projects. Money Movers is a movement of women taking climate action with their finances, using the power of peer-support. With the goal of moving £1 billion by 20230, Money Movers trains hosts who gather groups of women and facilitate a 3-session micro-programme to get them started on taking climate action with their personal finances. So far >140 women have moved over £2.2 million. Money Movers amplifies impact by putting peer support and social reinforcement at the heart of the model. It creates:

  • Faster change: By decentralising the content about how to take climate action, more people are able to rapidly upskill and take action.
  • Deeper change: A greater depth of change is achieved than people acting alone; people are building community, shaping each other’s values and norms, and supporting each other to commit to sustained action.
  • Change that reaches further: The distributed host approach means anyone can be easily equipped to run Money Movers for their communities all around the world.

Our proposal

Through our experience of designing and delivering collective learning over the last 7 years, we have seen the opportunity for a more targeted development of collective learning infrastructure. We have developed this through an event series and into a proposal that we recently submitted to the National Lottery Community Fund. Below is a summary version — there’s a lot more detail available if of interest, and we’ll keep sharing our learnings openly if we develop to the next round.

Where we sense the need

We’re sensing a growing need and potential for the kind of collective learning that centres strong, co-learner relationships. This need for stronger relationships and greater agency in communities has been well evidenced, for example through the Local Trust (‘Trusting local people: Putting real power in the hands of communities’), New Citizenship Project (‘This is the #CITIZENSHIFT’), Civil Society Futures (‘Final Reports’) and The Relationships Project (Through Thick and Thin).

People are feeling the pressure, and communities are being squeezed by compounding challenges, from the cost of living, to the climate crisis, to burnout, to the need to re-skill. We need accessible learning opportunities that can holistically address issues including skills development, loneliness, resilience, community building — rather than tackling each issue individually.

There are so many exciting initiatives and movements that are bringing people together to respond to the emerging issues facing them. We see the potential to amplify their impact by embedding a collective learning approach; centering strong co-learning relationships from the individual level up. There is already so much learning happening, of course, and so much existing knowledge and experience out there. We’ve noticed a recent surge in communities of practice and learning networks, and we have something to offer that can avoid the replication of work. For example, we’ve been developing learning infrastructure for the Collective Imagination Practice Community, in partnership with Canopy and Centre for Public Impact, and funded by JRF’s Emerging Futures Team. This infrastructure includes cross-community meetups, 8 Huddles led by community members to deepen practice around specific themes, a practice fund which a ‘Fund Circle’ distributes to the community via Open Collective, a WhatsApp community where people can connect. Aspects of this infrastructure could be actively shared by different movements (e.g. training hosts to start Huddles) and other aspects could be packaged and replicated (e.g. the Fund Circle approach to community-led fund distribution).

What we’re imagining

We want to raise our collective capacity to learn to change together. We want to realise the potential of tight-knit learning communities where they can make the most difference in creating regenerative futures, so we can grow and change collectively in response to societal challenges. To do this, we want to test a learning infrastructure that can harness the network dynamics of tight clusters of strong relationships within and across movements for change.

We’re imagining a cross-movement infrastructure that starts with deep partnerships with three movements for change in the UK, where we co-design and adapt our tried and tested infrastructure for our partners’ communities, for example:

  • ‘Huddles’ — purposeful peer group learning shown to deepen practice, shift mindsets and drive action
  • A distributed community of trained ‘hosts’ who lead local and/or thematic learning enquiries, and mentors who support them
  • Cross-movement communities of practice
  • Micro-funding pots to resource community-led action
  • Digital tools including communication spaces, a web platform to advertise Huddles and Open Collective for distributing micro-funding
  • A toolkit of hosting resources we’ve collated over the past 7 years.

Through developing this cross-movement infrastructure we want to create a legacy of strong, purposeful relationships. This web of relationships will boost community resilience and potency, and engage a broader and more diverse range of people in leadership of community action.

By testing a learning infrastructure at significant scale, we also hope to gain valuable insights about how to provide, sustain and replicate effective learning infrastructure that amplifies community-led change. And we can open that learning up to support more people and movements in different communities and contexts.

What can you do?

If this shift in the learning paradigm is of interest to you, and you’re curious about how to get involved and apply this kind of learning in your work and life, there are several ways to get involved:

  • Get in touch with daniel@huddlecraft.com if you’re interested in supporting the creation and testing of cross-movement learning infrastructure.
  • Learn about our methodology and approach to collective learning through Huddlecraft 101
  • Join one of our live Huddles and experience it for yourself!
  • Try out some of our open resources in your context

“What if we imagine learning community as the central operating principle of society?”Phoebe Tickell

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Daniel Ford
Huddlecraft

Learning Ecosystem Lead at Huddlecraft. Lifelong learning, systems change, Deep Democracy, healthy human cultures...