Movements X Peer Learning: Unearthing the potential

Insights from a discussion between 4 speakers with experience from 4 different movements

Zahra Davidson
12 min readApr 13, 2023


This blog post collects just some of the nuggets of wisdom from the conversation.

“We can create a far greater pace of change through peer learning.”

Recording of Movements X Peer Learning

Background to the event

Huddlecraft hosted this event in April 2023 to co-inquire into the following question: Can peer-to-peer learning amplify, deepen and accelerate the efforts of movement for change? And if yes, how?

To find out, we brought 4 speakers together:

We heard from each speaker individually before going into a discussion, followed by a fishbowl where we opened the conversation up to anyone attending the event to add their own questions and contributions.

I’ve listened back to the recording to ‘fish’ for some of the nuggets of wisdom that came up in the conversation.

Rob Shorter

As Communities and Art Lead at Doughnut Economics Action Lab, Rob brought his experience of the Doughnut Economics movement.

“I want to bring the idea of urgency here; the pace of systemic change that we need. I don’t think it will happen through traditional, institutional avenues. We can create a far greater pace of change through peer learning.”

A screenshot of lots of people on Zoom creating a doughnut shape with their hands.

“It really became apparent that the systemic, powerful, transformative ideas of Doughnut Economics, when brought together with the really powerful craft of peer-led learning, is just such a winning combination. So we’re now working out how we bring all these ideas of peer learning into this very diverse global community of DEAL, in a way that is relevant for all different kinds of contexts.”

Insights drawn from Rob’s comments:

1/ Within movements we need everyone to be part of the conversation. Peer learning is an enabler when it comes to bringing multiple perspectives together.

“What’s shared between the work we’ve each talked about today is the bringing together of people to learn from other perspectives, to shift the idea that learning is receiving knowledge from an abstra ct source, and actually it’s something we co-create in the space as we come to g ether. It’s a living process of learning from different perspectives.”

2/ When people learn and laugh together as peers it cuts through institutional roles and helps people trust other people they otherwise wouldn’t trust.

“We all move between multiple roles in society. We have all of these capacities and when we create the peer networks we just cut through the institutional bullshit.”

3/ Irresistable framing and tools, brought together with a horizontal learning approach, is a powerful combination for inviting far more diverse communities to join movements for change.

“The model of the doughnut has proved really irresistable, really easy. It’s not like unintelligible economic equations. We’ve found people really leaning into the invitations, and it has created a community far more diverse around economics than we could have imagined.”

4/ Bringing people together as peers can de-centre expertise in a really valuable way within movements. This does not mean that it removes the need for expertise. It means that something else can be centred instead: people’s agency to lead their own way. This can be valuable in movements when trying to enable practice and action.

“Whilst 20th Century economics was theorised first and practiced later, 21st Century economics would be practiced first and theorised later.”

Seyi Falodun-Liburd

As Co-director at Level Up and Income Generation & Money Solidarity at Project Tallawah, Seyi brought her perspective from the gender justice movement.

“In terms of peer learning, for us it’s slightly different language, the language of coalition building. For example with the pregnancy in prison campaign, we work with a coalition of academics, midwives, women who have been pregnant in prison, and we were able to nurture a space where the women who had been pregnant in prison were able to share their experiences with us, and we were able to share what it means to write a column.”

A screenshot of Seyi Falodun-Liburd speaking at an online event.

“I don’t think we can create change without peer learning. Deepening our understanding of each other, and deepening our practice of coalition working and cross-movement working is really the way forward. One thing that is really missing from our movements is the depth and the range of the learning.”

Insights drawn from Seyi’s comments:

1/ Learning — of all kinds, including peer learning, should be a foundational piece of movement work.

“The work can’t happen without the learning.”

2/ The purpose of learning in movements goes far beyond the upskilling required to fulfill movement objectives.

“Learning with the intention to be more whole.”

3/ It’s important within movements to learn from others who are working on the same challenge, whether they’re working on it now or worked on it in the past. Both cross-movement and intergenerational learning are essential so we don’t replicate work or mistakes.

“We’re very clear that we’re a very small part of the movement, there’s so much work that has been done before us and alongside us.”

4/ Building and growing trust is always part of developing a movement for change. Peer learning can be a great vehicle for building trust. Learning might be the means to build trust rather than an end in itself.

“The cross-learning was an essential part of a 6 month process for the pregnancy in prison campaign, that allowed us to build that trust.”

5/ A peer learning approach can enable the fuzziness and emergence that is required for movement work.

“The professionalisation of our movements means that often we take on very traditional or capitalist methods. We’re supposed to know the outcome of everything and know what we want to deliver. That journey of exploration that is really vital, can get cut out in the name of efficiency.”

Imane Maghrani

As Associate Director Spark Programmes at The Advocacy Academy, Imane brought her experience from social justice, community organising and youth advocacy movements.

“I design a learning environment where I bring together young people who are angry about the state of the world. One of the first challenges that we face with them is what they think learning is and what it’s supposed to look like. It’s understandable because they’re age 16–18 and mostly in the education system, a difficult place to be as a marginalised young person. So often they kind of sit and wait for us to impart knowledge, so we start with the principle that they are experts in their own lives.”

“In hierarchical teaching models we assume that there is one person that is learned, and then there are learners, and learning flows one way. A lot of my work is about destablising that and turning it on it’s head. What happens when we do that is truly very magical. When we do this with young people who have so much capacity for viewing the world differently, and for stepping out of dogmatic ways of thinking, there are some really fascinating things that happen in terms of how they view a world that can be different, better, more equitable, liberatory and just. I get really excited about decentralised learning models because I think they can bring this magic to loads of people.”

Insights drawn from Imane’s comments:

1/ Peer learning is about a shift away from learning as acquisition, to learning as something much more plural and multi-directional.

“I think of learning less about acquisition of things and more about growth and change.”

2/ Learning together as peers can bring some much needed lightness into challenging and serious movement work.

“Peer-to-peer learning can create the opportunity to access more joy and more play and more things that came naturally to us when we were learning things when we were children.”

3/ School teaches many of us to passively consume knowledge rather than to produce it or claim it. In particular this effects those who are marginalised, whose histories are not validated by being included in the curriculum. This is poor preparation for movement building where we must relate to knowledge in a far more active and creative way.

“The legacy of my ancestors wasn’t presented to me as something that was valid knowledge or learning, and I was sold a meritocratic myth that I had to go to university to gather knowledge.”

“The potential of peer-to-peer learning is to root us more firmly in what we as individual people know to be true about our history and our present, and that in turn has the potential to connect us to something bigger and better about our future that what we’re being told we can have.”

4/ There are challenges that come with a peer learning approach, and barriers to entry.

“One of the risks of investing in peer-to-peer learning is that first you have to get someone to think that they have something to offer. It takes a lot of work to get people to unlearn the modalities they’ve been taught in traditional education. Once they see how their contributions to the learning is actually contributing to other people’s learning in the space, including the ‘adults’, it starts to galvanise them and make them more confident.”

5/ Peer learning within movements is as much an undoing as a becoming.

“In the context of social justice education, journeys are as much about unlearning as they are about learning. If you think of us as fish, we’re swimming in some deeply toxic water. Sometimes I try to think about the spaces where I feel able to learn as creating a little bubble of slightly less toxic water, so that I can breath and question and think about the frameworks and hypotheses I’ve been taught and whether or not they feel real to me.”

Sophy Banks

As Founder and Facilitator of Grief Tending and Healthy Human Culture, Sophy brought her experience from the Transition movement as well as from her current work with grief and culture.

“I’ve been involved in lots of different pieces of change movements. My football team that was a kind of radical football team in East London in the 1980s. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Transition Movement, setting up transition training. This invitation has brought lots of reflections on the different kinds of learning I saw, like local groups that set up to go through the Transitions handbook. Since leaving the Transition movement I’ve been working with grief tending. I’ve seen how much harm is done when we’re not tending grief in ways that turn it into medicine.”

“To change the trajectory of the modern system, there’s just so much that needs to change, and we’re not going to do it through any kind of experts giving it to us. It needs to come from lived experience and it needs to spread really fast. Any ways we can do that are needed. I think it’s essential.”

Insights drawn from Sophy’s comments:

1/ When bringing peer learning to any movement it’s useful to explore how people relate to learning, and the particular cultural make-up of the movement.

“What is the cultural context around learning? What do we think knowledge is? Do we want to learn? Is that something we expect to do?”

2/ A peer learning approach can help create a movement environment where someone can be a beginner, but also have agency.

“I’m a beginner, even though I’m trying to help other beginners to begin”

3/ A barrier to peer-to-peer learning reaching its full potential when it comes to amplifying the impact of movements, might be that it can require a high level of process and/or hosting skills.

“Something I noticed in the Transition movement in its original form was that it was focused on doing and not much on attending to process. So a lot of groups in the movement survived or broke depending on whether they had process skills.”

4/ It’s important to be aware of the role of group dynamics in peer learning, and the extent to which the history that each person brings might affect that group dynamic.

“There’s something kind of invisible in peer-to-peer learning which is asking ‘how do we do this as a group?’, and ‘what’s coming into the group which we may not have invited?’. Each person is bringing a huge background in terms of what their journey with learning has been so far.”

5/ There is an intimacy that comes with the scale of peer learning that can be really helpful within the larger scale of movements.

“You can have webinars with 1000 people, but in the end real transformation happens through relationships.”

From the fishbowl

We ended the event with a fishbowl, where anyone attending the event was invited to join the speakers in the centre, bringing a question, a reflection or a contribution.

Here are some nuggets from those who bravely joined the fishbowl.

“When talking about the value of peer-to-peer learning there was talk of the urgency and the scale of change and that we can’t wait for that change to come from above or come from existing institutions. I work with public organisations that are trying to change but struggling because of all the reasons why it’s hard for organisations to change. But it doesn’t feel like an either-or but an and-both. I’m just wondering how to build on what people are talking about here and pull it into those organisations so that people in those organisations can change as well? Because people within those organisations might wield more power or have more influence. They’re still ordinary people. They still need spaces of trust to learn and try new things. What happens when you try and suck this way of working into an organisation?” — Laura Billings

“There’s something about how you create a space where people within institutions can show vulnerability and uncertainty, and then really listen to the experience that is outside their institutional walls?” — Sarah McAdam

“What’s the difference between peer learning and learning from an outside stimulus? There’s something for me about whatever the book or the prompt or question that has brought us together, the fundamental question is: are we trying to create some kind of equivalent power and respect for the experience that’s showing up? And if we’re trying to do that it requires a lot of care for process.” — Sarah McAdam

“I’ve been working with a couple of orgs over last 5 years to figure out how we can get the biggest banks in the world to align with climate goals, through the power of peer learning. And one thing I’ve really noticed is this tendancy to other and to create polarisation of the enemies over there, and us with our grassroots movements to create change.” — Lydia Hascott

“Something I’ve learnt is that in those big institutitons the majority of people want to go to work feeling that they are creating a positive impact in the world, but most feel like their organisations and system is collectively producing a result that most individuals don’t want. And so peer learning has been interesting in terms of meeting those people as individuals beyond their role/s. Creating separate spaces getting people out of their day-to-day, to admit that they’re vulnerable. So much of what we’ve heard about today can work in these institutional spaces. I’ve had to unlearn my othering and judgement of the mainstream and the idea that it’s not possible to change.” — Lydia Hascott

“One of the ways that peer learning arises is when people see that they’re sharing the same pain in the system. When we don’t tend grief together we don’t hear the systemic pain, lots of our pain gets turned into personal pathologies and personal responsibility to heal something that is actually a systemic issue.” — Sophy Banks

“One observation is that I don’t think people so much actively resist peer learning as much as that they have decades and decades of learning and habits from other ways of doing things, and it’s so easy in times of uncertainty to fall back into something else.” — Jamie Pett

“The question I’m bringing is how do you go from ‘microclimates’ of learning to ‘macroclimates’? And do we need to? Or do we needs lots of microclimates — and trust in what that can lead to? How do you go from the people who would naturally be attracted to this stuff, to those who might not be drawn to it so much?” — Jamie Pett

At the end we reflected on how much bravery it took, both for fishes joining the bowl, and for us as organisers jumping out of the bowl. But we also felt that we were practising much of what had come up in the discussion. A format to do more with in future!

  • This event is part of an event series where we’re exploring and responding to this question: Could we create a surge of peer-to-peer learning, to amplify the impact of movements for change? Find out more and join us.
  • These events stemmed from a blog (+ an open proposal) titled ‘A Surge of peer-to-peer learning through multiple, intertwining movements?’.
  • Want to nerd out even further on peer-led approaches? We host Huddlecraft 101 training twice a year, in May and November. This is a pure immersion into applying the power of this stuff, whatever your context.