Innovation and changing peoples’ lives

Innovation and changing peoples’ lives. In a fast-changing world, helping people to make changes to their lives is at the heart of innovation. This programme of mutual learning brings people together who can help one another – easy to set up and run, and ideal not just for innovation centres and their ilk, but for groups of all kinds, such as job changers, patients, students, local communities et al.

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most dramatic of life-changing groups: its regular meetings, mutual discussions, exchange of commitments, and reporting back on progress are its backbone.

Participants in Accelerator programmes (around 12 weeks of intensive development for a dozen or so startups working alongside one another) regularly say that their best sources of help are other participants. At Watershed in Bristol they meet at lunch time every Friday and talk in turn about their progress, their problems and their plans. Notes of the meeting are then immediately circulated to ensure that everyone can identify and meet up with those whose issues chime with their own – to draw on each other’s experience.

Enrolyourself (1) is a 6-month programme of mutual learning – for people who feel a need to work on their ideas together with others who are on similar learning paths. They may be pursuing a new interest or venture, in a new role or job, or looking to add new skills and experiences.

The programme, curated by a learning organiser, is of weekly meetings, every alternative week being a meeting of the whole group, and in the weeks between, buddy pairs meet up. There is an initial kick-off week-end; and after two months there is a PowerUp day; and another after four months – meetings that regularly addressing learnings and build accountability.

Zahra Davidson (2) has nurtured this project, running two pilots before seeking funds to scale it up. In a competition at the Royal College of Art, she won the prize – of some funds, a place in the RCA’s incubator and support from Unltd – an investor in social entrepreneurs; and she is currently appointing her first cohort of learning organisers – in different parts of the country (whose interests include bringing together groups of professionals working on social impact, work/life coaches, and people from one field bringing their expertise into another).

At the Kick-off week-end, there are exercises to help people to get to know each other; skills and networking mapping, role playing, coaching training, and the principles of peer-to-peer learning are presented. The group – of ten people – divide into buddy pairs (who will meet by their own arrangement in the intervening weeks – if necessary by Skype) for mutual coaching, creative exercises and encouragement about their ideas; and they will plan their own sessions and how to capture their content. (Any who feel the need of an outside mentor are encouraged to find their own right person.)

The facilitated fortnightly meetings of the whole group are made up of Workshops (teachings) and Group Challenges (problems and opportunities), and are constructed so that responsibility for facilitation and organisation moves around the group.

At the bi-monthly PowerUp days, each person presents their achievements, their insights, their learnings and their plans – with five minutes to talk them through, then five minutes for questions, and five minutes to capture feed-back, ideas and contributions from the group.

The final week-end meeting is a chance to reflect, with peer assessment and feed-back, including about where next; and about the programme, which finishes with a ShowCase Event – a day or an evening.

Programmes of this kind – periodic meetups of a small group – have been around for some time, as of great help for tackling new issues – for their mutual support and learning. Uprising, a social enterprise, uses weekly meetings to embolden its young members; the Clore Leadership programmes enable similar exchanges of experience; Plato, a programme widely used in a number of countries but originally from Belgium, brings together small groups of similarly placed executives, as does the Vistage programme; and the Judge Institute Growth Challenge programme for CEOs of young ventures uses a similar format.

Collaborative learning programmes have not attracted academic interest perhaps because they differ from the standard model of pedagogy (teacher/pupil). But they are of increasing and wide-ranging interest in these times of constant change, including for new ventures; and an invaluable source of inspiration.



(2) Zahra Davidson at

John Whatmore, April 2018


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