Social learning on the sly

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I’ve been a little bit quiet of late.  Can’t believe it is nearly a month since my last blog (that felt like being in the confessional!).  Part of it was a great week in Paris but mostly it was because I was v.v.v.v. busy at work…..

Yesterday, Newcastle had its second Wellbeing and Health Summit – and I had to organise it.  From head to toe – the concept, the design, the invites, supervising input of a whole team into prep work and then yesterday itself acting as a facilitator with one of my colleagues. 150 people coming together to ‘re-think wellbeing and health’ in the city.

Last year, the first Summit involved people listening to formal speeches, browsing a marketplace outlining existing health and wellbeing work and having a few discussions.  This was right at the time, there were some key people who needed to hear some ‘expert’ input on health and wellbeing and we needed to galvanise senior leadership around addressing health inequalities.  Since that Summit, we have come a long way – more people have been ‘exposed’ to the language and jargon of health and more people realise they need to do something about it.

But I still had a concern that in some areas there has been some jargon change rather than improved understanding that leads to change in practice.  So I used snippets of my TU812 studies to ‘make the case’ for a different style of event and back in April this was agreed by the Council and the Primary Care Trust.

Okay the ‘case’ did not include the words ‘social learning’.  I thought that would put people off but anyone who knows social learning through TU812 will recognise phrases in the paper.

So yesterday’s Summit involved people working together on round tables – and with the exception of the Welcome speech by the Leader of the Council, there were no lectures or experts – just the people in the room exploring issues together, making completely new connections, getting passionate and motivated and bringing together all their perspectives.  Someone even told me at the end that their table have swapped contact details and will be offering support to each other in future work.

In a day, there is only so much you can achieve.  The Welcome speech pointed out the importance of everyone leaving there with a willingness to change what they do – but we still had feedback forms today which said I don’t know what will happen next.  It’s as if some people expect a magic wand to be waved and improved health and wellbeing without them changing what they do when they do what they do.

But on the other hand, there were some ‘important people’ who I expected would disappear part way through the day that were still there at the end mixing with people they would not normally meet in the course of their duties.  One even said to me “that was great, I am looking forward to next year now!” which made me feel very tired!

Stepping out of the day to day and ‘thinking’ together is important to people – but somehow it is not seen as ‘real work’.  In advance of the day, people were asking “but what will be the output” – I tried explaining it was more about ‘hearts and minds and motivations and connections’ but their eyes glazed over.  We did not produce a strategy document; we did not produce a plan; we did not even mention those words.  But I am pretty sure those there went away feeling more part of a strategic picture.

Beforehand I found myself ignoring questions that were founded on mechanistic, expert-led, command and control views of what we need to do.  My supportive line manager and I took a risk – and on the whole, it paid off.  It simply felt like a good thing.

We’re busy typing up notes and building a web-page or two on the Summit and its design – I’ll update this when there is something more tangible to show what we did.

But today it feels like we’ve made a new start 🙂 ….. and hopefully I can spend some time blogging again.

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