Notwestminster 2023 Lightning Talk: Putting peer relationships at the heart of change

Daniel Ford
5 min readFeb 23, 2023

This is a transcript of a lightning talk I did at Notwestminster on February 18th, 2023.

Hello, I’m Daniel, Learning Ecosystem Lead at Huddlecraft.

What is this word? Who or what is Huddlecraft? For us, it’s a way of saying that it takes skill or craft to realise the potential of groups of people. And when it goes well, it makes us so much more creative, more caring and more committed.

This lightning talk is about ‘putting peer relationships at the heart of change’.

This is our big thing at Huddlecraft. We try to centre a peer-to-peer relationship in the work we do. So I’m not your teacher or your boss — and you’re not mine.

Instead, we imagine a world of co-learners where we are constantly open to learning with and from each other — and see the value that each other brings. That’s not to say that the roles of teacher and boss just disappear, just that they’re distributed around the group. We’ve all got a bit of teacher and boss in us, and that can sometimes be useful…but the shift in peer relationships is that we are not stuck in those roles, and they don’t have authority over other people in the group.

So what happens when you put peer relationships at the heart of change?

The first example I’ll give are the Huddles that we run. These are purposeful peer groups that come together over the course of 4–6 months, facilitated by a host that we train in all things Huddlecraft. These are learning journeys which are centred around a certain theme or a place. For example, Rebecca’s running one for people who’ve experienced burnout to design and share paths to recovery, Kate is running a place-based one connecting people in Exeter, and Max is running one for parents across the country who need a source of community and co-action. What we’ve realised having learnt from over 50 of these now, is that they create their own micro-climate. They develop a shared culture and a depth of trust that allows them to be and act in a different way. And the way people are together shifts as well. The model invites you to step into more responsibility. When you’re in the role of co-learner in a group you have to shapeshift a lot more. You have to provide and learn from feedback much more, and stay accountable to yourself and the group in a way you just wouldn’t in a typical learning environment. Participants report a 25% increase in feeling useful, purposeful and worthwhile after a Huddle, and an almost 40% increase in feeling supported and invested in by others. We’ve found that we can literally alter our perception of challenging things by surrounding ourselves with the right kinds of relationships.

So why does this matter? Well we think it matters because this century is providing us with the steepest learning curve in human history. We have to re-imagine, re-design and re-learn how to live and act in the world. This event is a great example of this — how we are treating each other as co-learners in how to build high trust democracies in a democratic way.

Another example from our work of this is Money Movers. This is a peer learning community for women to shift to greener finance options. In a world where shifting towards a greener pension can be up to 21 times more impactful than stopping flying, going vegetarian or changing energy supplier combined — it makes sense to think about what we’re doing with our money. So we partnered with Friends of the Earth on a peer learning programme for women to get together and use their financial power for climate action. Sometimes information isn’t enough. Sometimes you need a supportive group of people to learn with about what you can do, and to stay accountable with in committing to action. And it’s working. So far in our pilots 140 women have moved £1.2million for the planet and EVERY woman has reported feeling more able to align her finances with her values.

The last example I want to talk about is the Neighbourhood Doughnut. This was a partnership with the Doughnut Economics Action Lab and civic square to take the ideas of Doughnut Economics off the page and apply them to neighbourhoods in the real world.

We designed a learning journey where 12 hosts would bring over 150 budding renegade neighbourhood economists together to experiment and craft with the ideas of Doughnut Economics in a way that can be felt in our daily lives.

Over 6 months, these groups explored the ideas in the book and ran different workshops for each other to bring those concepts to life. Each person got a different chapter of the book to work with, which led to things varying from improv sessions to explore the roles of different actors in the economy, to playing with systems frameworks and I think there was a potluck dinner gathering to represent being distributive by design.

Then the next phase was all about putting what they’d learnt into practice through a project. Each person developed a learning question about how to make doughnut economics real in their neighbourhood, and together they had project-focused workshops and studio days to support each other to move forward with them.

It ended with a showcase event — where everybody got the chance to share with the public what they’d been working on. You can check out the projects that emerged through the stories that have been shared through DEAL and civic square, but some of the projects ranged from speculative Virtual Reality high streets of the future in Birmingham, guided nature immersion tours in London — and it’s had ripple effects that have continued as well — so Lorna Prescott who hosted a learning journey in Dudley has gone on to seek funding for a peoples’ climate school there, and Rachael Kelly is seeking local authority funding in Cheltenham to replicate the peer to peer learning model locally.

So — in summary — what happens when you put peer relationships at the heart of change?

  • You create microclimates where different cultures can start to live, breathe and spread through trust.
  • You create a community of shapeshifting co-learners — who learn the skills needed to adapt to the change that lies ahead of us, and who step into taking more responsibility for the health of the whole group
  • You start to see hosting as leadership. How you bring people together, how you work with group dynamics and set a shared culture of each person bringing their gifts into the world becomes really important.

I’ll leave you with a final invitation: We’re just kicking off an event series to explore what a surge in peer-to-peer learning might look like across different movements for change. We want to use some of what we’ve learnt through the Neighbourhood Doughnut, Money Movers and Huddling to think differently about what this kind of infrastructure could look like to put peer learning and support at the centre of some of the change that’s needed. If you’re interested — check out our social channels or come and chat to me for more info. Thank you for listening!

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Daniel Ford

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