Exploring Human Learning Systems

By Mandy Westcott, Q Lab Cymru Senior Improvement and Collaboration Manager

Mandy Westcott

Human Learning Systems (HLS) is an alternative way of delivering public service that embraces complexity, relationships, and learning. It aims to create public services that are tailored to the unique strengths and needs of each person, family and community they serve.

At Q Lab Cymru, we are curious about HLS and its potential to transform the way we work in NHS Wales and the public and third sector. We have set up an extensive programme of support with the Centre for Public Impact, beginning with a series of Discovery Sessions that investigate the possibilities of HLS. We’ve invited practitioners, leaders and experts from all over the UK to participate and share their insights of using HLS in their contexts.

Discovery Session 1

The first Discovery Session on 8 November 2023 was a hybrid event, with participants joining us online or in person at a Welsh community venue. This was an innovative and engaging way of reaching our diverse audience, and we were thrilled by the enthusiasm from participants.

The session was led by Professor Toby Lowe who introduced the key principles of HLS and explored how public service can work better for people using this approach which supports people-led care and improvement. He showed how learning can be a management strategy, a core principle of HLS. He gave some real-life examples, such as how Plymouth Council are applying it to encourage cooperation and value instead of targets.

Toby said: “The purpose of public management is to help people to create good outcomes in their lives. We need to open the door to the complex reality of how lives actually work.”

Mandy Westcott with some of the participants at the YMa community venue in Pontypridd

Guest speaker Gary Wallace, a Public Health Specialist from Plymouth Council, shared his insights on HLS. He said that better outcomes would result from giving up the control and embracing this approach which is based on relationships and trust.

We learned practical ways to start HLS from Ruth Ball from the Centre of Public Impact, such as how to build courage and momentum. She told us: “Don’t wait for things to be perfect, they never will be – that’s part of complexity. Start from where you’re at and you’ll learn lots of things.” She added: “Don’t neglect relationships, they are essential to bring out different perspectives and to understand how power, decision making and permission work”.

The session stimulated curiosity, creativity, and learning. It fostered community and connection among the participants, who discussed, reflected, and shared their HLS experiences. We found the session engaging and thought-provoking and it revealed the interest and enthusiasm for HLS and the desire to learn more about how to use this approach.

Continuing this learning journey

We were very pleased with the success of the first Discovery Session, and we’re looking forward to the next two sessions, which will focus on the practical aspects and the challenges of implementing HLS in public services.

The next session on 13 December 2023 will explore the tools and methods that can help us to apply HLS in our work. If you are interested in joining us, or you know someone who might be open and willing to learn more, please register here or help share the invitation wider. We hope to see you there, and we invite you to join us in this journey of discovery and learning about HLS. Together, we can make a difference and create better public services for the people of Wales.