Wolverhampton for Everyone (WE) is a social lab and platform that creates conditions to make it easier for people in Wolverhampton to create, share, make, do and learn things together. Part of our approach is bringing together a network of people that want to create positive change in Wolverhampton (our partnership), and sharing what we have all been doing and learning.

We are fascinated with looking at what is happening in Wolverhampton through different lenses and with different minds each time the WE partnership gathers together. Throughout our growing year, the partnership gathered to explore:

  • Network weaving and mapping — a way to learn more about who is in the Wolverhampton network, and what positive changes we are collectively working towards.
  • Systems thinking with the iceberg model — a method to visualise the complex system within which we are trying to instigate positive change.
  • Principles Focused Evaluation — a process that helps us learn and reflect on what is happening across Wolverhampton (we’ll dig into this in another post).

The WE partnership gatherings are designed to be flexible so people can tap into them whenever they wish, and progress our collective learning and ideas from the previous gatherings. This post collates what resources we have explored so far, and what we collectively learnt throughout our growing year.

The partnership is open to everyone, so we capture the stories and ideas shared, and invite everyone to be part of these continuing conversations and actions towards positive change — look out for the webs ? to find out how you can connect and grow ideas.

Network Weaving

Wolverhampton has an abundance of people and organisations who have a desire to drive positive change across the city. Through our systems approach, Wolverhampton for Everyone aims to connect people so everyone can complement and contribute to each other’s work, rather than duplicate or work in competition.

Communities are built on connections… Improved connectivity is created through an iterative process of knowing the network and knitting the network. (Krebs & Holley, 2002)

We want to help build better connected communities through action, collaboration and peer learning. A critical part of this approach is based on Network Weavers, a concept developed by June Holley:

A Network Weaver is someone who is aware of the networks around them and explicitly works to make them healthier (more inclusive, bridging divides). Network Weavers do this by connecting people strategically where there’s potential for mutual benefit, helping people identify their passions, and serving as a catalyst for self-organizing groups. (Holley, 2010)

?You can learn more about Network Weaving by ? reading the Network Weaver Handbook or ? listening to June Holley on the In Too Deep podcast.

Inspired by CoLab Dudley’s sessions on sharing their own learning around Network Weaving, the WE partnership gathered in November 2019 to explore the complex network in Wolverhampton.

The partnership shared their various hats, talents and what they are learning and doing to unearth connections to each other — two partners even realised they were neighbours. We also talked about the issues that we work with across Wolverhampton, and identified links between our different actions within the same complex system.

The result was a complex (and delightful) mess of curiosity, talents, resources and action across Wolverhampton, from an artist / community activist working on an asylum project, and a herbalist with a truck building community networks; to the longest serving black dame in the UK delivering drama therapy workshops, and a garden enthusiast developing more opportunities to support people living with dementia.

The WE team are now experimenting with tools, like Kumu, to help us visualise and share this complex network. We are also exploring how we can help to nurture this network, inspired by Network Weaver’s work around Human Factors in Regenerative Networks:

“…in paying attention to qualities of diversity, intricacy and flow in network structures, people can support systems’ ability to self-organize, adapt and evolve in ways that deliver vitality to participants and to the whole.”

With the Research Alliance for Regenerative Economics, Network Weaver has been developing design principles and indicators for regenerative networks, which resonate with our own approach:

  • Connectedness — facilitating overall health and wholeness of the system
  • Equity — creating more equitable opportunities for people with different starting points in various systems
  • Distribution of power/ Democracy — facilitating equitable, dynamic and timely development
  • Information flow / Transparency — freely and fluidly sharing ideas, information and feedback generated by all
  • Shared resources — determining and moving resources through the system
  • Collaboration and cooperation — joint working between different nodes of the system
  • Self-organisation — supporting self-organisation and initiative, away from unnecessary dependencies.
  • Diversity — supporting resilience and innovation with diverse perspectives, input and participation
  • Shared responsibility — contributing to the health of the system and participants
  • Creativity / innovation — supporting and valuing taking risks
  • Humility / learning orientation — understanding the limits of our understanding and fundamental interdependence with one another for growth beyond fixed mindsets
  • Love — caring for others

? Let us know if you have worked with these principles, or have ideas for how WE can visualise, share and nurture our network.

Systems Thinking

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In March 2020, just before lockdown, the partnership gathered in Jesters Cafe with delicious vegetable soup, and shared what we are curious about in Wolverhampton and what we want to learn more about:

  • What helps and hinders agency and participation?
  • Organic development and the surprises that come with it.
  • Making the city better by people changing from passive to active.
  • How our network can reach communities that need this, beyond people who are already inclined to this work.
  • How we tap into what is happening in Wolverhampton to share with other people.
  • The sparks that connect people.
  • How people get involved with things and how to sustain this participation.

? What are you curious about in Wolverhampton?

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Our shared purpose as a partnership is to create positive change within a complex system. The process of change can be:

  1. Understanding the system by making the system visible and establishing a shared purpose.
  2. Co-designing principles and values.
  3. Co-designing experiments and sharing our learning and reflections of these so we can improve our designs.
  4. Embedding the learning from this into our understanding of the system and how it is changing.

We wanted to explore what we are curious about through the first step to positive change: understanding the system by making it visible. Inspired by CoLab Dudley’s work in systems thinking, we experimented with the iceberg model to help us do this.

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Through our network weaving gathering, the partnership had already shared examples of what is happening in Wolverhampton. In our systems thinking gathering, we explored what might be happening under the surface, experimenting with Reos Partners’ workshop ‘Systems Thinking With the Iceberg’:

“The iceberg makes us look at a system through different lenses and provides a way to talk about the pictures we each hold of what is happening in the system. It forces us to expand our horizon and not limit ourselves to looking at just a single activity or event, but to step back and identify the different patterns that that event is part of, the possible structures that might be causing it to occur, and finally, the thinking that is creating those structures. It also helps us identify our own mental models, because in the end, the only thing we really can change is ourselves. By changing the way we think, we change the way we act, and therefore can create the transformation that we seek.’ Reos Partners

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First we looked at the tip of the iceberg: Events. We thought about events that we had observed in Wolverhampton relating to an issue that we are trying to address, and used the particular issues that other members of the partnership had identified in our network weaving gathering as inspiration.

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In two groups, we explored different events:

Group 1 — The public response to COVID-19 (at the time pre-lockdown) in stockpiling toilet roll and hand sanitiser.

Group 2 — The same people attending the same type of events in Wolverhampton.

Next, we took a longer view and thought about what patterns of behaviours these events might be part of, or what patterns these events might be leading to:

Group 1 — The COVID-19 stockpiling demonstrated individualism, seeing people as ‘other’, short term thinking, and an attraction to negative news.

Group 2 — There seems to be a pattern of closed networks, silos and inward-looking communities in Wolverhampton. People can be wary of trying new activities, the number of information sources is limited, people are not talking to each other, and people are too busy and not present.

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We dug deeper, and explored some of the structures that might be causing these patterns to occur:

Group 1 — Short-term thinking could be supported by structures of short political cycles and time-limited funding streams. There’s confusion around who has the power and resources.

Group 2 — Closed networks could be caused by poverty. People may have lacked the experience of co-design, supported by structures of service provision (doing to and for) rather than collaborative and participatory approaches (doing with or through).

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Finally, we uncovered the mental models that we felt are at play in the system behind our iceberg pictures:

Group 1 —“It’s someone else’s job”, “I want to protect what I have”, fear drives people, the individual is more important than society. People use fear to keep people in their place. “There isn’t enough” — “there is, we just need to share it”.

Group 2 — “I’m not good enough”, “I have nothing to offer”, “I can’t afford it”, “That’s what I pay tax for”, “I’m not creative”. People fear mess and need structure.

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By looking under the surface, and developing an understanding of the reasons behind things we are seeing in Wolverhampton, we can identify points in the system where we can make meaningful change. The partnership shared their reflections and ideas from this process:

  • “We could use this at a micro and macro level to help our understanding of the system.”
  • “We could work with the seasons to work with people’s natural energies. There should be no guilt in slowing down.”
  • “It’s easier to challenge ideologies and mental models than the structures.”
  • “Mental models can be stereotypical.”
  • “We need to think of mental models at an individual and institutional level.”

? We would love to hear whether you have experimented with this approach, and what you learnt.

To conclude the gathering, we all shared something new we are curious about from this process:

  • Using models like the iceberg to gently ask people what they are thinking so we can involve them in the change
  • How change can happen without people being overloaded
  • How we can grow our collective
  • Cyclical and seasonal working
  • How our principles will help us to achieve change, and dive into what’s missing

After our systems thinking gathering, lockdown set in and our partnership took these ideas with them into unprecedented change, exploring new ways of working. Our next post explores what the partnership have been doing, learning and planning since then.

? Join us for our next gathering to REIMAGINE WOLVERHAMPTON https://buff.ly/32OIXJd

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?The Wolverhampton for Everyone Library

We like to share resources we’ve found helpful or interesting so others can delve into them for information and inspiration:

? We’d love to hear what resources you would like to share. You can contact us via Email and follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagram & Eventbrite.