'Learning is a Luxury' action inquiry​​

In 2019, we interviewed over 40 people across the Gateshead system about their experience of working in the borough, with a particular focus on the issue of ‘learning’. We fed our top-level findings back to the system at an event in January 2020. We called the event ‘Learning is a Luxury’ – which was also our headline finding.


The system told us they were too busy doing the work and delivering the contracts to spend any significant time learning. Learning was considered an exclusive, top-down, as-and-when there was time consideration for most and not something that was done collectively within and across organisations.











photo of people sitting around a table discussing ideas at a CIACIC workshop
room full of people sitting around tables discussing ideas at a CIACIC workshop
photo of people sitting around a table discussing ideas at a CIACIC workshop

We also discovered two other headline findings:

  1. People felt there were not yet the sort of deep, trusting relationships that were needed, and the system was actively driving mistrust.

  2. There was a paralysing fear of change – people knew that things were not working well, but people were scared that changes would only make things worse.

The event was shaped to give participants both the opportunity to engage with people from other organisations around the key themes, as well as space and structure to identify concrete things they can actually do together to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged in Gateshead. Participants shared what they currently spent time on instead of learning and what sort of learning they would like to be doing.

These interviews and this event were key components in ‘helping to make the system visible.’ As a system, we co-designed half a dozen areas we wanted to work on collectively after the event. Then COVID hit, and we had to switch track...

Discussions, ideas and thinking from the event were captured in a graphic notation artwork by artist Susanna Mogaji.

Drawing from a CIACIC workshop called 'Learning is a luxury' showing a journey of learning in Gateshead

As part of Learning is a Luxury, we asked participants to map all their connections and networks across Gateshead. These pictures were fed into a Gateshead systems map, the results of which you can view here.