Weaving Learning Ecosystems for Universal Wellbeing

Guest Post: Ross Hall – The Weaving Lab

This article is a summary of reflections from Ross Hall following the WISE Summit in Doha in December. I have published this with permission and look forward to the many conversations that will be generated following the Roundglass Learning Summit this week.  Thanks Ross, Roundglass and the global weavers who are exploring holistic ways of learning and wellbeing.


I’ve just returned home after an exhausting and equally energising week at WISE (the World Innovation Summit for Education) in Doha. Under the title UnLearn, ReLearn: What it Means to be Human, over 3,000 educators and influencers busied themselves with plenary talks, debates, workshops, networking, and deep conversation.

At such a large scale, it’s impossible to experience everything WISE has to offer, and of course my perspectives of the event were skewed by my own limited experience, which involved: Dipping into plenary discussions; Holding intense 1-on-1 discussions and interviews; Co-leading the WISE Emerging Leaders’ Program (with a focus on personal wellbeing and collaborative leadership); Co-hosting a Weaving Lab learning journey (including an experimental online learning experience with 30 weavers in Doha and 60 dialled in from around the world); And co-facilitating a workshop entitled ‘Learning to Live for Universal Wellbeing’.

Another important caveat to bear in mind is that the following reflections are undoubtedly coloured by my own confirmation bias, which I suspect is strong at the moment, so although I’ve tried to be as objective as possible, do please take everything below with a pinch of salt.

1. Holding Dualities

It is increasingly apparent to me that to effect systemic change in education, it is important to get better at living with dualities. The complex nature of changing education systems requires collaborative approaches and both complexity and collaboration inevitably bring seemingly opposing realities. I was conscious of many dualities in Doha, but here are five that stand out:

Certainty and doubt – I felt a strong sense of clarity through many conversations in Doha. But the deepest conversations were those in which both parties remained open to being wrong.

Urgency and patience – Throughout the conference, there was a palpable sense of urgency to transform education and to address the many crises we are facing as a species and planet. But I was struck by the idea that the most impactful work is often deeply reflective and inevitably slow.

Optimism and anxiety – If we want to change the world, it’s important to face up to the terrible realities we’re now facing. But there are huge numbers of inspiring people doing inspiring work everywhere and it’s important that we take the time to celebrate and build hope.

Chaos and order – We have a tendency to expect only projects that are planned, linear and measurable to succeed. While this can be helpful, it seems equally true that change is often unplannable, messy and immeasurable.

International and local – Many of us are drawn to create change at global or national scales and while this seems valid and desirable, change must, inevitably, be grounded in the everyday, local lives of real human beings. International initiatives must connect with local projects.

Weaving collaborative change therefore requires an ability to hold tensions between apparent opposites.

2. Innovation and System Change

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of conversation about the need for new innovations and the need to get better at spreading existing innovations (including what might also be called ‘wise practices’). The following challenges to the spread of innovation & wise practices came through strongly in Doha:

  • Scaling is complex, messy and needs localisation. Early adapters should perhaps be called early adapters.
  • Codification of innovations & wise practices is poor which can make it difficult for early adapters to adapt.
  • Stories of innovations & wise practices spreading successfully are scarce which hinders the early majority from becoming early adapters.
  • Evidence that supports the effectiveness of innovations & wise practices is often missing, which hinders uptake.
  • Innovations and wise practices are not always designed for scale.
  • Innovations and wise practices are too rarely focused on deep, enduring, systemic change.
  • Many scaling projects are too focused on scaling the organisation, rather than scaling the idea.
  • Innovators and early adapters need to learn how to scale, but usually invest too little in their own learning.
  • The task of scaling is too often taken on by lone heroes, whereas effective scaling usually requires teams who are collaborating and supporting each other.
  • Scaling projects are often isolated from people and processes that have a critical impact on the adoption and implementation of an innovation or wise practice. Many actors who create the necessary conditions for scaling/spreading innovation and wise practice are often left out of the process.

These last two points, in particular, point to the importance of weaving in the spread of innovation and wise practice.

3. Universal Wellbeing

There was a strong wellbeing theme throughout the conference this year, which, as someone who struggles with anxiety and who is surrounded by people burning out from trying to change the world, was refreshing in itself.

More satisfying was the ease by which the term Universal Wellbeing was used to describe the wellbeing of self, society and nature as an interdependent whole. And even more exciting was how the term resonated so strongly as a guiding North Star for everyone’s work that is directed at the SDGs and beyond.

From the perspective of weaving, I feel strongly that we need to point our weaving efforts in the direction of Universal Wellbeing. It’s quite possible to weave a beautiful and powerful network that works against our wellbeing. The practice of weaving in itself is neutral. But by sharing Universal Wellbeing as our North Star, we can weave together many, many networks into an increasingly powerful, positive organism.

4. Learning Ecosystems and Place-Making

Encouragingly, the idea of learning ecosystems was very present in conversations throughout Doha, driven in part by the WISE/Innovation Unit’s report, Local Learning Ecosystems: Emerging Models https://www.wise-qatar.org/2019-wise-research-learning-ecosystems-innovation-unit/ and helped also by the release of Pavel Luksha’s and Jessica Spencer-Keyes’ new report, Learning Ecosystems: An Emerging Practice for the Future of Education.

In part, the idea of learning ecosystems is being used helpfully to denote a new kind of learning system (holistic, emergent, collaborative, adaptive, organic) from the now defunct model of an education system (narrow, linear, fragmented, inert, mechanistic). However, the idea of a learning ecosystem is not limited to a new form of education system per se and can be used to describe any neighbourhood, city, organisation or network in which everyone is learning to live for universal wellbeing.

Another critical aspect here came through some beautiful conversations I had in Doha about how, when we weave learning ecosystems, we must pay attention to the ‘eco’ and ensure that nature is always present. Learning in, with and for nature is essential to a learning ecosystem and to universal wellbeing.

Equally encouraging was the emergence of Place-Making as a term that means the weaving of geographically-centred learning ecosystems (the intentional creation of whole neighbourhoods, villages, towns or cities in which everyone is learning to thrive together (learning to live for universal wellbeing – learning to care for themselves, each other, and nature).

5. Weaving

Tying all this together is the idea of weaving, which might well have been the word of the conference. It seemed to be present in every conversation, with a very strong sense that the spread of innovation and wise practice – and change in education systems – is moving too slowly, to a large extent because there is insufficient alignment, collaboration and systemic action.

Weaving is, by definition, the ongoing and nuanced process of:

    • Aligning your community
    • Aligning your community to a shared purpose, values and history.
    • Growing a diverse community
    • Nurturing dynamic, trusted relationships.
  • Collaborating
    • Creating the conditions for collective action
    • Co-creating teams of teams
    • Maintaining direction & momentum of teams & projects
    • Fostering innovation & communication across teams
  • Acting systemically
    • Understanding systems and systems change
    • Reading & sensing your learning ecosystem
    • Creating impact in your learning ecosystem
    • Measuring progress & financing your ecosystem
  • Being your new ecosystem
    • Being self-aware, empathic, present & open
    • Being purposeful & proactive
    • Being reflective, possibility-minded, thoughtful & wise
    • Being resourceful, creative & playful
    • Being authentic, vulnerable, courageous & resilient
  • Learning together
    • Being adaptable, growth-minded & curious
    • Identify community learning objectives & methods
    • Facilitating flows of learning throughout your community
    • Monitor, evaluate & apply learnings to evolve community purpose & practice

While being conscious of the caveats I mentioned above, I firmly believe that building our capacity to weave learning ecosystems for universal wellbeing is a prerequisite to transforming education systems and to thriving together.

Thank you to WISE for your foresight and invaluable contribution.


And thanks Ross for sharing your post with us! For more information about Ross Hall and The Weaving Lab visit https://weavinglab.org/

Learning ecosystems are a critical part of our conversations. That is something we are committed to at Ako Ōtautahi, Learning City Christchurch. Check out our emerging thinking at https://learningcitychristchurch.nz/

You might also explore some previous Think Beyond posts that connect with this post:

Uniquely Human is a strength

The X-shaped Learner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *