Beyond (Un)employment Session 1
Setting The Scene With Some Big Questions

To launch Beyond (un)employment here at Impact Hub Birmingham, our first session on Wednesday 19th April introduced us to the programme and each other as we explored the context that this journey sits within. As a collaborative learning community, we are part of a global participation approach to this challenge alongside Impact Hubs Florence, Moscow, Yerevan & Zagreb. As the Birmingham arm of this think global, act local approach, we will be looking at the enquiry question: “How does leaving the EU affect the future workforce in a regional city?” but within this project kick off there were plenty more questions to get our minds primed for this work, together. Here are some of the outcomes from those questions.


How do we work collaboratively, and learn together?

The group identified that we will be working together for a 6 month duration, considerably longer than a 24 hour hack, where sometimes solutions can look neat, but when you go deeper there are reasons they may only work on surface level. This is going to be hard, not getting to one single answer. There is no perfect process. We need to interrogate ourselves.

Here are some of the ideas around our approach to learning, together:

  • Focus on co-creating knowledge not teacher / pupil relationships
  • Aim to build collective intelligence
  • Use a range of visualisation, harvesting and mapping techniques throughout to make new links and connections
  • Conduct sessions using formats such as world cafe, human library, deep / active listening, observational studies, micro lectures etc.
  • Programme underpinned by individual research / reading / digital engagement between sessions

After introductions and explorations around the project, the group took part in a world cafe style discussion of the following four questions. Here were some of the initial themes and thoughts to rise out of these open conversations:

What is valuable work?

  • Unseen value within society, with many important jobs ‘hidden away’, such as bin men.
  • Counter question, what isn’t valuable work?
  • Personal value being individual to each person i.e. does it meet their goals?
  • In relation to hierarchy of needs: hobbies and friendships can build upon what work gives us. For some people work has a wider value.
  • In any job, value to the employer is providing an excellent service, being thorough / professional.
  • Getting feedback, guidance and encouragement from colleagues can be considered valuable.
  • Value for employee can be created / measured in any role through benefits being provided e.g. holiday pay, working hours, pension.
  • “Does it make the world a better place? Then it’s valuable.”

What is unemployment?

  • Having little or no money → deprivation.
  • Dependence on others i.e. government, family, loans.
  • Stressful, constant pressure to look for work or have to prove yourself.
  • Can be social construct – imposed definition, norms of behaviour e.g. is a housewife / homemaker unemployed?
  • Self-employed / unemployed?
  • Having no job. Going to job centre – dealing with indignity of that.
  • Huge social stigma around unemployment. ‘Scroungers’ rhetoric. Could mean volunteering, learning, redundancy.
  • ‘Not adult until you’re financially independent’ = juvenilisation

What would it take for Birmingham to be a place where no-one is unemployed?

  • Create jobs for all people who want one.
  • Basic income → remove links between money and work / activity. (If employment didn’t exist as a concept, what would we all be doing?)
  • Mass culture change: from reimagining community to changing government definition of employment.
  • Change language to “living”, “living well” or “thriving”.
  • Helping people set up their own business with links, building confidence.
  • Challenge perception that not everyone is fit for work → Work at different time of the day? Fragmented over time? Paid / unpaid?
  • Look at other things – suitable housing and transport.
  • Should employment be the gold standard for everyone?

Why is the question “what do you do?” one of the first questions we ask in social settings?

  • Group association (in group, out group).
  • Networking and trade opportunities.
  • Says something about your values.
  • Because it’s interesting.
  • Generational question. Previously may have been “What does your husband do”.
  • Also used to be something known to each other in communities / villages, but now we meet a lot more new people.
  • “My family have never understood what I do.”
  • What are you working on? → this question feels more legitimate now.


The session was followed by an open screening of the powerful Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, with subsequent discussion hosted around how communities like Impact Hub Birmingham can come together to help re: the themes raised in the film. This rounded off an explorative, rich and varied session to open the hearts and minds of the cohort and wider team, which set the grounding for how we might work together in the coming months. We look forward to sharing more about the Beyond (un)employment Birmingham group over on our project page, but in the meantime here is a video capturing the thoughts of three participants, Sophia, Andrew and Thom, at the close of our first session together.

To follow along with updates from the programme visit:
or drop your comments, ideas or links into the form below to have your say, and feed into the conversations started in this session.

Live illustrations by Katie Tomlinson.
Photography & videography by Paul Stringer.