Beyond (Un)employment Session 6
A Systems Approach to (un)employment

What’s your one hope for today?

“Some clarity – It’s got to a point where we’ve absorbed a lot and I need clarity on my own focus
“Interested in understanding systems change in practice not just in theory – what it’s about. I’m intrigued”
“Stimulating fun”
“Something to inspire me and make me want to work all summer”

How do we start to take a systems approach to projects and ideas? What are we feeling strongly curious about? What is the area that we need nudging into? These were some of the questions used to frame this final learning session together, with the aim of moving towards the questions that members of the cohort are going to focus their summer enquiry on. A jam-packed session ahead of them feat. 2 guest speakers and a sizeable timeline covering one wall, inviting contribution, the group arrived full of energy, curious and looking for personal and project-wide answers.

Impact Start Ups to Impact Movements

To launch the session content we heard from Indy Johar of Dark Matter Labs and Project 00 [zero zero] who inspired the cohort to think differently about systems in order to tackle complex, wicked challenges; ones where we don’t actually know what the solution is, and where the solution will not be in a singular type of ‘fix’. Here are some of the ideas he shared around shifting our language from impact start ups to impact movements.


Silicon Valley Seduction
Social startups are very useful for a particular type of idea; for complicated problems, but not complex ones. Like going to the moon, moonshot challenges. The impact space has been seduced by Silicon valley ideas and said ‘let’s do good with that’, and relies on thinking we can address our social challenges through that lens. But how do we stop using a start up language and start using a different language?


The Illusion of the Individual
The reality is your mind isn’t your mind, it’s a construct. Semiotic relationships with massive amounts of organisms. Interdependency is actually a cultural context. We have reached the end of the object-centred thinking. Environmental, financial problems, a crises of interdependencies. We’ve been reduced to this notion of the individual. How do you think when it’s 40-50 different solutions? How do you organise change in that world? There are ways of doing it, but we need to recognise those interdependencies.


Systems Build an Enlightened Self Interest 
You can operate differently but you can also invest differently, and move from management to condition making. Not a partnership model with professionals, a partnership model with citizens. Build your politics into the model itself. How do you turn this into a public learning conversation? The ability to have a conversation is more important than dumbing down language.

A Lot of our Language is Out of Date
A lot of our language comes from an industrial way of seeing the world – what is public, what is private. Your language structures how you see the world. This is about moving from a noun-based world into quantum. In the framing of that language, where do we feel like we belong? What happens when you become conscious of how language is shaping your reality? When your house price ‘goes up’, what is actually going up is access to common good.

The Human Revolution
What if I was to say that automation is going to release our humanity? which is what technology has always historically done. Our existence can become far more empathetic, creative, fun, different value. Imagine a work where we were focused on unleashing the human capital of Birmingham; to unlock our full capacity in a way we’ve never dreamt of before. This is not a destructive age, this is actually the human revolution.

The Story so Far

After discussing and interrogating Indy’s flavour of a system’s approach, we took a break, and came back together upstairs and began to plot a timeline of what we had covered over the past 6 sessions.

Session 1 – Big questions, world cafe discussions.
Session 2 – Shared our own stories, practised listening, Human Library
Session 3 – Looked at data and definitions of (un)employment, scrutinised reports
Session 4 – The Pump, looked at projects in this space, poster tour
Session 5 – Implications of Brexit, three speakers sharing on that topic
Session 6 – Systems approach, two guests to open our minds plus recap / summer framing


The cohort used this rundown to answer the following questions:

What stuck with you from these sessions?
What are you still curious about?
What skill might you have picked up?

Flourishing and work – what it means to thrive and be happy

Why convene something – lack of convivial spaces to hear individual stories

How you form good teams, gel with – not because you’re the same or different, but something makes things work (but I don’t know what that is)

How can you know if what you’re about to do is going to make the system better or worse? When there’s lots of uncertainty or change in the air those with power are often looking for ideas. How can you create modular ideas but also stuff as part of the system rather than just ideas that people get off on.

I was thinking that systems are new, but what’s shifted is to think about it to be okay to use that word. It’s previously been frowned upon to blame ‘the system’ / if people are ‘playing’ the system, in prisons for example, as people need to take responsibility for their actions. Interested in where you draw the line between individual action, and this has confused me a little bit more.

What’s the turning point which creates change in the next few generations?

Structures of learning vs. personal learning. Some of us become the new system, and what we forget is that sustainability is taking people with us.

Is it in government’s interest to adopt or embrace new way of systems thinking? Does a person need to be a particular person to be a systems thinker?

If we know unemployment is not a single issue but don’t leave even this space with something that creatively shows what the interdependency points are within this system then I think we’ve done a disservice.

I naturally think in a system’s way but my job replies on the ability to sell a strategy. Accepted ways of acting, behaving, intervening – the same projects come up again and again. Interested in how you map that system out, and also how you create learning or meaning or ways of working with policy makers or those who can create those projects and programmes to think differently.

One thing that comes up again and again for me is how we break long term patterns that lock people into certain ways of thinking or being.

Curious about how we can look at deprivation differently and if that would have an impact on the increase of social mobility.

Interested in the current political system and four year plans we keep on making, and how something more long term could be put in place.


System Mapping Tools

“There’s no doubt language has to be demystified, but the assumption that people don’t want to be part of their future is a complete myth.” – Immy

With so much curiosity around today’s thread of system change and system mapping, it felt fitting to hear from Andy Reeve to culminate all of those big questions into some next steps; where we might start and tools we might use. Here are some of those points and suggestions that were shared:

Next we can look at ways to make systems thinking into something you can see or share. This kind of tool can help you create something as an output and start the conversations to be had on that journey, making it more cohesive.

One such tool is KUMU ( A group of scientists and tech guys thought there was lack of tools to engage people in complex issues.

Simple problem solving, strong interdepencies, can’t disregard housing, health, education etc.
Layer them up and see how many different things affect quality of life in a place. Find key intervention points Starts to illustrate where the ‘that’s not my job’ people can play a role. Add evidence into tabs.

Where you might begin? Begin with the most recent article that you read, the thing that’s driving you to do it. Follow the intelligence.

There followed a group discussion crossing all conversations had so far in this session, before we ran out of time and needed to plan the next steps for how the cohort would come together around their enquiry points. Today big, relentless, unanswerable, fascinating, important ideas, blew the lid and/or doors off the conversation. From the first session going deeper into what work means to us, to hearing about applying system-level thinking in this, session 6 we have challenged one another and ourselves and never stopped asking questions or ceased connecting up potential strands to the (un)employment in Birmingham conversation, something which is a testament to the methodology of the team but also the dedication of the cohort.

As Indy put it, Birmingham is not a physical geography, it’s a system, a cultural flow – some of it’s very local, some of it’s widely global. Local is an illusion – your shoes, socks, laptop, food isn’t local. Living in massive global interdependence. What is the new global Birmingham that represents that interdependence? How do we have a different type of conversation with ourselves?

This deep thinking and mind expansion was a vital part of this process, yet at odds with the practicalities of hosting this group and giving everyone the nuts and bolts that they needed to leave the session with. It’s now our responsibility as a cohort to navigate this, and come together in other spaces.

“We must not hold ourselves out of the systems and blame it, but take action within it.” – Indy Johar

This final learning session as a group brought together all of the listening, learning, questioning and growth from across the course of our time exploring together, and was the beginning of funnelling, or catalysing members of the cohort to determine what projects or lines of enquiry they want to work on over the summer, and beyond as part of the remainder of the programme later on in the year.

We are starting to see a handful of clear areas that are coming out, that will become a handful of working groups. With the group coming together for the Ambassador Meeting later in the week, there is plenty more time to set out the journey ahead for each of our awesome participants, and the momentum around the use of Mighty Networks throughout the process so far has now given us a connected space to check in, continue conversations and move them forward into proposed actions together digitally.

As we prepare to host project members from the other cities taking part in Beyond (un)employment here in Birmingham, as well as moving into the next phase of the project later in the year to publicly hack the working foci of the cohort, we couldn’t be more excited for what comes next.

Live illustrations by Katie Tomlinson.
Photography by Paul Stringer.