Learn by making.

What we've learned so far

Learn by making is a CDPS sponsored experiment to explore the idea that people learn best by doing something, rather than being told something. And we think it worked.

What we wanted to do

The Learn by making labs experiment was underpinned by 3 simple beliefs:

  1. We wanted to create a safe place to learn and be creative. By taking folks out of their day-to-day work and freeing them from their existing organisational constraints, could we create something amazing?

  2. We wanted it to be about hands-on making. By showcasing new tools and ways of working in a practical rather than a theoretical sense we hoped people would be more confident to re-use what they’ve learned in their day-to-day jobs.

  3. We wanted to encourage working in the open. We believe that sharing, thinking and learning in public, as you go, is a much better way to inspire and communicate with others. Getting it out there is an easy way to challenge yourself, your team and your organisation.

By doing these 3 things we hoped we might create a committed group of tiny rebels that could take what they’d learned back into their organisation with new skills, energy and confidence to be the change they crave.

What we’ve learned so far

We’ve spent 8 days over 4 weeks exploring how Learn by making might work. We wanted to share what we’ve learned now the first Labs pilot is complete.

There’s a long list of things we’d love to improve by iterating. For instance, we’d tweak the onboarding and some of the session content. There’s a tonne of things we’ve learned about logistics that would make it easier next time. All the things you only learn by doing, but here’s 5 big lessons learned.

Lesson 1: It needs to be safe to experiment

We dedicated time to getting to know each other. We thought this was an important investment to ensure that ten relative strangers felt comfortable together.

The big lesson though was that it was equally important to make people feel safe exploring a problem. For example, questions like: “Do we have permission to rethink this?”, “Should we ask person-x before we do this?”, “Are we allowed to say something isn’t working?”. If people don’t feel comfortable doing this then it’s hard to apply creative thinking, work in the open and demonstrate new ways to solve a problem. We learned that making it safe to experiment with real-life, work-related problems is essential.

Lesson 2: Making things is a great way to learn and communicate ideas

The purpose of Learn by making was to make things and put them in front of users - quickly! By doing this we learned that:

  • Making things together is a fantastic way to learn and actively experiment with new skills.

  • Showing a prototype demonstrates an idea better than just talking about a concept. Prototypes have the potential to change the conversation within organisations and allow others to be inspired and see things differently. If you can achieve this in a few days then it could save a lot of time and money.

Lesson 3: Experiencing user research is essential for Labs

When we first started Learn by making, a lot of people told us that user research was something they didn’t understand in their bones until they’d done it. How true this is.

We ran a couple of sessions around user research:

  • In our design challenge we looked at recruiting the right users to interview, and worked on discussion guides. It was all a simulation but this approach allowed us to explore the mechanics of setting up interviews and look at tricky interviewee behaviours through role play. It worked really well, much better than expected.

  • We put our Learn by making prototypes in front of real users: people that had experience of dealing with NRW and requesting permission to use their land. We only interviewed 3 people but hearing their thoughts on the current service and then our tiny prototype was jaw-dropping at times. The Labs environment gave us the time and space to organise this such that participants could focus on the feedback rather than get bogged down in the admin.

  • User feedback helped give our participants confidence that their hunches were right and gave them powerful video evidence to take to their senior team. The case for change was stronger for it.

Lesson 4: It’s hard to find the right problem to explore and prototype

We experimented with 2 approaches to hands-on learning - an abstract design challenge and a specific area of the NRW website. We learned:

  • There was value in exploring concepts in the abstract because it allowed us to step outside of the the day-to-day.

  • Something relevant is more impactful than something abstract. The value here was to pick a problem to focus on together. Had we decided on a specific problem to focus on up-front, we’d have missed the opportunity to talk through what makes an ideal area to explore and prototype. Making it relevant increases the chances of the work being taken forward.

Lesson 5: People learn by watching and talking to others

One lovely bit of feedback we had from participants was that they valued seeing the Learn by making team work together and how we collaborated and approached things.

We didn’t do anything consciously.

Right from the start we were upfront about Learn by making being an experiment and that we were also testing and learning as we went.

It turns out that by demonstrating this way of working ourselves, having a natural bias toward momentum, starting small and working in increments rubbed off as a way of working that they wanted to take forward. Seeing how we approached and solved problems was really valuable for them.

We asked 4 external experts present to us each week. Each is a leader in their field, who told stories and inspired new ways of thinking and working. This worked very well. They loved it! It allowed us to talk about how other organisations have approached similar problems and we all got to benefit from their experience. Thank you very much Richard Pope, Alistair Duggin, Sarah Winters and Giles Turnbull for sharing and making time for us.

Final thoughts

We think it’s worked pretty well.

There’s a space for Learn by making labs - somewhere between training and full-on teams.

We think it’s flexible enough to work in a number of different contexts and organisations. We’re also confident it can scale.

And we all loved doing it. Thank you to everyone involved, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.