Reducing inequity is a complex and ongoing struggle and one that requires our commitment and persistence. As the Human Learning System (HLS) approach develops, we will continue to try to diversify the movement, centre equity, inclusion and diversity more prominently, support others’ efforts to do that and share what we are learning as we go. To find out what we’ve learnt so far, read this blog as well as click on the button below to access the full resource.

In October 2022, we ran HLS Week – a week of free online events about all things Human Learning Systems. From the start we knew that there was one topic that was important to explore – how do HLS practitioners respond to diversity and enhance equity and inclusion? When no-one came forward to offer a session on that topic, we knew that Collaborate would need to host that conversation, even though we did not feel best placed to do so.

We began by looking back to see what had previously been said about HLS and equitable and inclusive practice. While HLS is intended to enhance equity and inclusion, we soon realised that there were not enough explicit examples of what this looks like in practice. 

We set up two conversations during HLS week, one called HLS and Equity and the other Diversity in the New World, and invited people to bring their questions and examples of what the practice of equity and inclusion might look like – for human-centred, relational practices, for learning and adaptation, and for whole system working.  We did not record these, due to the sensitive nature of the topic, but this blog shares some of what we learned from these important conversations. It links to a longer resource on developing equity and inclusion practice as HLS practitioners.

The starting point: ‘HLS: Public Service in the Real World’ 

Here are some examples of how the HLS e-book approached the topic, followed by examples of HLS case studies with an equity or inclusion lens. 

Human:  ‘Adopting a relational approach is not straightforward and raises important questions … about who we build relationships with. Responding to diversity is an essential feature of “human” approaches… to adopt a relational approach that encourages and embraces diversity – rather than reinforcing existing biases and networks requires us to critically examine …who makes decisions.’

Learning:  ‘Learning as strategy – learning in every interaction … is an approach to addressing injustice… the ongoing learning approach enables those voices and perspectives that have been marginalised by current practice to be heard.’

Systems : ‘Tackling power inequalities is a necessary part of enabling the diversity, and therefore health, of systems. Genuine participation of diverse voices in a system requires addressing the structural power inequalities which have meant that some voices are unreasonably valued over others.’

Relevant HLS case studies

Empowerment have set up a Lived Experience Team as system change agents.

Good Cents have developed a trauma-informed approach to debt services.

Lighthouse are co-producing residential care with young people.

Plymouth Alliance have powerfully used appreciative Inquiry to generate empathy.

Wellbeing Teams are paying their home care workers the living wage.

Our inquiry questions

We developed some questions of our own to explore during HLS Week

  • How does a bespoke, relational approach fit with a human rights approach to public service?  
  • If we move to a learning approach to management, where does accountability for equitable outcomes sit? 
  • How do we stop people limiting their own expectations of what it means to flourish, because of their unequal life experience? 
  • How do our biases affect how we build relationships and empathy?  
  • How do we create healthy systems that address historic and current power imbalances? 
  • What does it mean to be human in a system which divides people by class, by race, by gender, by ability, by orientation?

HLS Week conversations

In the two conversations we hosted during HLS Week, participants generously shared practices and approaches, finding it helpful to discuss these in relation to the three areas of HLS:

  • Human: strengths-based approaches to deep listening and trauma-informed practices; genuine co-production; addressing personal biases and developing cultural competencies; recognising personal and organisational privilege and power. 
  • Learning: facilitation practices which create space for equitable conversations; using affinity and caucus groups to create safe spaces; bringing lived experience and learned expertise together to develop insights and improvements.
  • Systems: moving to less hierarchical structures; providing resources to enable equal participation in decision-making; centering care and ethics when involving people in sharing their experiences for the purpose of improving the system.

Overall, participants agreed that as HLS practitioners there are many things that we can and must do to respond to diversity and to advance equity, inclusion and justice. We must be intentional and not tokenistic about this, it won’t happen by accident or only through goodwill. We must recognise our own power and privilege as we do so.

It’s really complex trying to reduce inequality, but we need to keep making sure we try to work in more equitable ways and keep reflecting on what we’re doing and how we can do it better.


It’s about being honest about where the power lies.  It’s making sure we keep reflecting back on our values and the purpose of what we are doing. Being honest about when we aren’t been open to diversity and differing opinions and why


Next steps

Remember, many more practices and resources can be found in our longer resource, here.

The resource goes into more depth about what we learned from HLS Week and from HLS case studies, as well as from conversation with practitioners on this topic. It is designed as a starting point for helping us develop our equity and inclusion practice as HLS practitioners. We share it with humility and as a recognition of our need and desire to learn more.

Please contact us if this is something you also want to do or if you want to discuss this resource.