Our Neighbourhood Learning Ground and the adjacent possible

By WiT, Feb 7 2018 03:42PM


A little under two years ago we were working with a couple of people leading organisations in Nottingham - one in the public sector, and the other in the voluntary sector - that in different ways were trying to support their communities and improve their neighbourhoods. Both were grappling with the challenges of diminishing resources and increasing needs, and the necessity to rethink how we work with and engage our communities.

We brought these people together, and conversations and developing trust led to a study tour to seek out wider experiences and share and learn from people in different places.

This in turn led to new ideas being explored and to previously unimagined collaborative working, underpinned by deepening trust and relationships.

We were then asked to imagine, shape and bring into being something that could help to continue these conversations, connections and fresh thinking – and extend and grow this across Nottingham. Our Neighbourhood Learning Ground was born.


Stuart Kauffman is a theoretical biologist who studies the origin of life and the origins of molecular organisation – and one of the concepts he has introduced and explored to try to understand and make sense of how simple organisms have evolved into complex adaptive systems is the ‘adjacent possible’. This is the space where small and incremental changes can happen, and each move into the adjacent possible opens up more adjacent possibles and increases the diversity of what can happen next.

Steven Johnson, in his book Where Good Ideas Come From has taken this idea and explored how it might also apply to the complex adaptive social systems of human society. Through telling the stories of many new inventions and ideas, he shows that change usually happens in small steps as we embrace ideas or try out new things in the adjacent possible – but each small step creates many new and more diverse opportunities – new adjacent possibles that were previously unthinkable or undoable.

'The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations.'

One way of looking at Our Neighbourhood Learning Ground, and how we have approached its early and first steps, is through the lens of the adjacent possible.

In this light, our role can be seen as helping people to explore existing, and then co-create new adjacent possibles. We are hoping to do this by:

o Bringing together people, growing relationships and trust, and creating the climate for exploring new ideas - creating a space and a culture that is open to fresh ideas and challenge

o Sharing ideas and practice from diverse perspectives and places – sparking the curiosity that might enable people to see potential adjacent possibles that were previously hidden

o Giving the support and encouragement that might make it possible for people and organisations to venture into the adjacent possible

o Sparking collaborations that might co-create new adjacent possibles

o Helping to nurture a wider ecology of adjacent possibles across the city

Our work with Our Neighbourhood Learning Ground is grounded in our understanding of complex adaptive living systems, and the processes that support and nurture their healthy growth. The first steps are exploring the current adjacent possible – who knows what new opportunities might emerge through this process in the future?

Add a comment
* Required
RSS Feed

Web feed