Changing places: The pioneers reimagining education systems one city at a time

24 January 2019

Over the last six months, Big Change has sought out pioneers of educational change all over the world to explore how change happens.

We think it’s important to know, not just what changes are needed in education, but also what it takes to get there. We’re looking forward to sharing the final findings of this work in the coming weeks. The good news is that already we’re finding common characteristics between the approaches of change pioneers whether they’re operating at a school, product or systems level.

Building on this work, we were offered the opportunity to convene a discussion panel at this year’s LearnIt conference in London, to explore the ‘how’ of systems change.

On Friday 25th January Big Change MD, Essie North brings together three speakers whose work has galvanised innovative learning across cities; bringing together policymakers, parents, young people, businesses and educators to make change across the whole system of learning.

The line-up consists of Damian Allen from Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, Gregg Behr architect of the Grable Foundation’s Remake Learning programme in Pittsburgh and Megan Madel from Collective Shift’s LRNG, a platform that started in Chicago and is now used in 16 cities around the US.

Damian Allen
Damian Allen, Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council

Each of these speakers’ interventions tackle questions of inequality, roots to employment, the role of digital technology and strong connection between schools and the wider community. But they all grew out of very different approaches, from policy intervention, to human centred design, and digital platform build.


Doncaster is a Northern English town with poor social mobility and high unemployment rates. Doncaster Metropolitan Borough council has committed to being the most child-friendly borough in England; placing a real emphasis on achievement and aspiration and providing the next generation with the opportunities that they deserve. The transformation of Doncaster’s education and skills system is based on a future-focused, long term (5 to 10-year) policy platform that has already introduced new provision and delivered better outcomes.

Gregg Behr, Remake Learning
Gregg Behr, Remake Learning


Remake Learning is a network of more than 500 organisations. It represents a group of interconnected, creative, and innovative people and organisations in the greater Pittsburgh region. It works to spark and share best practices and new ideas, make it easier for neighbours and colleagues to help each other, reduce duplicative efforts in the region, and leverage resources collectively for greater impact. The focus areas of the programme include; Maker Learning, Computer Science, STE(A)M, Next Generation Professional Learning and Student Voice.

Connie Yowell
Connie Yowell, LRNG


LRNG works with cities, organisations and schools to connect inspiring learning experiences, particularly for young people from underserved communities, to real career opportunities. The LRNG platform enables young people to discover both local and national learning experiences using their computer, smartphone or tablet. Young people pursue their interests with mentors and peers to earn badges and build new skills and habits, which unlock internships and jobs. Recently LRNG has merged with Southern New Hampshire University to deploy innovative, community-based education strategies in cities across the nation.


On Friday’s panel (kicking off at 10.25am) the speakers will discuss how they managed to create the conditions for change in their different cities. From our previous conversations and research we see that there are clear commonalities to their journeys of change.

Just three things they all have in common are:

Using the power of shared identity that comes from place

Pioneer Danian Allen Doncaster Quote
Pioneer Gregg Behr Remake Learning Quote

Building a powerful coalition of unusual suspects to craft compelling vision for change

Pioneer Gregg Behr Remake Learning Quote
Connie Yowell LRNG Quote

Change is a continuous process – plan to experiment, iterate and develop as you scale

Connie Yowell LRNG Quote
Pioneer Danian Allen Doncaster Quote

For more insight on the how of systems change, we will be live-tweeting from the LearnIt conference event on the hashtag #Learnit2019 or #Learnit19 and you can sign up here to our newsletter to keep informed on our latest research and publications.

BY: Tom Kenyon