Beyond The Rules:

Re-imaging the rules we want to break

The current structures of organising and governing can cause barriers, putting stops in progression, and make it harder to get genuine transformational change that permeates all areas of the system(s) we are working with.


It therefore may be a fair assumption that they are not best placed to support the change we are seeking.

When thinking about the work of York MCN, made up of the York MCN Network, various working groups, learning programmes, focused inquiries and exploratory approaches to age-old problems, we probably sit best under the umbrella of a non-formal movement or network. We have no formal organising or governing structure, but are made up of different component parts that organise around the desire to improve the systems supporting people experiencing multiple and complex needs/severe and multiple disadvantage.

To help support the coordination of activity of work in York, there is an Enabling Team. This is made up of four people hosted by three different organisations in York.  The role and function of the Team is to support the system, convening and holding spaces, connecting, communicating, and gathering and reflecting learning back to the system.





In January 2020, we were invited along to a meeting to discuss some of these questions, as well as other questions and issues around governance and organisational structures across different organisations, groups and agendas.

Together with Lankelly Chase, Black Thrive, Democracy Society and Dark Matter Labs, we have embarked upon a shared journey to explore alternative governance and organisational structures, and all of the ‘stuff’ that come with these. We have been looking inwards at our collaborative partnership, as well as our own organisations and networks; and looking outwards, we are seeking, exploring, and collating learning and insights from others who are coming up against governance and structure issues, who may be experimenting with alternative principles, who are working and learning in the messiness, and creating some of the ‘beautiful exceptions’ that overcome the challenges that traditional structures and principles create.

As put so succinctly by Dark Matter Labs: “together we intend to create an open-source space where structures, tools, processes, philosophies, and systems can be shared openly, learnt from, and built upon collectively. We aim to learn and experiment together in how we govern and organise for ‘good’ for the 21st Century.”


If we see the ‘outputs’ in our work as components of a tree: the structures of organising and governing are the roots – they shape, limit, provide boundaries for, resource, energise, allow, and ultimately dictate the ‘output’.


There is only so much we can alter the tree without changing what makes up the roots themselves.

Man Reaching Star


What governance and infrastructure is needed for this work?

Questions held by both the Enabling Team and the wider system include:

How does the Enabling Team interact with the wider system and programme of work across York MCN?


How are decisions made?

Where does accountability and responsibility lie for this work?

Some other questions that have been coming up for us:

  • What are the future structures/platforms/shapes/principles that we need?

  • How far can we think outside the box? Can we or do we have to reinvent the wheel?

  • Can something exist outside bureaucratic structures that takes a different “Form”, whilst also working alongside and also challenging these structures that can be problematic?

  • How do we challenge and change structures, and create tangible resources that can support others to do this too?

  • How does language impact these conversations and who and how many people get involved?

“Collectively we are exploring how systemic issues are being addressed in relation to why people and communities continue to struggle and fail to flourish, across centuries of injustice and inequality. What are the root causes in their particular contexts? And once we know, how exactly do we respond – in our own organisations, within statutory services and across society as a whole?”

Our first thoughts - Why Democratic Society is going Beyond the Rules… -Democratic Society (


“A Partnership exploring practical tools for a new type of organising with the purpose of creating ‘public good’.”

“Together we intend to create an open-source space where structures, tools, processes, philosophies, and systems can be shared openly, learnt from, and built upon collectively. We aim to learn and experiment together in how we govern and organise for ‘good’ for the 21st Century.”

#BeyondTheRules. | by Dark Matter | Nov, 2020 | Dark Matter Laboratories (

“We’ve been alongside a lot of our partners as they’ve struggled with issues around governance, decision making and power (they are parallel to our own).

Issues that bleed through into resources and resourcing. Into control and mandates. Into objectives and management. Into regulation. Into human interaction. Into values. Into what good is and means. The combination of these issues (or themes or topics) we rolled into one word- governance. This means that when we talk about governance, we are talking about the dynamics and processes at play when a group of interested and affected parties come together to solve a collective problem.”

 Lankelly Chase | Beyond the Rules


York MCN

15 Priory Street



Site artwork created by Jon Dorsett, Visual Facilitator