Why is learning is important for how we

approach complex needs?

We know that Multiple Complex Needs is as entangled, messy and complex as a social problem can get. We have little formal evidence to inform how we should operate, and few off-the-shelf solutions to fund or commission that we can be confident will work. While severe and multiple disadvantage is a growing focus in policy and multi-agency partnership working, there is still no clear precedent for those of us doing this type of work.

When we tackle complex issues, uncertainty and ambiguity become defining features of our working lives. Mistakes and failures become guaranteed. Our powers of prediction are severely curtailed, and we can only feel our way through from one happening to the next.



In complex environments, learning is therefore the engine for system change. Lacking a map from ‘A to B’, learning can function as a compass to navigate complex system change processes, and to reorient ourselves when we lose our way.

In the context of the Multiple and Complex Needs network, we’ve been exploring multiple ways of learning together.

Vintage photo created by freepik - www.freepik.com</a>


This has included developing intelligence about the scale of severe and multiple disadvantage in York, and how our services and supports are organised to tackle it. We’re responding to the need to experiment with new ways of working, interrelating and involving people through the Multiple Complex Needs Network and York Systems Changers programmes. We’ve also begun to get more intentional about learning and documenting our learning.


With our learning partners at Newcastle Business School, the core facilitation team have developed a learning plan which recognises the need to capture information from a multitude of stakeholders to be able to tell our collective story of change with any authenticity. However the intention is everyone – people with lived experience, and committed people from all areas of public service – play an active part in this learning process. 

York MCN

15 Priory Street



Site artwork created by Jon Dorsett, Visual Facilitator