As part of the KTP project we are developing an exhibition called ‘Thinking Room’ which will open up the KTP research to wider debate amongst members of the sector and A New Direction’s friends and partners.

The information will be presented using playful imagery of domestic objects which, while possibly clichéd, are an experimentation with how research can be visually represented and communicated in an unusual way. The notion of the domestic comes from observations into how A New Direction works. Through its relationships and its programmes of workshops, debates and training the organisation fosters a sense of safety, trust, non hierarchical or flexible collaborations with partners, where voices are valued equally. Thinking Room uses the concept of ‘home’ for suggesting an open, interactive environment that fosters shared understanding and equal voice, where all are encouraged to take equal responsibility for the further development of practice.

Thinking Room runs from 4th to 8th July at A New Direction’s offices with related events programmed in cultural venues across London. The exhibition week will also launch an interactive website of the KTP research, www.thinking-room.org which will go live from 4th July. Web visitors can leave comments on the research and view images from the exhibition week. The activities taking place within the installation at A New Direction are going to be covered by a webcam which will be streamed live on the website, all in the spirit of revealing our working processes!

The transformation of A New Direction’s meeting room into the Thinking Room is in progress…

Yes – that is a melting pot!

Lately I’ve been thinking about the ‘products’ of a consultancy contract such as the KTP.

Models, toolkits, outcomes.

The KTP project is created with the desire for concrete outcomes or the design and creation of physical products, and a resulting rise in productivity within the host company.

Art object, toolbox, exhibition.

What happens when a KTP Associate is placed within an arts organisation, to observe and reflect on process? How do we communicate our research in a way that is contextually appropriate to the sector?

Are products a thing to avoid? Difficult to guarantee? An all-too obvious response to a role such as the KTP Associate position? But what if products are our strength? What if, through our research, we can uncover a methodology for the way in which art products play a role in the process of developing a partnership, the engagement with change, the communication of working methods that can benefit the company base?

In the arts, traces of construction fascinate me: the carefully considered connection of two different materials, marked with a fixing – a rivet, a bolt, a nail – to draw attention to this process of creation. Vast sheets of steel held firmly together by weld points and industrial fixing devices. Square patches of patterned fabric united by cotton thread to create a quilt. For me it is not about a ‘design finish’ or sleek, smooth-edged, machine-made perfection where the methods and processes of joining together materials are concealed. This doesn’t please me ‘aesthetically’. On the other hand, neither does the ill-conceived marrying of different materials in random methods and fashions. Instead, it is the demonstration of how different materials can exist and function through connection and collaboration, aided by evident and robust methods of assemblage. The fixing stands as a memorial to the creative thinking process.

With partnerships, joined up working and collaborative practice so prevalent in public policy and arts sector strategy today, how transparent are our methods of assemblage, connection and working together? Do we have in place principles for constructing relationships (such as the Process Consultant principles developed by Edgar Schein)? A philosophy for how we can work together (such as those observed and developed during my time here at A New Direction)? Or processes and tools in place for ‘patchworking partnerships’ (a phrase coined by our own KTP Advisor Kate MacKenzie Davey)?

These are some of the things I’ve been thinking about while I’ve been developing our KTP exhibition, website and events programme, ‘Thinking Room’ launching on 4th July 2011. Visit www.thinking-room.org

Walk of Change

As I develop artistic responses to the research into change processes that I am doing at A New Direction, I began to realise that one form an artwork could take could be a walk: a forward directional movement that takes on representations of different aspects of the change process, as identified in our KTP research. We feel that the organisation’s understanding of change is that it is a cyclical, ongoing process, rather than a linear one with a fixed end point. So the movements in the walk needed to reference this cycle.  By identifying some of the principles that A New Direction seems to value intuitively in its programmes and how it works with partners, including offering a helpful, supportive structure and connecting the right people with similar or indeed different experience together to form effective networks and partnerships, it became clear that the walk needed to embody some of these principles through gesture, such as providing an offering of support and playing with the idea of connectivity. It is worth stating here that I do not consider myself to be a performance artist. But what I am discovering about both my own practice and the KTP research is that the method for representing something, such as a change process, is as important as the outcome itself and does not necessarily need to be categorised by artform.  So while my walk may not revolutionise notions of performance art, it was developed through a process of creativity and research and I am hoping that the subject that is being represented remains true. 

As par of my research I have been asking other artists / creative practitioners about their processes. At the opening of the Wellcome Collection’s latest exhibition ‘Dirt’ last month, I talked with my friend Rosie Heafford, who is a dancer and choreographer. She told me about Laban Movement Analysis and suggested I look into this as a starting point for my walking project. This has opened up a whole new area of interest both in terms of the development of the walk, and in understanding a different, physical approach to change that a body responds to. Who would have thought I would be able to associate organisational change with a dance/movement theory?

I am by no means a Laban expert after such a small amount of time spent googling this, but it has informed my thinking about how the walk embodies different types of movement to represent the principles of ‘support’ and ‘connection’. I’ve tried to summarise some of the interesting aspects here, particularly in relation to these principles. There are four categories of movement: Body, effort, space and shape. One can analyse the notion of connection through the body movement of an individual within a group, by how it connects with the different bodies and the patterns of ‘body organisation’. One can analyse both connection and support through shape movement, by the different ways an individual changes shape in response to its environment and the relationship that person has with its environment. Shape change includes different ‘forms’ (e.g. representing a form such as a ball), ‘modes’ (e.g. moving in a forward direction towards something) and ‘qualities’ (changing movements such as advancing and retreating). Finally, which is interesting in terms of physical manifestations of change in addition to an analogy for organisational change, is the analysis of Shape Flow Support: how the torso changes shape to accommodate and support the body as it changes its movements.

The next stage in the development of the walk was to find myself an appropriate platform to perform the walk. In the spirit of asking ourselves ‘what is the alternative’ (see last post) I selected the March for the Alternative on Saturday 26 March in London as my platform. I responded to an open-brief invitation by a collection of artists from a group called AIR, associated to A-N Magazine, to bring an artistic response to the cuts on the march. I brought my Walk of Change. While some people on the march (a very small minority) were there to disrupt, the majority of us were there to support and connect with each other across different groups, unions and sectors, to share experiences and value our differences, and to walk side by side with one another with a shared purpose.

My walk comprised movement, offerings and signposting: I traced the 7-stage process cycle that we had identified in A New Direction’s processes by walking in a 7-step cyclical sequence; I made offerings to fellow walkers in the form of sweets to maintain our energy and moral, to facilitate connections and enable us to continue to walk together; I carried a placard sign with me prompting people to join the debate about sector-wide change on this blog.

During the day I found that my Walk of Change itself had to change. Firstly, repeating the cyclical walk was exhausting and I couldn’t maintain it for long periods. Engaging with change as an ongoing constant requires stamina. Secondly, it needed a certain amount of space otherwise it would become annoying for those walking close by. Environmental factors affect the processes of change and the appropriate courses of action. But, offering sweets to those around me proved effective, people accepted the walk and made space for me. Their gift in return therefore was to support the performance by adjusting their pace to allow me some room. I thought people would think the whole thing quite mad and that I would lose the nerve. Instead, the notion of being surrounded by other artists seemed to appropriate the performance, despite the group itself changing in number – thinning out at times and then reforming. Some had brought large artworks in the form of banners, others were encouraging people to sing campaigning songs that had been adapted from well known tunes such as ‘we do like to be beside the seaside’ (this was extremely well received by those from teaching unions). The group became a small support network within an even bigger body of like-minded people. It was OK to do a silly walk here. We were all in this together, artists, teachers, all of us walking for the same reason. Some commented on the walk, some watched in silence while walking alongside me, one person even learned the steps and joined in. But everyone, young and old without a single exception, eagerly took a sweet and gave their warm thanks for the kind offer.

A video of the Walk of Change, as performed on Saturday 26 March, will be posted here soon.

At A New Direction I have been working on ways to articulate the organisation’s approach to facilitating creative change, through observing the process of the Change School Programme (one of the Creative Partnerships programme strands). We, the KTP partners, have identified 7 stages in this process of facilitating change in schools. Against this model I have started to map other change processes managed by a range of sectors and practices such as business consultants, Change Agents, mentoring and coaching. The first stage in most processes of change is almost always, and understandably so, to identify the issues (be it internal or external) that make change necessary on some level.

What needs to change?
In his comment to a recent post here, Ben Cranfield suggested that one thing that needs to change is our concept of ‘change’ itself.

Have a think about changes taking place today. As Ben suggests, change isn’t always about a major transformation that happens to you – things being normal one moment and suddenly markedly different the next. We can take ownership of change. Writer, theorist and Olympic voyeur Charlie Tims blogged “… to change something is to explore how we as people can make a difference to the world in which we live – what power we have to affect what happens.” (Visit his blog post here). The coming 2012 Olympics is certainly a time of transformation on a grand and varied scale: the fabric of the city is being unpicked and re-stitched to create the facilities and infrastructure for the Games and its visitors. This change is one that either happens to us or one that we take ownership of, which Charlie seems to be exploring through his blog. But we are also continuously changing all the time: developing ideas; growing up, growing taller, wider, or indeed older; changing our minds; changing other people’s minds; learning something new from a news report.

Now consider creativity, in the way that creativity is understood as a process applied to problem solving and innovative thinking in all aspects of daily life, not solely put to practice in the arts (google writers such as Abraham Marlow and Ken Robinson for more information about this use of the term ‘Creativity’). In this way, we could understand creativity as a process of change in its self – the process of developing a new idea as a response or a reaction to a need, issue or factor. Not only have we potentially changed our concept of change, but this new perspective also allows us to understand creativity as an approach to facilitating change, through creative thinking and creative working, and this seems to sit neatly within the key strengths of the creative and cultural sector.

What is the alternative?
In his comments, Ben suggested that one way of tackling the question, ‘what needs to change?’ might be for the arts and creative / cultural sector to consider ‘what is the alternative?’ as a creative approach to understanding change.

Working with change as our material (taking ownership of it, diverting its flowing rivers or even reversing tides) may be where the creativity lies. To me this methodological approach to the creativity of change must relate to some notion of alternatives – an alternative space, an alternative understanding or, perhaps, an alternative language.

Asking ourselves ‘what is the alternative?’ is a powerful part of a creative process. The ‘alternative’ is the domain of the arts and creative / cultural sector, it is what we deal in and do best, and this must surely be a question that we ask ourselves on a daily basis as an approach to productivity. As a sector working in times of significant change, the question ‘what is the alternative?’ can also provide the first step in the process of understanding our current position, methods or processes, and help us to recognise other possible scenarios for ourselves and our sector. It is significant to ask this question now, as another interpretation of this question is that of a plea to reconsider a decision or likely change. Furthermore, it could be employed as a call to action in defence of the alternative.

Products of the creative change process
In the spirit of alternative approaches, I am going to be putting my creative juices to work by developing my own artistic response to a process of change, stemming from my research here at A New Direction. This work will both memorialise this stage of the research project and allow me to record my own processes of creative practice. It will be a playful, alternative way of challenging and changing my understanding of change. I’ll be posting more information and visuals online soon.

In the mean time, I ask you to have a think about changes affecting you today. What would your creative response to change look like?

Changes Afoot

For those of you who have read the About page and the Big Questions page, you’ll know that my KTP research stems from a number of ‘big issues’ that we think face people working in the creative sector today, and in particular those whose creative programmes or practices are developed with/for schools and young people. Two of the Big Questions we ask are: “How is the sector changing?” and “What needs to change?

At the moment I am doing some research into ‘change models’. My particular KTP research focus just now is how change in schools can be implemented through creativity, and this is making me think about the bigger issue – what needs to change? for schools, or indeed for the creative sector itself. And how do we manage change on an organisational level or on a sector-wide level?

In business theory, change models have been developed to help articulate a process of change, acting as a user guide for managers and leaders for identifying influences for change (new opportunities or changes in the market for example) and then managing internal transformation (altering ways of working or developing a new approach perhaps). See Dr John Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model, as one example (1996). For some time it has been accepted that businesses should incorporate creativity into their practices, and many change management consultancies claim to support ‘creative change’ as one of their services for organisations (do a google search for ‘creative change’ to see what I mean). Understandings of the term ‘creativity’ vary – which takes us back to one of our Big Questions: “What is creativity?” – and I do wonder what the creative sector thinks of when reading the phrase ‘creative change’. What is creativity as WE understand it and is it the same as the creativity these consultants offer? Surely if anybody is best placed to enable change through creativity it is the creative sector itself? Do we need to reclaim ‘creativity’ in order to articulate its transformative power and our part in this?

In my mind, one of the many ways A New Direction takes ownership of the idea of managing change through creativity is via its involvement in the national Creative Partnerships programme: as the Area Delivery Organisation for London, it manages the programme for the transformation of school learning and teaching methods through the implementation of creative thinking and creative practice in the form of creative (mainly artistic) projects that are developed by Creative Agents and delivered in schools by Creative Practitioners (often an artist, in the broadest sense). Creativity all the way. But here too, changes are afoot – the Creative Partnerships programme comes to an end in July, bringing to light another question; when faced with changing agendas in a rapidly changing landscape, how does the creative sector creatively manage change?

For my current KTP research I am trying to develop a model for supporting change in schools through creativity that is specific to A New Direction’s ways of working, expanding on the structure that Creative Partnerships put in place. Contact me if you want to learn more about the KTP research.

If you would like to try to define what ‘creativity’ means to you, why not post a comment here? You could try to fill in the gaps in this sentence: “Creativity means…   and without it…  “

Hello World

Welcome to this new blog and the first post.

You can read more about the purpose of this blog in the About page, but let me explain here a bit more about who I am, what I’ll be blogging about and why.

I am a Knowledge Transfer Partner (or KTP) working in partnership with Birkbeck College of the University of London and A New Direction, an arts organisation that works across London within the arts, education and youth sectors to provide a range of creative opportunities for young Londoners.  The appointment of a KTP during a time of such political change affecting these particular sectors has given A New Direction the chance to conduct in-depth analysis of the organisation’s own processes and methods, in addition to observing the wider changes and potential influences that may affect the arts, education and young people.

As my KTP project with Birkbeck and A New Direction develops, this blog will be a space to consider the bigger picture for those who are also working across these sectors, as creative practitioners or providing creative opportunities.

The KTP partnership includes Dr Ben Cranfield, Lecturer in Arts Management at Birkbeck, and Natasha Silsby, Schools Programme Manager at A New Direction, and as a partnership we have developed a list of Big Questions relating to the KTP project that we think are also pertinent to those working within the rhetoric of ‘creativity’ today. This isn’t to say that we have all the answers, indeed there may be other questions we haven’t thought of yet.

If you have something to add or another big question to ask, why not get involved and tell us what you think?