By WiT, Jan 2 2015 03:33PM

We first began working with actors decades ago using Forum theatre with young people - taking issues that are difficult to talk about and exploring them in a very real and potent way. Actors were able to say the words that had had been silent but needed to be voiced; situations could be examined in ways that named the issue safely, allowing them to be looked at from different perspectives, and opening up possibilities for change. Over the years we have continued to use Forum theatre with adults and young people in all sorts of situations to facilitate new insights and learning towards positive change.


We have worked many times with poets – they have the ability to observe and then distil what they have heard and experienced into something succinct, thought provoking, beautiful and often disturbing. We have often asked poets to summarise events with a performance at the closing of the event.


We work with graphic recorders who observe events and listen to conversations, using pictures to tell the story of the event, the learning and what might happen next. We work with photographers to capture important moments that will later be meaningful when we reflect upon an event or process – seeing people in conversation or sitting thinking can be so helpful in taking us back to important times and figuring out what was important and what we have learned.


We work with musicians who help us work together, discover our shared energies and find our capacity to really listen and communicate with one another through rhythms and sounds - so often leading to better thinking when people leave their drums and shakers and come together to talk.


We have worked as creative practitioners in schools,workplaces and communities in collaboration with other creative practitioners – actors, video artists, performers, makers, poets, dancers, storytellers….


The difference creative practitioners make to any learning situation is huge - almost always memorable, enjoyable and engaging, but this isn’t entertainment. We work with our creative friends to design events and interventions that will stimulate learning, disturb old ways of thinking and allow new perspectives to form. New thinking and new insights are needed more than ever before - and artists of all kinds can be wonderful springboards into new thinking and doing.


In 2014 we were focused on gathering together a group of talented artists, musicians and poets to challenge our thinking, help us develop our own practice and deepen our learning. We were not sure quite where this would lead nor how the creative work would find expression but we knew it was important. Gathering a diversity of people together is always exciting and often rather scary – we didn’t know what would emerge from our collaboration but we knew something would - and it did!


ENTER THE TRAVELLING PLAYGROUND


the Travelling Playground
the Travelling Playground

We were asked by Nottingham CityCare to work on increasing parent and community participation in their Small Steps Big Changes project. We needed to work with a wide range of communities, parents and children and find out about their experiences of bringing up children in four wards within Nottingham. The hope was that this would not only help us to find out what was important but also encourage parents to become a core part of shaping and ultimately delivering the programme.


The challenge was to locate and involve parents and children in a way that was exciting, respectful, fun and informative for everyone. It needed to help to create different relationships between parents and people delivering the various services they used, as well starting to shape and create the services parents and children needed.


This was a great opportunity to do something differently and really put children at the heart of the programme with parents leading the way. Enter the Travelling Playground.


We collaborated with a group of artists and different people and organisations in each of the areas to design and create events that had meaning for the diverse participants who came for a day of fun, creative activities, idea sharing and conversations that matter.


Parents, children and grandparents came and thoroughly enjoyed themselves – but these were not just family fun days. The events were carefully designed to be highly purposeful, with all the activities providing opportunities for:


o Sharing and gathering stories and an understanding of our diverse and different lives

o Connecting with new people and having important conversations about what really matters

o Having fun and sharing experiences and activities across the generations

o Taking time to reflect on our experiences and share our hopes for the future


Each Travelling Playground closed with a performance by poet, performer and musician David Stickman Higgins – reflecting on and summarising conversations, thoughts, hopes and dreams emerging from the event’s activities.




We plan to build on our work with artists and creative practitioners over the coming year to help us create learning events and opportunities that really enable participants of all ages to use their whole selves - their full creativity and all parts of their brain - to learn and gain new insights, and discover new possibilities for change and development.


By WiT, Apr 10 2014 04:58PM

‘If... our premise is that the community already has the answers, the task becomes one of facilitating self discovery. Seemingly slow starts acquire astonishing velocity once a community takes ownership of its own problem and discovers its own proven remedy.’


Positive deviance (PD) is an approach that ‘upends conventional wisdom’, suggesting that we don’t need to look to external experts to solve apparently intractable problems, but to identify individuals in the community – positive deviants – who have already found their own locally appropriate solution.


The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems, by Richard Pascale, Jerry and Monique Sternin (see website for more information) tells the fascinating story of how this approach has been used on projects as diverse as childhood malnutrition in Vietnam to reducing MRSA in American hospitals.


We have recently been working alongside a third sector health organisation supporting their bid for funding from the Big Lottery Fund’s A Better Start programme which ‘aims to deliver a step change in preventative approaches in pregnancy and the first three years of life to improve the life chances of babies and young children’.


As we worked on this we became interested in how the learning from positive deviance projects might help shape new community based approaches to improving outcomes for the 0-3s.


Positive Deviance is an approach, not a replicable programme: it is intimately rooted in its context. It is not an approach to use where there is the possibility of a technical fix – it is for helping to resolve adaptive problems, characterised by social complexity and requiring behavioural change.


The positive deviance story is told as one of learning and discovery – learning from reflection on the successes and failures of real life projects. Much of this learning seems, to us, to be particularly pertinent to the A Better Start programme.


PD projects are bottom up, not top down – ‘tapping the distributed intelligence of the community to discover its own latent wisdom’. They require that the community defines its own problems and identifies its own solutions. Only through this will the community take ownership and develop its own strategies for change.


PD projects work on the principle of ‘acting into a new way of thinking’, they rely on the social learning of people coming together to discover and share new approaches and solutions through active engagement – through living out new ways of doing things, with families, friends and neighbours,.


They are rooted in their local context, or ecology - no two solutions will be the same: we can learn from the principles of how something has been done, but can’t simply replicate the solution. This has real importance for the concept of ‘scaling’ or ‘best practice roll out’. With PD you can scale ‘broad’ – communities can use their new found collective learning skills to solve other problems – but not ‘wide’ - the solutions cannot be simply applied in other communities. This is a major challenge to much current thinking around ‘evidence based’ programmes delivered with ‘fidelity’.


PD solutions are often characterised by apparently small changes – ‘incremental in a moment of time’ – which become much more profound – ‘radical over time’. This is described in the book as nature’s way – looking at system change as analogous to evolutionary adaptation over time.


All of this has major implications for the role of professionals, practitioners and leaders in initiating, shaping and developing projects in the community, and how communities are engaged with this process – shifting


‘...our emphasis from teaching people what to do, to engaging them as pioneers in discovering how to do it.’


Much to think about – and much to be inspired and excited by.


By WiT, Feb 27 2014 04:01PM

First posted April 2013 - John Mitchell


For many years now we have used big picture storytelling to help individuals, teams and organisations share and make sense of their learning journeys, and used learning histories to explore and understand organisations and change processes through the personal stories of participants across the process. We have recently started combining these two approaches to form a learning and evaluation process that is quick, engaging and highly interactive, and which produces rich and complex, but still very clear and practical learning outcomes.


By WiT, Feb 26 2014 09:01PM


Original Post: November 2010 - Lesley Cramman


We have run many World Cafes over recent years, with a wide variety of organisations.


We were recently asked by a Teaching PCT to run a two day World Cafe training course for staff in the PCT and partner organisations. The PCT needed to find new and effective ways to engage with its communities, and had identified the World Cafe as an exciting and appropriate approach. By training its own staff it is hoping to be able to use the World Cafe widely in its future work to involve and engage the public and service users in a wide range of conversations about the future of health provision.


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