Tag Archives: innovation

Visioning backwards

On Wednesday 16th October Mary Ward and Jo Collins, the founders of the Chickenshed Theatre, were interviewed by BBC Radio 4 presenter Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour. They were invited onto the programme to celebrate the forthcoming 40th anniversary of a theatre which was set up to involve young people in theatre, irrespective of their abilities. Both founders had a shared belief that they could produce excellent theatre with young people if they could encourage everyone to accept what young people bring, rather than what they don’t bring. They argued, for example, that young people are often much less judgemental about other young people with disabilities than adults are: they simply accept the disability as a given and proceed from there, without fuss. They argued that discrimination is a learned, social behaviour. That commitment, and the continuous improvisational ability to involve other people in the undertaking, has created an institution which has lasted 40 years although it has never received Arts Council funding.

‘What was your vision for Chickenshed?’ Jenni Murray asked. ‘We didn’t have a vision as such, we didn’t sit down and say “this is our vision”’, Mary Ward answered arguing that they had both felt impelled to include as many young people as possible, ‘but we just did it, and as we did it we became more and more committed to this idea that everyone can contribute to the production, the final end.’ Continue reading


Complexity and participative facilitation

Facilitated workshops are a very common feature of organisational life and are sometimes very good examples of the kind of thinking that assumes we need to design a process to have a process. This layering of process on process arises from the idea that groups of people called managers or facilitators can design interactions for other people which will encourage them to act in particular and more predictable ways, and will optimise people’s time together. Additionally, these designed processes of engaging are often informed by cult values, such as inclusiveness, openness and honesty. The point of designing workshops according to these values is to make them highly participative, democratic and ‘transparent’. By applying processes to the process of interaction, managers and facilitators believe they can achieve particular outcomes which tend towards the good. They are designing a culture for the workshop where people can express themselves freely, and have a safe and perhaps fun experience with others and ‘share learning’.

My own recent experience of a number of facilitated workshops has made me question whether they really are such positive and productive events, and whether they tend rather to suppress opportunities for learning rather than encourage them, the very opposite of what they intend. I am also sceptical about the degree to which one can agree and plan to have fun. I am concerned about how the focus on ‘fun’ can tend towards collusiveness and an avoidance of the exploration of difference and power relationships, and in particular the power of the facilitators and the guiding principles of the workshops themselves. To call the design of the workshop into question can appear as though one is against participation and transparency. Continue reading

How possible is it to plan to be innovative?

I was invited to give a key note speech at the Participatory Innovation Conference (PINC 2011) at the University of Southern Denmark in Sønderborg. A variety of academics, business people, representatives of local and national government attended and participated in two and half days of interesting discussion in the five thematic tracks in the conference. There were a large number of papers presented which seemed to me to set out two broad narratives about innovation, which are interconnected, one could even say interdependent, but through a relationship of negation. One might argue that it would be impossible to understand innovation without taking both views into account, but at the same time it would be important to recognise how one narrative threatens to completely extinguish the other.

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