2015 is going to be an exciting and challenging year.

In 2015 I want to find out if we can establish a diverse network of people that support each other. It might not sound that difficult, but I know we’re going to face lots of challenges.
It’s going to be a year full of problems and questions:

We’re going to face the creativity problem:      Cultural exclusion affects us all. We are all born creative but without access to our creativity none of us can realise the creative potential that is our own unique contribution to society. What’s more, when any one person’s creativity is stifled our shared society suffers.
    We’ll be asking: How can everyone become empowered by art?

We’re going to face the collaboration problem:   None of us can know what is best for any other person. In the long run we cannot create change by doing things to, for, or without each other. We can only create change together.
  We’ll be asking: How can we create collaborative community projects?

We’re going to face the capability problem:      To build social justice we need to create communities where everyone has the capability to fulfil our potential. Since, we all fulfil our own potential by building our capabilities.  We need to find ways to build capability together.
  We’ll be asking: How can we build social justice?

We’re going to face the context problem:          art has the power to transform our lives and our communities but there is only so much any of us can do. It’s only when everything we do is in the context of a long-term that we can say every little helps.
    We’ll be asking: How can we create sustainable social change?

It will be a challenge because we’ll need to recognise that we can all contribute, that we all have something to offer.
It will be a challenge to find ways for us all to engage in equal creative collaborations where we explore who we are and who we can become, together.
Perhaps above all, it will be a challenge for us to accept that we can all be open to our own creativity, and engage with our own vulnerability and weakness – that none of us have all the answers.
  We’ll be asking: How can we build equal, diverse and inclusive networks that recognise the creative contributions of each every one of us?

We’ll be doing this through a series of problem posing forums and network events at which we’ll explore these questions and learn how we can support each other to fulfil our creative potential – as individuals and as communities.

I hope you’ll be able to join us.


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How the arts can create sustainable social change.

I’m constantly meeting fantastic people and hearing about amazing projects – in the last week alone I’ve had conversations with people tackling violence, increasing access to the arts and exploring identity and mythology in a wide range of settings – none of these projects are currently connected yet they all have a huge amount in common. 

We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We all want to make a difference not just now but in the future. However, there is only so much any of us can do. Ultimately we all have to face the same question – how can we create sustainable social change? What we need is a sustainability service that can connect all these great projects and initiatives.

After all, the problem of sustainability is not the projects themselves – or any individual, organisation or initiative – it is simply a lack of context. When we do things in the context of a strategic plan they are no longer isolated activities but steps towards a long-term goal.

We need an organisation that can provide this context for us and hold that long-term vision on our behalf. This is exactly what art + power is setting out to do – to build communities where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. It is a big vision but one we cannot realise without your help.

Sustainable social change is something we can only create together. We need to build a network that enables a diverse range of people – disabled and socially excluded people, practitioners and policy makers – to support each other through equal, shared collaborations where everyone contributes and everyone benefits, equally.

Adopting an equal, collaborative approach will be a challenge to us all. Just as some of us will find it hard to break out of dependent relationships and realise that we all have something to contribute, so others will struggle to recognise that we cannot create effective change unless we are also prepared to embrace our own vulnerability and engage with our own creative potential and collaborate on an equal basis.

We would need a lot of support for this, but the more we work together the easier it will be to find people that understand what we’re trying to achieve, that will work alongside us, share our anxieties and help us develop the shared language which is the lifeblood of any successful collaboration.

We are excited about the potential for tools and capabilities to become the language of sustainable collaboration not least because it demonstrates how the best way for any of us to contribute is to do what we do best – by building our capabilities

Capabilities are the building blocks of all human development they support:

  • Personal development by helping us all to both identify our goals and take steps to achieve them.
  • Collaborative development by enabling us to develop equal collaborations in which all parties support each other to build our capabilities.
  • Community development by providing a shared framework that provides the context for all we achieve together.

For example, the shared nature of tools and capabilities can help us make connections between all those fantastic projects people are working on. We could even create an inclusive, collaborative project in which people from diverse and disparate communities support each other to create sustainable change in our lives and communities!

There are lots of ways to get involved…

  • Please share anything that can help people build sustainable change into our lives and communities – maybe something that inspires you, a collaborative project or opportunity or a useful tool. Everything helps.
  • Share your ‘Five Questions’ using this quick survey.
  • Sign up for our newsletter for the latest news and opportunities from the network.
  • Come along to a forum
  • Ask for an art + power membership form (purchase a £1 share) and we’ll add you to our collaborative website where we all share and support each other – dave@artandpower.org.uk

Our shared project will be what you make it – what will you do?

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Four Steps to Sustainable Social Change.

To build sustainable social change we need:

1. A process that everyone can contribute to on an equal basis.
2. A means to unlocking our potential.
3. A method that everyone can use to build and measure development.
4. A long-term plan that puts everything we do into context 

We can do this through collaborative, creative capability development:

1. Collaborative – an equal process for people to support each other.
2. Creative –  the key to unlocking our potential.
3. Capability – a  method to build and measure all development 
4. Development – a long-term plan that puts everything we do into context. 

I am working with art + power to put this process into practice by developing ‘Tool Shops’ in our community.  We want to see Tool Shops in lots of different spaces – cafés, galleries, community centres etc –  so that everyone – and particularly disabled and socially excluded people can use the community to build their capabilities. 

Tool Shops can help create sustainable change for individuals and organisations but what about communities?   That’s where art + power comes in. 

art + power is an inclusive network of people that support each other to create sustainable social change. Everyone is welcome, every contribution is valued and everything that people share contributes towards a long-term strategic plan to build communities where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. 

(You can read more about tool shops and sustainable social change here.)

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What is a development organisation?

How could we go about implementing a social justice approach within an organisation?

I think there are two things to say at the outset. Firstly, I don’t think we should adopt a social justice approach as an afterthought or even because we feel we ought to. I think we should adopt a social justice approach because we genuinely believe it will help us fulfil our potential.

Fulfilling our potential requires a strategic approach, one that makes the best use of our resources to achieve our goals. A social justice approach sees our best resources as our people, and suggests the best way to achieve our goals is by actively supporting other people to achieve theirs too.

Secondly, I think it helps to remember that if social justice is our goal it is also a journey. Although the process is the same for all of us, the journey will be different for every individual and group. There is no way of knowing what we will learn before we start but we can only build social justice if we are open to finding out what we don’t know and are able to learn from each other.

We have to be prepared to venture into the unknown because social justice is something that can only be created together. We can’t do it for other people and we can’t do it without other people. Just as, any single individual or organisation can only fully realise their potential as part of an ecology of creative collaboration, neither can we know what social justice will look like for other people, we can only invite people to explore it with us.

Our role then is to make that invitation attractive, to make it easier for people to fulfil their potential. Two key things I recommend we can focus on are building enabling environments; and offering opportunities for capability development.

Building enabling environments is about creating the conditions that allow people to flourish. It involves consideration of all the physical, environments, social and psychological factors that help or hinder our development. It’s about helping to produce the conditions, offer the support and provide the tools for people to ‘Create Your Own’ development.

Offering opportunities for capability development is based on the understanding that it is by building our capabilities that we all fulfil our potential. This process of capability development is creative, collaborative and universal.

The universality of capability development has tremendous potential. It can break us free of the hierarchical, didactic process of banking education, of teacher/student, service-provider/service-user relations and replace it with an open conversation which respects, values and nurtures the unique creative potential in each and every one of us.

It enables us to see all our activities as part of an on-going journey in which each incremental step opens up new possibilities and in which all our activities can be understood in the context of our long-term development as individuals, groups and communities.

It also has the potential to change the way we experience our public space. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of assuming a passive, empty public that need to be filled with the information, we all assumed an engaged, inquisitive public that are interested in exploring, developing, creating and sharing? Surely then we would be able to develop all our activities as opportunities for mutual creative capability development and creative exploration?

Also, If we recognised that the best way to achieve our goals is by supporting others to achieve theirs we would constantly seek out opportunities for creative collaboration; develop an active interest in finding out what each of us was looking for; and be keen to learn from each other’s experience.

OK, maybe I am getting a bit carried away! Let’s see if we can put some of this into practice. What might be some of the features of a developmental organisation that sought to foster social justice?

Here’s the start of a list – I’d be delighted if you would add to it…

A developmental organisation could:
– Seek to maximise the social benefit from all activities.
– Identify the people that can benefit most from what you do, work with them to develop creative collaborations and see how you can learn from their experience to help others.
– Encourage people to participate as people, not just in job roles etc., but as part of their own long-term development strategies.
– Develop practices that build capability and reduce dependence within the organisation.
– Devise a capability framework for the organisation and use it to identify development needs and opportunities.
– Carry out a capability/aspirations audit of key staff and team.
– Devise clear and relevant work packages for staff, freelance contractors, trustees or volunteers.
– Ensure good documentation of process so that every activity contributes towards both individual, organisational and community development.
– Design programmes as opportunities to acquire capabilities.
– Arrange peer support forums to help people identify and tackle constraints, and barriers to creative development.
– Create tool kits and resources to enable others to learn from experience
– Be flexible about the staff review process and employ people in roles that change depending on a regular review of the development needs of both the organisation and its people
– Establish closer links with similar organisations to help foster an an ecology of creative collaboration.
– Consider different measures of monitoring and evaluation. Perhaps, as Kofi Annan has suggested: ‘Development should be not be measured by income but by freedom’
– …

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An invitation to creative collaboration.

We’ve spent the last 15+ years learning about how art empowers. It’s not been an easy journey, we’ve made many mistakes along the way. If we’ve learnt one thing it’s that it is much easier to foster dependence than empowerment. Every time we think we’re getting close we find we have much more to learn. Again and again we’ve seen how short term projects can raise expectations but not sustain the change, we’ve seen projects throw light on long-term problems they can’t resolve. At best it seems that the more we do, the more we find out how much more needs to be done.

This time we really think we’ve cracked it! We’ve worked out why art matters and how art empowers and it’s devastatingly simple: Art matters because it builds social justice (social justice is where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential). It is through art that we all build the capabilities we need to live fulfilling, purposeful, creative lives. art empowers by building capability – and it’s very exciting!

It’s exciting because it means we can stop thinking about art as the privilege of the few but as the birthright of each and every one of us. It is by building our creative capabilities that we all become the people we want to be and build the communities we choose to live in.

It’s exciting because it means an we can now develop short-term projects in the context of a long-term, on-going, lifelong process of growth and development.

It’s exciting because it means we can stop pretending we know what is best for other people and instead design all our activities as opportunities for people to acquire the capabilities that they are looking for. People can decide for themselves if each activity makes it easier, or harder, for them to do the things they value.

It’s exciting because it means we can stop treating people as problems to be solved but as active agents without whose unique experience we cannot fulfil our potential either. Social justice is about valuing and nurturing the unique, creative contribution of each and every individual, because of who we are.

It’s exciting because we don’t have to pretend to be experts anymore, to make out we have all the answers or pretend to be someone we’re not. Social justice is not about what we’ve done but who we want to become, it’s not about what we know but what we want to find out, it’s not about what (we think) others want us to be but about what makes us who we.

It’s exciting because it means we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. We build social justice by being ourselves and following our own dreams and passions. In fact we can only build social justice if we are prepared to explore, to engage with our own uncertainty, enter into our own unknown potential. We build the best communities by becoming the best people we can be.

It’s exciting because it means we don’t have to compete any more. Social justice is not about competing over limited resources but creating capability. Everyone has something to contribute, and everyone benefits. Social justice is something we can only build together, through equal, creative collaborations.

It’s exciting because anything anyone anywhere does to build social justice helps everyone everywhere become empowered by art, whether they (or we) know it or not. Just as an artist can find inspiration anywhere so we can take every opportunity to build capability for ourselves and each other.

Of course this is really just the start. we know the theory but how will it work in practice?
We know how art empowers but not what you’ll achieve. We’ve lots of ideas but only you can make it work in practice. We can’t do it for you and we can’t do it without you!

We need you to help us find out what social justice will look like for you, for your local café, community centre or gallery? For your organisation, group or institution? For your community? We need you to help us learn: How can art empower everyone? What are the enabling environments that foster creative collaboration? How can art empower communities?

We’ll be exploring these, and many related questions through creative challenges, in newsletters, online and in person at regular forums and events. But we need you, and the people you know, to help us explore the art of creative collaboration We invite you to help us find out how we can all build our capabilities by building capability for each other.

So, how can you get started?

Well, of course, you already have, you wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t already building social justice for yourselves and/or others. So, please, keep doing what you’re doing; think about how what you want to learn can provide opportunities for others; and please share anything you think might help – simply hearing what others are doing can help and inspire us all and reminds us all that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Just don’t wait to get started, building social justice is a journey of discovery and increasing possibility in which everything you do helps you get a better idea of what you want to do next. So, don’t wait until you’re confident, after all you can’t really help others if you’re not prepared to be helped yourself.

So, please, join in on-line, come to a forum or create your own, but, before you do anything, have a look at these five simple questions that can help us all learn the art of creative collaboration…

1. What are you hoping to achieve?
2. What are you working on now?
3. What are you looking for?
4. What can you offer?
5. What will you do next?

Please share, everything people contribute will help build capability in the community – what will you do?

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Imagine a community where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential

Imagine a place where each and every one of us felt able to fully be ourselves. Wouldn’t it be amazing! Can you imagine the collaborations we’d develop? The diversity and scope of creativity would be truly extra-ordinary! It has to be worth considering what we’d need to do to bring this about.

It’s actually remarkably simple. All we’d need to do would be to find a way for each one of us to be positive, active agents with a clear sense of our own narrative and to find a way to support each other.

We could do this by creating communities of capability – places where we all support each other to increase our capabilities.

(I find it helps to think of capabilities as a catch-all term for anything at all that makes it easier for people to achieve their potential. Skills and abilities are important but they are only part of the process, there are plenty of people that are capable of doing extraordinary things but are prevented by a vast range of social, psychological, political, environmental, or technological barriers. So we also need more tools and resources to help us deal with difficult situations, stronger networks of support, a supportive and encouraging environment, easier access, inspiration opportunities and much more).

Focussing on developing capabilities makes us better able to tackle the barriers we face and increases the opportunities and possibilities available to us. Whatever we want to achieve it will be easier if we have more possibilities to choose from.

The beautiful thing about capability is that we can use anything at all as an opportunity for capability development. We can design all our activities as opportunities for each other to build our capabilities – then everything we do will open up new possibilities for each other.

Finally, and crucially, capability development is not something we do to, or for, each other but something we create together. It is an equal and universal process which enables us to build true collaborations that value and nurture the unique contribution that each and every one of us has to offer.

But before we can realise this vision we do indeed need to find a way for everyone to engage with their own creative potential. We all need to find the tools, the capabilities that enable us all to tell our own story and begin to shape our own destiny.

There are already lots of tools out there that can help us do this like, for example, the excellent DIY Development toolkit.  The Guide to Capability Development we’re working on will help people find these and more like them and most importantly help people develop their own tools and capabilities so that each one of us can fulfil our potentials as individuals and communities.

So, do please share, tell us your stories, tell us what works for you and what you think might work for others, or, better still, sign up for our newsletter and join a growing community of people that build our capabilities by supporting each other.

Then maybe one day we will be able to use our whole communities as resources for us all to explore, create and share together.

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How can the powerful effect social change?

It is not easy for powerful individuals or organisations to effect social change. Even with the best intentions power still tends to flow towards the relatively powerful. This problem becomes even more marked when the stakes are higher, when projects are more complicated and a range of different interests are involved. Interventions can lead to even greater concentrations of power, influence and dependence.

The organisations that are the immediate beneficiaries of these actions can themselves become dependent upon this income, which can lead to them become risk averse, spending increasing amounts of time and resources on justifying what they’ve already done rather than doing more now or in the future.

Increasing dependency amongst the relatively powerless is also a big risk. Even when social projects do have some short-term successes they can still raise expectations they can’t fulfil, merely throwing light on long-term structural problems that can’t be solved in traditional ways. Sometimes it seems the harder people try to resolve problems the more entrenched they become.

People can easily become frustrated about the inability of their initiatives to effect meaningful change. This frustration is often exacerbated by a lack of clarity. There may be for very good reasons for this as people trying to effect change are naturally reluctant to dictate terms to the people they work with. However, this very openness means that people can easily find themselves locked into a situation where they are trying to second guess what other people want. After all, how can people know what they want if they don’t know what is possible?

I’d like to suggest a solution to this problem but it will require a different approach, one that we may all find challenging. I suggest it is time to ‘ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you’ – and yes, I do mean it that way around.

I suggest that whilst most of us don’t fully know what we want to do we would all like to have more possibilities open to us. So why not make our communities into places of possibility and social justice?

Social justice occurs where everyone has the capability to achieve their potential. We don’t actually need to know what we want to do if we make it our goal to build social justice as we will find out along the way. If we start by undertaking activities that increase our capabilities then everything we do will reduce dependence and open up new possibilities.

However, it does mean that we have to explore and engage with our own creative development – social justice is not something we can do to others but something we need to explore, create and share together. A commitment to social justice means that rather than thinking about how we can help other people we start by thinking about what we want to achieve and then design our activities as opportunities for others engaged in the same process.

As we all achieve our potential by building our capabilities (by increasing the opportunities or possibilities available to us) and since any object or activity can be used to build capability we can use our communities as resources for mutual capability development.

Actually, it’s not really that JFK was wrong when he suggested we ‘ask what you can do for our country’ but that he was asking the wrong questions. Social justice is not a competitive process, it is not a zero sum resource to compete over but something we build together – through a collaborative process – simply by supporting each other to be positive and learn from our experience.

With social justice, everyone benefits. We can build our capabilities by building capabilities for others so there is no need to squabble over whose cake it is. With a shared commitment to social justice we can all have our cake and eat it.




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Sounds like a plan

If we want to build social justice we need to find out what will help people to actively engage with their own unique creative potential. What is it that makes the difference between allowing life to happen to us or being active agents in our lives?

I suggest the first thing is to be active and start to do something about it. One of the reasons we recommend creative challenges is because you can be active straight away and every action you take opens up new possibilities for you, helping you to find out what you want to do and find ways to make things happen.

Secondly, I think it really helps to be working towards something. Even the most difficult situations feel a little better if you have a plan. A plan can help us see beyond a difficult situation that may threaten to overwhelm us and help us take a long term view – after all no matter how long you’ve been in the same position you haven’t always been there and you won’t always be there in the future.

What ever you are doing now it will feel better if you have a plan. But it must be your plan, for your own development, not just to please anyone else (an employer, relative etc), and it must be realistic. There’s nothing to be gained by kidding yourself. It important to start with an honest reflection of what your are doing now.

I’m not suggesting that you can miraculously change the circumstances you are in but a plan can help make the best of them and, if you know you are doing the best you can in the circumstances, it may not feel so overwhelming.

Your plan does not have to be particularly cunning or complicated  in fact the best plans are usually quite simple affairs. See if you can put it onto one page, even the most complex plan can be summarised on one page. Here’s a powerful tool that proves this point: The Business Canvas.

Your plan should not be something set in stone but something you take with you, and frequently revisit and revise as you start collecting capabilities. We’ll be exploring some challenges that will help with this but, in the meantime here’s a final thought: there is always room for improvement. Few of us are lucky enough to have your dream job already. However, you can have the ‘best job in the world’ right now if you decide to make it your job to be the best you can be.

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A creative approach to social change

Anyone attempting to address social issues or increase public engagement faces a double bind. Attempts to help people can easily end up creating greater dependence and even when you try to listen to people you find they often don’t know what they want. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, after all, how can people know what they want to do if they don’t know what is possible?

I’d like to propose a potential solution to this problem: that we stop trying to help people! Instead of focussing on other people’s problems I suggest we adopt a positive and collaborative approach to ensuring that everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential.

Let’s be honest none of us know exactly what we want to do but we would all like to have more possibilities open to us. So, rather than try and second guess what other people might want to do, let’s all build capability in our communities.

Building capability is about extending opportunity and possibility, it is not just about what people have, or how they feel, but about what they can actually do. It requires us to focus on what helps and hinders our capability to achieve our potential as individuals and communities.

Every time we acquire a new capability it opens up new opportunities for us, a focus on our creative possibility can reverse the vicious cycle of low expectations, poor quality services, and increasing dependency and replace it with a virtuous cycle of self worth, achievement and recognition.

Building capability is a long-term process, it cannot be dependent on a single person, project or place, instead it requires a community wide commitment to increasing possibility and building capability.

But the great thing is that everything we do can build capability, we can design all our activities so that they increase the possibilities open to us, we can all learn from every experience and use every opportunity to create tools that foster further development.

Building community capability means our entire communities can become a creative resource where everyone can explore, create and share together.


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Sharing tools for change and one to get you started.

A social justice network is a group of people who support each other to be positive, to celebrate our achievements and learn from our experience.  I’m particularly interested in the tools we use to engage with this process. It seems to me that it is important to have some physical record of what we’ve done and of what we plan to do both so that we can maintain our own practice and so that we can collaborate with others.

Developing and sharing these tools will be the key focus of my work over the next couple of years as I put together a ‘guide to creative capability development’ and I would like your help. It would be great if you could let me know what works for you and help develop and test some tools that we can share.

I’m keen to develop tools that can be used by a wide range of people to foster diverse and creative collaborations. The tools will help us adopt a developmental approach to our practice, and support each other to build our mutual capabilities through networks and creative collaborations.

I hope people will use the tools to create some exciting artistic projects and strategic initiatives but my personal emphasis will be on sharing what we learn from the process to inspire further development.

For example, it will help us to feel that we have started this process if we do something physical, so here is a simple tool consisting of just five questions that can help our both our individual and collective development.

What are you hoping to achieve?
What are you working for now?
What can you offer to the network?
What are you looking for from the network?
What will you do next?

You can start this process right now by sharing your answers to these questions.
If you don’t have time to do all five, I suggest you answer the last question – what is your creative challenge?

This doesn’t have to be a big step, I actually think that most meaningful change is both long term and incremental so I would recommend you think of one small action that would make you feel you’ve started the journey.

It can help to tell someone what you’re doing – you can share that here if you like – or better still why not set up your own social justice network and support each other to answer the five questions, or simply take the next small step towards our long-term development?



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