Tool Shops – The sustainable way to create social change

Britain faces a crisis of opportunity. Too many people do not have the capability to fulfil their potential. Too much talent and potential is going to waste as too many people find themselves trapped in a deepening cycle of low expectations, minimal opportunities and increasing dependency. This is a difficult and complex problem, but one that we can all help solve.

However, one thing is certain. We will never create sustainable social change if we continue to act as if there were two different kinds of people: those that know what is best for others and those that can be treated as problems to be solved. Building sustainable social change relies on accepting both that we are all different and that we share a common nature.

Diversity is the core strength of any community. We cannot possibly know what is best for each other because each and every one of us has a unique set of experiences and capabilities. However, we do share a common nature and we can, and must, learn from each other. Trying to change without each other is as useless as trying to change others. We can only change together.

The key to unlocking human potential is creativity. If we want to fulfil our potential as individuals, organisations or communities then we must all be prepared to explore our own creativity, to embrace our vulnerabilities and engage with our own potential. We cannot create social change unless we are prepared to change ourselves.

art does indeed have the power to transform both our lives and our communities but there is only so much any of us can do by ourselves. Just as the real value of learning is becoming aware of how much more you don’t know, so with social action, the more you do, the more you realise how much more needs doing. Tough problems like dependence and social exclusion require a broader, more concerted commitment than any one individual or organisation can provide.

We need a long-term approach. Short-term projects often raise expectations that they can’t fulfil and throw light on problems they cannot resolve but the real problem with projects is their lack of context – that they are isolated activities. However, when what we do takes place in the context of our long-term development then every little helps because real development is a long-term (and incremental) process.

It is this long-term context that is missing from our isolated attempts to create broader social change. We need a sustainability service that can provide that context for each other. Then every little thing we do can help towards our long-term development as communities as well as individuals.

art + power is uniquely placed to fill this gap because it is a not-for-profit society that anyone can join and because it has a long-term strategy to build communities where everybody has the capability to fulfil their potential. It’s a big vision, one that it cannot deliver! This vision can only be realised by the shared and concerted efforts of a wide range of people.

So we networks of people that use the arts for sustainable social change. The true value of the arts is that it fosters sustainable development and social justice. Social justice occurs where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. The reason that art should never be seen as a luxury for the privileged few but as the birthright of every one of us is because it is by building our creative capabilities that we all fulfil our potential.

Capabilities are the building blocks of all human development. They are the tools that enable us all to live increasingly independent, purposeful and creative lives. Capability building is an equal, open and collaborative process by which we all support each other to fulfil our potential. Every time we do something new we build our own capabilities and we can also provide opportunities for others to build theirs. Every activity can become an opportunity for collaborative capability building.

This is what we hope to achieve with our plans for community tool shops. a range of spaces in the community where people can support each other to fulfil our creative potential. 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 help build more creative, inclusive and sustainable communities.

If you’d like to explore what a Tool Shop could look like in your community do get in touch – or better still come along to: The Tool Shop.

Tool Shops, like art + power, will be what you make it. We can’t make change for you and we can’t do it without you. Sustainable change is not something you do to others, or without others, it is something we can only create together by striving to become the people we want to be and build the communities we can be proud to live in.

Creativity is essential to the business of living. We are all unfinished business, but creativity, inclusion and sustainable development are the essential principles that underpin all meaningful development. So, please help us start the conversation about Tool Shops in your community – the sustainable way to create social change!

Please follow and like us:

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’
– …

Please follow and like us:

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.

Please follow and like us:

What’s the best job in the world?

Imagine someone said to you that they would pay you to do whatever you want and that if instead of having to play a role they would pay you to be yourself. Imagine if they said you could do anything at all and that the more you did what you want the better you would be doing your job. 

Imagine if you could work with anyone you want and help those people do anything they want. Imagine if everything they did helped you do your job better. Wouldn’t that be the best job in the world? 

I have the best job in the world. I work with some truly remarkable people and I get paid to support them to be themselves. What’s more they get paid to support other people to do whatever they want. We can work with anyone in the world and everything every one of us does helps others. 

There are no wrong answers when it comes to social justice. None of us are not good enough. Every one of us has something unique to contribute. None of us has to pretend to be something we’re not. We can fail and fail again because our weakness is also our strength. We help each other best by being ourselves and we help ourselves best by supporting each other. 

Everything we do is an opportunity for social justice and creative collaboration. The only thing we can do wrong is not to try. 

Imagine you had the best job in the world too – what will you do? 
I look forward to hearing from you.

Please follow and like us:

A new rule!

I come from a big family. My mother ruled a roost of six children, most of us similar in ages. I can only imagine how much of a handful we must have been! She could not expect much help from my father who was much more comfortable with his books than his children. Occasionally though, when things got particularly rowdy Dad would threaten us with a new rule. It was always an empty threat, we never actually had any rules and Dad was soon back in his study, leaving Mum to sort things out as usual.

Sometimes I wonder what those rules would’ve been – I’d like to think he’d have ensured that no-one spent more than an half an hour in a shoe shop or talked during Dr Who – we don’t really have rules in my house either, I suppose the closest I’ve got is to quote from the Bill and Ted book of philosophy and insist that we ‘be excellent to each other’. Perhaps it’s about time we had a new rule?

Recently, I suggested to the team at art + power that we adopt one rule – that we ‘Be positive’. I was not suggesting we ignore difficult situations but that we examine them carefully and explore ways to make them more positive. Ultimately that is all that our work is about, supporting each to be positive, productive and creative.

Of course it’s not always easy but if we make it our default position to be positive we may be able to avoid unnecessary negativity and if we support each other to stay positive we may help each other identify the small steps that can lead to long-term change.

What would be your new rule?

Please follow and like us:

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?



Please follow and like us:

Social Justice is a creative process

It is through the arts that everyone gains the capability to fulfil their potential. We all achieve our potential by acquiring capabilities – by trying new things, by exploring new situations and by working together to remove the barriers that hold people back.

Effective capability development requires us to tackle all the barriers to human progress whether they are social, psychological, physical, political etc. so that no-one lacks the opportunity to achieve their potential. Building social justice is about providing the structures, the inspiration and the resources that make it easier for people to achieve their goals.

Creative development is an inclusive process. We all benefit from increased social justice and every one of us has a unique contribution to make. Creative development cannot be achieved at the expense of other people. On the contrary, social justice emerges from creative collaborations; from the process of sharing, working and creating together.

Creative development is a social process. We can only achieve our potential if we have people around us that believe in us. Fortunately, creative development is not a competitive scramble for limited resources but a collaborative process that can create social value from any activity.

Creative Development is a strategic, sustainable process. It is an ongoing process that enables us to make the best use of all our resources to achieve our goals. Once we recognise that our best resources are each other then building social justice becomes about achieving our goals whilst actively supporting others to achieve theirs.

As the process of creative development is common to us all, we can create a shared language that fosters creative collaborations and design any activity as an opportunity for mutual creative capability development. Since this process is essentially the same at every level we can build social justice by supporting each other to explore our potential, as individuals and as communities.

We plan to build a network of people with a shared interest in creativity and social justice and to use anything that people contribute – time, money, resources, even a problem to be solved – as an opportunity for creative capability development for someone in the network.

We are particularly keen to encourage people to record and share their achievements, so we can see what we are achieving together and so that we can inspire and support others to work with us to increase creative opportunities for all.

We invite everyone to participate, collaborate and share in the process of building social justice together.

What will you do?

How will you collaborate?

What will you share?

Please follow and like us:

Creativity is the key to social justice.

Social justice occurs where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. Acquiring capabilities is a creative process that that is best acquired through collaboration. We build social justice when we support each other to build our creative capabilities.

Building social justice – ensuring equality of opportunity – should be the central task of any progressive society. Unfortunately not only is the equality gap widening but many attempted solutions actually increase dependency. This waste of human potential is one of the most depressing and unnecessary features of modern life.

Fortunately, it does not have to be this way, we can all help to tackle this crisis of opportunity, simply by supporting each other to build social justice. We all benefit from increasing social justice and every one of us has a unique and important contribution to make.

art + power’s universal Creative Development Programme (CDP) brings people together to explore how we can help each other to fulfil our creative potential. It is a network of people that build our capabilities by supporting each other. It is a free and open programme for anyone that shares our commitment to creativity and social justice.

To join just participate in your own creative development and support others to do the same. Taking part can be as simple as sharing your progress. Anything you share will be used to create more inspiring resources for personal development and creative collaboration.

My personal project is to produce a new publication: ‘A Guide to Creative Capability Development’ so I’m particularly looking for examples of inspiring projects, that can provide tools, case studies and examples. We will also be producing a wide range of other resources and would love to hear your stories, creative challenges and project opportunities.

Everything we do can build creative capability and social justice – all we need to do is support each other to participate in our long-term creative development. Why not get involved today?

Just reply below or contact me at / @artsdevelopment
I look forward to hearing from you.

Please follow and like us: