Where can we find our collective memory?

I’ve heard it said that intelligence is our ability to learn from our experience. If this is true, then our collective intelligence depends upon our ability to learn from all our experience. It also seems common-sense to me to suggest that, since we all have a different and unique experience, we all have an equal amount to offer and that we have most to learn from those whose voice has been heard the least? The intelligent question we need to ask ourselves is: ’how can we learn from all our experience?’

Our ability to learn from our experience is crucial for both our individual and collective development. As individuals we all need to be able to express ourselves and have a sense of agency in our own lives – as a society we all need to listen and learn from each other.

Unfortunately, modern society has a very limited attention span. Somewhere along the way we have lost our collective memory and with it our collective ability to learn from our experience. Even though we know that all meaningful development is long-term and incremental we seem obsessed with seeking the new and shiny at the expense of the tried and trusted. We are constantly developing new projects that we assess in terms of short-term outcomes. We even celebrate our lack of memory by rewarding projects that are innovative and expecting experienced organisations to continually re-invent themselves!

Actually, I do think there are times when it makes sense to fund someone new to tread a well-beaten path – reinventing the wheel is essential if we are to apply learning to new and unique situations – and I like projects! They are a vital learning tool. However, we can hardly think of ourselves as intelligent if we cannot understand our learning in the context of our long-term development and insist on making the same mistakes again and again.

We all need to find our own context. Discovering our own creative voice can be one of the most transforming experiences of our lives. Besides, making sense of our personal journey is becoming increasingly important to our individual and collective development. Now, more than at any time in our history, who we are matters, this is a time for specialisation,  to find out who  we want to be and to make our own unique contribution to our collective community.

The intelligent response to our changing times is to stop trying to be something we are not and to find out who we are and how we can be better at being that person. We also need to find ways to learn from each other, or there can be no collective learning.

It is time to stop asking the same people to come up with new ideas, to keep relying on the same experience, asking people to do what they are not good at. It is time instead to recognise that we are all experts in our own lives and that we all have an unique contribution to make.

When, for example, an organisation excels at producing high quality art, should we really expect those same people to also excel at making the most of that art for diverse communities? Of course, the better the art the more important it is that we can all access it but is it realistic to expect the same people to be experts in such different fields? Surely, the expertise for that lies elsewhere – with the people themselves and those that know and understand our diverse communities.

Right now I’m not sure many of us have the tools for effective community development but we can learn, we need translators that can build bridges between communities and can help us all to learn from and with each other.

How can we do it? How can we access our collective learning and rediscover our collective memory? I’ve suggested that we might need an organisation to help us but I’m also very aware of how very easy it is for organisations to institutionalise the very dependency they set out to tackle. So, I don’t know.

Fortunately, being able to say I don’t know is a strength. It means I am getting ready to learn. I want to find people who can learn with me so that together we explore the things we don’t know. After all, it’s only what we don’t know that is really interesting, it’s only we we are open to uncertainty that we are open to creativity, and only when we are open to each other that we are able to learn from our experience.

Do get in touch if you’d like to learn together, or better still, come along to one of our events.

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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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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?

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A brief introduction to Creative Capability

Creative capabilities are the long-term building blocks of all human development. 
They are how we become the people we want to be and build the communities we want to live in. If freedom is indeed a journey as well as a goal then they are the steps along the way with each step opening up new possibilities.  Capabilities are more than just actions or functions, they are not just the things that people can do but the clusters of factors that make it easier for us to achieve our goals.

A focus on capabilities involves a full awareness of all the factors that can help or hinder people’s ability to fulfil their potential. This includes understanding the impact of environmental, physical, political, psychological, social and economic factors in terms of the direct impact on people’s potential; and understanding how the capabilities we acquire to make it easier to achieve our goals: e.g. problem solving, imagination, beliefs, expression, team work etc..

My contention is that these developmental capabilities are not only creative in nature but also are best developed through creative activity and collaboration. Our capabilities are not bestowed upon us, we acquire them ourselves. Capability development is a process we can all engage with just as we can all find our unique creative voice and decide upon the terms on which we will engage with the society at large

For Arts Workers, there are two main implications for planning developmental arts activity:
Firstly we can identify conversion factors that may help or hinder capability development and create the conditions for creativity (/build enabling environments) and secondly we can identify the potential opportunities for capabilities to be develop and organise activities in such a way as to maximise the potential for creative capability development.

Creative collaboration involves designing opportunities for us to build our creative capabilities by building creative capabilities in each other.

You can find out more about this approach by contacting the Human Development and Capability Association at www.hd-ca.org

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