Category: Blog

Blog

Flow Sustainable Art Award

Last week, I had an enjoyable afternoon judging the Flow Sustainable Art Award for a student graduating from the Wimbledon Master of Fine Arts course. The award was for a student who could demonstrate commitment to art practice that engages with ideas that help people and planet thrive. Last year there were 12 applications, and this year only 4, which made my task easier. I don’t think this generally corresponds to a drop in interest in art geared towards big ecological challenges, but was probably due to other factors such as stretched resources to put in a pitch for the award. 

Ines M. Ferreira (Inês M. Ferreira) was the recipient of the award, and she will come and spend a day or two with us at Flow later in the summer, shadowing or working on a particular project. 

Below are the statements of all four who applied, starting with Ines.

My practice forwards proposals on the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, which focuses on the symbiotic relationship between man and nature as culture, but it doesn’t ignore the complexities of interconnecting socio-political systems, may they be inherent to art itself or in the real world. I explore the local en global, by articulating how local harmful practices to the planet have an impact in the loss of an ecological way of life, which affects the planet as a whole. My work also embodies the ethos of its critique by using recycled metal, as a way of counter-acting harmful mineral extraction.

Qianqian Cai

My creative practice focuses on reconstructing a harmonious existential relationship in the context of time, imbues the most ordinary events or objects with a metaphysical and ceremonial sense. Through sculpting time, depicting the inner sense and exploring the authentic self, my artwork shifts the narrative past into an introspective present, makes the spectators reconsider their existential relationship with the other things around.

Poetic harmony and mysterious romanticism are the aesthetic foundation in my practice, which is influenced by the anciently oriental philosophy about creating a balanced world of mutual tolerance, respect, and appreciation.

Cara Jean Flynn

The natural world is my source of inspiration, focusing on the orders and structures within it, as well as searching and synthesizing new ways to redefine our relationship with nature.

This incorporates the sustainability and awareness of materials and processes I use and the fundamental ideas behind the work. My aim is to address common misconceptions that nature is an autonomous entity existing independently from the human race. By doing this my aim is to try to understand the human condition within nature and by doing so understand it’s balance of fragility and strength in light of current environmental issues.

Yuting Wang

The main media of my work is oil painting. My work explores the people ‘s destruction of nature and living situations, and how these issues impact people’s psychology and emotions. I also consider how modern technology damages both humanity and the environment as a consequence of post-civilisation. In my painting, I express the post-civilisation scene as a dystopia. I hope to convey an uncanny feeling of the dystopia to remind people of the environmental situation. Through concerning the pollution issues to improve the state of the planet.

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Making it: future skills and creativity

The Government clearly recognises the recent growth of creative industries and sees them as a key part of their Industrial Strategy. This piece of research by NESTA (link here) explores how skills need to be developed to boost all the sectors within the Creative Industries. It shows quite how much the Creative Industries are calling for skills other than artistic ones, such as technical, organisational, relational and teaching skills. The research also highlights the importance of those skills that are associated with creative and design occupations right across the economy, for example in engineering or research.

Despite their acceptance of the value of the Creative Industries, the Government’s education policies are militating against their own Industrial Strategy, with their continued support for the compulsory EBacc and their White Paper that shifts vocational/technical pathways (T Levels) to start at Post-16. Their policy ignores how the development of creative skills, and immersion in cultural or imaginative activity, helps young people acquire the broader range of skills needed for roles both within the Creative Industries and beyond them.

Tom Bennett, director of researchED, and appointed by Government as ‘behaviour tsar’ gives an indication of this flawed thinking. He wrote this week in The Guardian a piece (link here) criticising the appointment of a Lego Professor of Play at University of Cambridge.  He argued that play is essential but that success takes hard work. He picks up on how this research, funded by a £4 million grant, will “ensure children are equipped with 21st-century skills like problem solving, team work and self-control”. But he challenges the concept of 21st century skills by saying that these are age-old needs, that we’ve got far enough into the 21st century without a radical shift in what humans need to be, and that we can’t know what future skills would be anyway.

He rubbishes play in learning, and disregards the rapidly changing landscape of work, and more widely, the rapidly changing…landscape.

Our experience of supporting projects about the future of learning, culture and creative careers has been informative on this. We’ve learned by consulting, reading and observing that there is a role for more play in learning and that major changes to the necessary capacities of future generations are on the horizon, if not already here.

One project we’re working on is the Crafts Council’s Make Your Future three year programme (see for more). We are evaluating it, looking for evidence of the impact of encounters with makers and mixing new technology with traditional crafts. These hoped-for impacts include increases in 21st Century skills: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Flexibility and Initiative-taking.

The teachers know that these are important. They can see how young people change when they can be immersed in a project that involves them collaborating, thinking through a problem, using their hands and bodies, experimenting, and expressing thoughts and feelings. Through the practices of envisaging ways to improve on a design or solve a problem, then trying and failing, asking for help, trying something new, and constructively criticising each other’s work, they are refining these skills.

Another of our projects has been Future Views (link), commissioned by three Bridge organisations, to help cultural education partnerships imagine and plan for the future of cultural learning.

Consulting researchers, cultural workers and young people, we found that economic, political and environmental change factors present unprecedented challenges. Although levels of understanding and concern varied, there was a universal sense that there are coming changes that will affect resources in a profound and material way. Young people are highly conscious of a challenging future, and they accredit pressures in their mental health to wider global issues, combined with an increasingly high-stakes academic curriculum and increasing social division.

We discovered that digital technology is only one of many drivers for change in education and future skills. Although some aspects of technology are perceived by young people to be a threat, particularly the automation of jobs, there are many positive opportunities for harnessing technology to develop creativity, empathy and problem-solving. However, progress in this area is potentially threatened by Government education reforms and the plan to the leave the EU.

Many felt that technological advances (e.g. spatial imaging, data analysis or Internet of Things) offer opportunities to creatively tackle many of these emerging problems. Schools and cultural organisations need to shift expectations of a future of continued bounty, while facing these challenges with hope and creative thinking. They will need to deepen their collaborations and think more systemically. They will need to open up to digital creativity and to ‘design for good’, integrating them into other areas of learning or arts activity.

In particular, in a world that is increasingly riven by ideological division – in conflict over resources – people in the future will need to collaborate, to respond calmly to unprecedented situations and know how to defuse tensions. To develop these capacities, play is essential. You can develop responsiveness to new situations and be motivated to practice skills by playing games and being involved in simulations. You can find ‘adjacent possibles’ – or new solutions to complex problems – by messing around with combinations of words, images and ideas. You can learn to control your emotions by expressing them in safe situations, through drama or exploring film and literature. You can learn how to manage your mental health by playful strategies, by developing a sense of humour, and by exercising your body.

We know that young people are aware of the importance of creativity in an unpredictable future, some intuitively responding to their experience of a lack of creativity in school, others more consciously unhappy about it. However, they reported many barriers to their creativity being fulfilled, including a lack of agency and choice in their education. They think that careers advice and guidance in schools needs to be updated, with more awareness of the need for creative, technical and people skills in emerging areas of work.

The young consultees also talked of the need to involve and empower young people as cultural leaders, not just offer arts as ‘enrichment’ or see young people as passive consumers. This call was supported by cultural workers we consulted too, who want to empower young people to take control of their own path. To achieve this, they know that young people need more exposure to people in the creative industries, not only to understand their creative practice, but the ‘whole person’ and the way they balance and manage their creative life. They want young people to understand that not everybody has had the same pathway into the industry, and the importance of having ‘other strings to their bow’ to help them find their own way as an individual. They said that young people shouldn’t assume that someone else is going to make change for them, that they need to be active and take control. But, of course they need to be invited and encouraged in taking control.

Another project that we have supported is Cultivate (link), a creative place-making programme in Wandsworth and Lambeth, part of London’s Cultural Education Challenge. Part of it is a creative careers education programme, responding to the priority needs of schools, who are now responsible for careers education and guidance.

In recruiting independent creative practitioners and small businesses to run ‘Cultivate Routes’ sessions, we asked them what advice they would give young people who want to pursue a creative path in life. We received responses from 74 people, so it gives a fairly good indication of the views of the sector. Their advice, overwhelmingly, based on their own experiences, was to be utterly self-motivated but also highly collaborative and flexible. They talk about ‘just doing it’, focusing on doing what you love, not expecting Higher Education to provide a clear professional route as you have to forge this for yourself, having to keep refreshing your skills and not expecting success to come quickly. It’s a tricky path between total self-driven passion and responsiveness to the changing needs of the world and the ideas of others.

Finnish researcher Esko Kilpi (link here) writes about the skills needed for post-industrial work: “…conventional jobs are increasingly inhibiting flexibility and contextual responses to new problem definitions or new technological solutions to old problems. To succeed in the new economic spaces, we need symmetric relationships, open assets and very open organizations.”

Are we up to the challenge of reinventing creative business and cultural organisations to be more flexible and open in the UK? And if leaving the EU means that many of the more open and forward-looking organisations shift to be based in Europe, or more virtual, what impact will this have? The more flexible and open that young people start to become, the more likely it is that they will not want conventional work, or want to contribute to businesses within the UK economy.

We need to start bringing creative thinking to this challenge!

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Flow’s Thrivable Culture toolkit

It’s not always simple to describe what we do at Flow, when we respond to a wide variety of contracts and adapt very flexibly to what our clients need. Over the past 11 years we’ve been in roles that include ‘learning partner’, ‘evaluator’, ‘audience researcher’, ‘programme planner’, ‘critical friend’, ‘trainer’ and ‘change facilitator’. Central to all of these roles is our ability to help cultural organisations develop and narrate a Story of Change, and to help them design experiences that power the changes they want to create.

 

Through these many projects, we’ve built up a set of tools for planning and tracking change. A major resource that we’ve developed is the Thrivable Culture toolkit. We’ve called it this because we believe that ‘Cultural’ opportunities help people, places and planet thrive, and that in turn, a thriving world allows rich and diverse ‘cultures’ to grow. By ‘Cultural opportunities’ we mean a very broad set of things – having freedom and resources to learn and enquire, to cherish our shared heritage, to express feelings, be imaginative, make things and innovate for the future. This contributes to wellbeing in the wider ‘culture’ – in all the ways we communicate, celebrate, critique and create as a society. Cultural opportunity is driven by the public Arts and Heritage sectors, but also by the Media and commercial Creative Industries, by Science Engagement, and by the Education and Health sectors.

 

By the term ‘Thrivable’ we are referring to an approach to growth that favours wellbeing for the many over wealth for a few. So, a Thrivable Culture is one where people and places flourish by pursuing what they love, helping each other and looking to the future. This is the big Story of Change that makes Cultural organisations so valuable. We hope that working with us using these tools will enable you to tell and realise your own part of this Story of Change, in ways that are meaningful to you.

 

The underlying philosophy of these models comes from our namesake, the idea of ‘flow’ or optimum engagement, developed by Csikszentmihalyi. This helps us analyse how people are both supported and stimulated by any experience, and what the barriers are to engagement. In order for organisations or their projects to inspire people, overcome challenges, and design for learning and change, we need to pay attention to how people can feel really absorbed, inspired and empowered. This is all about improving the qualities of experiences, places, materials, questions, processes and relationships so that staff, partners and audiences are both supported and challenged. From the zone between too much anxiety and too much boredom, people draw their energy to change. Improving quality in these conditions is just as important as impacts such as measurably increasing income or creating jobs. Or rather, in the Cultural sector, improving quality is the best way to achieve those quantifiable impacts.

 

Logic Models used in processes informed by Theory of Change can help organisations to define and evidence how inputs and outputs of any project result in quantifiable outcomes and longer-term impacts.

However, in cultural and experimental projects, or people-centred areas such as education, it can be hard to predict and quantify these outcomes. Rigid application of this model, seeing it as a narrow pipeline of change, can cause anxiety, an inability to pull together around common goals and a sense of inevitable failure. It can also be tricky to start at the end of the line and to think backwards from desired impacts. As part of our toolkit, we’ve designed a new version of the Logic Model format to help teams plan for and evaluate change which we believe overcomes these problems. It is more circular, makes much more clear how planning and evaluation activities sit together, and it encourages more pause to think through the early steps of learning about your context and creating conditions for change.

The following explains an element of our framework in depth: What you do at the start of Discover phase of a project.

 

An important part of our approach is ‘front-loading’, which means thinking before launching into the hard or expensive parts of any programme or new project, taking time to build relationships, to clarify common values and to research the context around you. This doesn’t have to mean a long vague phase before implementing any project. It means distinguishing between the WHY and the HOW, or the Aims and Objectives. It means ensuring that all stakeholders are agreed on what you want to achieve, holding on to that vision while you test and develop a project, and being prepared for unpredictable contingencies as you go.

At this Discover phase of a project, we help you use Three Lenses to clearly think about your situation, which will then help you design interventions or planned outcomes. These Three Lenses are:

  • External factors: How you work in your wider context. How you optimise your use of resources and overcome external challenges.
  • Relational factors: How you design conditions for people to interact with each other. How you help people to develop their capacities for positive change by learning from others.
  • Internal factors: How your experiences or services can inspire shifts in people’s values and character, including your own. (These may not be easily quantifiable in themselves but can potentially create quantifiable change in people’s lives or the wider world).

These correspond to the three ecologies, environmental, social and mental, described by Arne Naess. The diagram below shows how the three lenses interact with each other continually, and in both directions. Relational factors are in the middle, as these connect and maximise the potential of the other two, helping individuals and organisations relate to the world around them and other people.

 

 

Why is it so important to look carefully at your situation? Looking ahead, the wider world is becoming more difficult, and resilience in the face of this is the buzz word. In some countries such as the UK and USA, Culture and Science sectors are struggling to be fully valued due to political change. Some other countries are investing properly in these sectors, but wider environmental or economic conditions might threaten their progress. To be resilient, it’s vital to be hyper aware of external threats and opportunities emerging now and on the horizon. Being hyper-aware does not just mean vigilance. It means thinking about how all these change factors interact in an increasingly complex and unpredictable system.

 

The next diagram shows the tool we use to help organisations analyse their situation, combining the Three Lenses, and with eight external factors presenting the threats and opportunities to achieving desired outcomes.

 

The 8 external factors are used like the PESTEL or STEEPLE analysis frameworks, but we have added the factors of Culture and Wellbeing. This new approach to analysing threats and opportunities is loosely based on Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, but uses an ecosystem instead of a pyramid to illustrate how all the contributing factors work together. In this ecosystem, Culture and Ethics sit at the centre of the circle, and Relational capacities and Internal values fall out of them and feed them.

By identifying the factors that offer the most scope for opportunity you can look for ways to overcome threats in other areas, to recognise where your project can have most impact. For example, the solution to overcoming an External threat – such as a change in Government that reduces funding – might involve working on Internal values or Relational capacities. In turn, the solution to fundamental problems with Relational or Internal factors might lie in leveraging an External factor, such as interventions to improve physical and mental health.

 

Here, we’ve broadly identified the kinds of Relational and Internal factors that might be nurtured if you want to effect positive change on any of the External change factors, overcoming the threats and generating opportunities. These are examples of ways these factors can be articulated rather than intended as a single correct path. Being a Values-based organisation means inviting your communities to explore and debate how values should be expressed and lived.

Contact us on hello@flowassociates.com if you’d like to talk about how our work can help you.

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Flow-er needed

Our team in Flow UK is looking for a ‘paid volunteer’ who wants early career experience in arts, heritage and science engagement. We’d like to hear from students or graduates, of any age, with lots of enthusiasm. You might have some knowledge of areas such as museums, market research, teaching, community arts, graphic design, experience design or science communication.

The main work coming up is supporting workshops where we consult with audience groups and evaluate events such as festivals.
The main skillsets for this are:
– able to chat sensitively and confidently with all kinds of people (while also being unobtrusive)
– able to take and transcribe notes, use a camera and document events as they happen
– able to help make posters, handouts, displays etc.
We can pay £50 per day plus travel costs when attending events (e.g. in London, Cambridge, Oxford). You will benefit from our insights based on decades of experience in the cultural sector. Because we are a business that depends on winning short contracts, there is no guarantee of work.
Please email bridget.mckenzie@flowassociates.com with an online CV, your website, or a CV attached, as well as a very brief note on why you’d like to work with us.
We are led by our values in Flow – and are committed to equality, social justice and environmental sustainability. We will not discriminate on any grounds.
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Busy times

Here’s a long promised update on our latest work in Flow UK so far in 2015. We’ve been collaborating with established friends such as Vivienne Reiss, KCA London and Guerilla Science, and with new associates, including service designer Daniela Ivanova, and Anna Salaman, former Head of Formal Learning at Royal Museums Greenwich.

Some new projects include:

Developing an evaluation framework for Encounters Arts, for their Connect and Inspire programme of projects.

Evaluating Travellers’ Tails, the programme of exhibitions, events, volunteers and a digital tool, accompanying the funded acquisition of two Stubbs paintings of a kangaroo and a dingo.

In a similar vein, evaluating the programme of events, tour and community projects surrounding the funded acquisition by the Ashmolean Museum of Manet’s portrait of Mademoiselle Fanny Claus.

Evaluating the process and partnerships of the ACE-managed national Museums and Schools Programme, and developing an outcomes-based evaluation framework for the next phase.

Working with Guerilla Science, the Festival of the Spoken Nerd, and Ravensbourne on running the Super Human Academy for secondary school pupils to encounter exciting future technologies, supported by Intel.

Evaluating SMASHFestUK, a unique kind of science festival for young people produced by The Registry and hosted by Lewisham organisations such as The Albany Theatre and Deptford Lounge.

Supporting the Maritime Greenwich WHS learning group to sustain and grow its cultural learning partnership, working with schools and arts, heritage and environmental organisations across the borough.

Continuing to develop The Story of the Crick, the heritage activity programme for the new Francis Crick Institute.

We also have four or five more exciting projects in development, with Flow India and associates, and more news about these will come in due course.

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A bit of history, looking to the future

This new website heralds a new phase of sharing between Flow UK and Flow India, under a new umbrella of FlowGlobal.

This means building bridges to work on a more international basis and with a stronger mission of creating futures. In part, it’s a new phase as we’re delighted to welcome on board our new co-director Susanne Buck, with whom we will develop a strong foundation to the business and a new strand of Experience Design. Mark Stevenson will continue his association with FlowGlobal but is giving more time to an exciting new venture, We Do Things Differently.

It’s a clean slate in a way but we’re not eliminating our history. Between our small team in London and a bigger, growing one in Delhi, we have spent countless hours on Skype, email and in person, developing Creative Enquiry to suit education in both national contexts, forging methods for evaluation using Theory of Change, and adapting Service Design for digital projects in the Cultural sector.

We’ve delivered so many projects since we set up Flow in 2006 that it’s easy to lose track of the detail sometimes. However, there is still plenty of free-flowing knowledge between us, and it’s not trapped in the sediments of archived reports.

This is a bit of reflection on some of the cultural sector consultancy projects we’ve done in the past 2 years. As well as consultancy, and especially in India, we have also delivered courses, workshops, summer camps and culture labs in schools for many thousands of children and young people.

Bridget has led cultural consultancy projects working with Flow India’s directors and other associates including Susanne Buck, Mike Ellis, Rebecca Birch, Joanna Holland, Sarah May, Wendy Earle, Dr Lindsay Keith, James Aldridge, and others.

These are are our main consultancy and research projects in the UK over the past two years.

Currently we’re working on:

  • Co-ordinating the Learning partnership across the World Heritage Site of Maritime Greenwich.
  • Evaluating the outreach and education programme supporting the Ashmolean Museum’s acquisition of Manet’s portrait of Mademoiselle Fanny Claus
  • Evaluating the Extending Innovative Digital Practice programme, led by Artswork South East, with clusters of schools, arts organisations and tech companies in Oxford, Margate and Eastbourne
  • Researching digital innovation in school and museum partnerships, exploring possibilities for a Remote model of digital learning

And recently we’ve done:

And a few highlights from the previous year or so:

  • Audience research and a digital strategy for the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum at the University of Exeter, which led to a new brand, website and engagement plan
  • Audience research and evaluation of the Heritage100 website which serves museums and their audiences across Hampshire and the Solent
  • Scoping and market research towards a Digital Collections Prospectus for researchers for RAMM in Exeter
  • Evaluating the schools projects of Resident artists and designers at the V&A Museum in their work with schools
  • Recently, we’ve also worked for the V&A to evaluate a guide to African collections and to evaluate a training course for Indian museum professionals held at the V&A
  • Three research projects on making in museums, on libraries and creative literacy, and on creative outreach strategies, to help development plans for The Children’s Museum London
  • Producing Caring for Reef and Shore (educational films and resources) for St Abbs & Eyemouth Marine Reserve
  • Evaluating the Caribbean Through a Lens community projects and web collections for The National Archives.
  • Research into needs of educational users to scope the digital education offer for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, for English Heritage
  • Evaluation of the contemporary art programme of the Canal & River Trust, including research into evaluation of public art and environmental outcomes
  • INIVA and A Space, market research and marketing strategy for a new Creative Learning brand and an exciting toolkit of Emotional Learning Cards
  • A strategy for outreach, public participation and digital engagement for the successful HLF bid to develop the National Army Museum
  • Evaluation of a learning project called Spacemakers and the overall visitor experience of Kettle’s Yard, and a plan to evaluate their HLF-funded developments
  • Evaluation of the National Museums Online Learning Project. This is a major partnership project between 9 national museums, which resulted in Creative Spaces and WebQuests.

If you would like to find out more about any of these projects or discuss how we can help you with similar work, do get in touch. For a longer list of consultancy projects, see this.