Effectiveness in Action

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Arts, Design and Social Sciences


Effectiveness in Action

This proposal brings together the arts-informed methodology of gentle disruption, with a reflexive interest in what makes community action effective, drawing on expertise from contrasting styles of community engagement in change-making, to share reflection on evidence of impact in a novel co-design process.

Participant research has begun to show how useful a process of gentle disruption can be in inspiring a group to come together and, through changes in expectation and orientation, find new endpoints outside the framing they started with. This is in keeping with a body of research demonstrating the relationship between innovation, breaking out of safe, traditional or limiting paradigms of thought and upsetting norms.

We use gentle disruption, here, as the basis for co-design, researching how we might extend this potentially broad and valuable approach from conventional artist- or designer-led practice into what the Design Council has called 'collective thinking and designing that addresses a community's issues' (www.design council.org.uk/resources-and-events/designers/design-glossary/co-design/); to inspire group-based designerly thinking; and to fuel new conceptual tools for generating creative accord in action contexts. In this way, it will advance understanding in the field of co-creation and the tools that can facilitate it.

The first phase of this proposal involves a process which brings several groups together to explore common ground in making community action effective. We will stage two events, the first around existing knowledge; the second developing these insights into collaborative innovation. Both will feature creative works by the three participating groups, which are being commissioned to elicit a theme of interest to all and to continue a weaving process that involves all partners as active co-workers in identifying and building on a joint focus. These creative works give space for reflection through collaborative activity and present each group's perspective so that others can react to it.

The second part of the proposal hints at what might come out of this process, and which aspects of the reflection that underpins the first phase might be incorporated in continuing the work together. As the point of phase one is to determine collaboratively - between university and community researchers - what the research question in the second phase will be, there is little to say about content, but phase two will contrast in form from phase one in that it will seek to answer a particular question rather than stimulate reflection per se.

Planned Impact

This project has a strong emphasis on impact. The central issue that brings the participants together is evidencing and communicating effectiveness,. The issue of researching, refining or evidencing what makes action effective arose repeatedly in the course of discussions during the proposal development phase, with people interested in using evidence to provide 1) motivation to others to try out their own agency; 2) justification of an approach to attract funding; 3) means to learn better strategies for achieving intended ends.

The groups involved in the project will have an opportunity to reflect on, articulate and develop new understandings of their own effectiveness, as well as how to evidence it and communicate it to others. This will have direct impact on their change making practices; it will also filter out into the wider coalitions to which they all belong. Furthermore, bringing together groups with different practices means exposure to unfamiliar effective tactics and other understandings of effectiveness. This should lead to cross-fertilisation or even new hybrid approaches..

Participants have been attracted to the project by the potential to reflect on the shape and impact of change-making actions and how their creative practice informs them. This will be enhanced by the request to keep a collaborative reflective diary (in blog form) on developing their commissions and responding to others' work. This is informed by CC experience (eg the CARM blog 'How we Made it Happen': http://howwemadeithappen.posterous.com/) and others' research on inspiring reflection in designers (Dalsgaard & Halskov 2012). The blog and report of our work will be produced in accessible fashion so that community groups and those interested in design can learn from the process as a case study of co-design. The reflections will also offer learning material for the many people seeking to make change in their lives, neighbourhoods and world about them, providing thought on structures, processes, working creatively and evidencing what works.

The outputs of this research should be of interest to public service providers and local authorities, at a time when there is a strong emphasis in policy on co-production of services at local authority level and at the same time an acknowledgement that the sector lacks the know-how to do this effectively (see Boyle et al 2010). A number of the project participants have established professional links with local authorities and public sectors bodies (e.g. Social Spaces, Named Researcher and PI) which should ensure that the research can inform policy or practice at this level.

Boyle, D., Coote, A., Sherwood, C. and Slay, J. (2010) Right Here, Right Now Taking co-production into the mainstream NESTA/nef 2010: http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/reports/assets/features/co-production_right_here_right_now


10 25 50
Title Entry into Creative Citizens 
Description Short introduction to the role of reflection in working creatively as and with a community.Included in artefacts circulated as a community output for the Creative Citizens project and final conference. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact only just released 
Title Everyday Disruptions 
Description Although this is a book, it is not a research deliverable of a traditional form and part of its make-up is a series of detachable postcards for sharing and a linked Dropbox folder with original materials from the related research project which reveal more of its genesis. The book itself is the product of a tightly woven design by consensus process of collecting and editing, which was intrinsic to the methodology of the project. It was designed to be aesthetically pleasing but to resist synthesis. The postcards are symbolic of the high value that tokens play in the social action world, while simultaneously offering the possibility for a non-digital viral artefact. Readers can tear out and pass on, or hand out postcards as the means to share the book through the Dropbox folder. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Too early. The book is still being distributed back to participants and others. 
URL https://db.tt/lgeP0Uoc
Title Keep It Fluffy 
Description This film documents road protesters over the years and looks at the continuing struggle of passionate communities against powerful corporations. It was made as part of the first phase of a co-design project for sharing with the participants and illustrating a form of social action. It was made by photographer Adrian Arbib and copy editor Sarah Murphy. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact We are only now reporting on our outputs to a wider public with the end of the project and the publication of the main works 
URL http://vimeo.com/65992285
Description Using 'gentle disruption' methodology, combined with co-research based on participatory action research, we have investigated the role of reverence as part of exploring collaborative social action. What inversions and subversions take place when one looks at the places and practices that inspire people enough to act? How does reverence (and, by extension, irreverence) play out in supporting, protecting or requesting the community resources we want in our futures?

A mixed team of community and academic researchers worked together at each stage of the project, co-designing outputs and agreeing a protocol for speaking about what was produced, which recognises this symmetry of access to and responsibility for the project.

Drawing on material produced at two internal events and three regional events, we identified themes of play, gentleness, enchantment, orality and trust, and explored how they informed social action.

This culminated in the final output, Everyday Disruptions, a book of multiple voices with removable tokens and linked electronic folder, edited through consensus and designed to support other activists and change-makers in reflecting on their motivations and means to sustain themselves in the often long and difficult business of effecting change. The book is a viral manifestation of the findings of the project about the need for stimulus and sustenance.
Exploitation Route The gentle disruption methodology pushes co-design into new directions, which are particularly effective for the meeting and melding of heterogeneous groups.

The insights into social action and how it is supported could now be taken further into making objects and processes to sustain communities in their undertakings to bring about, channel or prevent change.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment

URL https://db.tt/lgeP0Uoc
Description So far, they have been given back to the communities from which they were drawn in a series of launches and distributed to a range of key stakeholders in civil society (e.g. NESTA). The RSA expressed interest in the findings and we are intending to collaborate.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Environment
Impact Types Cultural

Description Invited Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to give a public talk at the University of Malmo as part of their Medea Talks, which are aimed at a professional public and also put online for others to view. I described the Connected Communities projects in some detail as part of a more general talk on futures and participation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://medea.mah.se/event/medea-talks-ann-light/
Description Invited Talk at Makerspace Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This talk introduced multiple research projects to the practitioner audience and helped them see how research into social design could be relevant to their work. It was followed up by invitations to talk in Belfast, to collaborate with the EU Policy Lab and other venues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Three local book launches 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Participants and their circles saw the output of the project and were able to discuss the issues.

Greater interest in the project and the beginning of a viral circulation of the postcards that promote the work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014