After an encounter with some goats and successfully escaping a multi-story car park on route from sunny Dunkeld to Dundee, I eventually arrived at the Discovery Point centre overlooking the Tay.
There, I was joining people from the arts, social care, education, justice, health and youth services to explore collaboration. The question for the day was ‘how can we work together to create the best conditions for cross-sector collaboration?’ Together we would explore different approaches, learn from each other’s work and provide support to each other.
Firstly, we heard from Hot Chocolate Trust, which delivers a range of youth work services in the centre of Dundee. It works with young people ages 12-21 who hang out in the city centre, to develop their own opportunities.
We then heard from Getting it right for Broomhill – a partnership project between arts, local residents and River Clyde Homes. Jenny Speck, who lives in Broomhill shared her experiences of leading a wave of community activism. The residents action resulted in a £26m regeneration project to modernise their homes. This inspiring presentation showed how we can embed creative arts approaches into community development. The role of the arts in this setting give the community a voice and supported creative expression of the mixed emotions that residents had about the area.
Finally, we heard from Glas(s) performance and Barnardos. Since February they have been working in HMPYOI Polmont with a group young men. It created an original piece of theatre which explores questions of identity and inheritance and what it means to be a young man in Scotland. The show looks to explore: What is the impact of masculinity on us? What impact can we have? What happens next? One of the take-home messages from this presentation was the importance of having had a youth worker as part of the art project. She offered participants holistic support throughout the project and acted as a trusted figure when dealing with new situations.
What makes successful collaboration?
Iriss uses the arts (and design, including illustration graphics and digital arts) in its work to improve communication of ideas, demonstrate value and reframe issues, and has championed the evidence for the use of arts in the sector.
My input to the day focussed on the key question: ‘How can we work together to create the best conditions for cross sector collaboration’?
Every project is unique but there are some recurring ideas that pop up across projects that can help foster collaboration.
So, we have the bare bones of a project in place; two parties or more working together, basic resources and a timescale that is realistic. But what is it that will take the project to the next level and give it sustainability beyond survival? There are key things to consider when embarking on your collaboration.
Find a shared language
Artists get a bad reputation for inaccessible language; their statements can be bamboozling to anyone who is not used to reading ‘art speak’. However, anyone who is embedded within a sector for any length of time will recognise that it has its own jargon. Take time to learn from each other about the ways in which you measure and discuss things. What are outcomes? What does an artist do during their ‘research phase’? Having a shared language will mean that you can develop, plan and assess the success of the project together.
Share responsibility for the project
Finding meeting dates, writing invoices, logging expenses, working out where to store artwork, filing systems… The culture of funding and short term projects can drain away energy from the energising idea stage of a project. Identify early who will be responsible for what aspects of the project. From a social care perspective it is important to think about the long-term outputs of the project, who will continue its legacy. Think about how you want to use the work that has come out of the project in years to come. How can you embed it into future work and continue to share the learning from Project? Artists should not leave all logistics and paperwork to their host organisation. Project planning, financial management, risk assessment, consent forms and documentation are all opportunities to demonstrate excellence in partnership working!
See funders as partners
Think about what you want to achieve with your project alongside what funding model it would fit. Have conversations with your funders as early as possible so that you can develop the project together.
Discuss what failure would mean
What would failure look like for each party involved in the partnership? What fears on or concerns do you have about your own involvement in the process and others? Explore the needs that lie under partners frustrations to move forward through conflict during your project. Don’t be afraid to identify conflict and address it head on. To do so is brave and will lead to stronger partnerships.
Plan your projects in line with the resources that you have available. Manage your expectations and the expectations of participants based on what you have at your disposal. Artist must be paid fairly – use the Scottish Artists Union pay rates. It will be beneficial to your project if you have other staff on board who can support the artist so they can focus on the creative aspects of the project. This could include having a youth worker or caseworker working alongside the artist. If your budget is limited you could consider using artists to train up your current staff. This can embed cultural change within your organisation.
Reflect on who is the right person for the job
Don’t work with artists who make work about people – work with ones that work with people. Ensure your recruitment process doesn’t restrict you to choosing the most obvious candidate. Factor in that people with the most experience are the ones who find it much easier to gain experience in the first place! This is particularly important for place based working. Look at the artist who are embedded in communities already. They may be disguised as ‘amateurs’, craft people or the local allotment group. But they may have skills that mean that they are perfectly suited to your project. Taking the time to identify artists who have a creative practice and lived experience will add value to your project. It will increase your chances of connecting with the Local community. Our Gypsy Traveller timeline would not have been possible without the joint creative, academic and personal experience brought by artist Shamus McPhee
Think creatively about evaluation
There are a range of tools available to support evaluation in socially engaged art practice. These include resources like Creative and Credible. It supports arts and health organisations and practitioners to engage with evaluation creatively, improve their practice, and make well-informed spending decisions. Use these resources to understand why to evaluate and think about what approaches might be appropriate.
This may seem like a daunting list of things to think about, but the most important thing is to get started. Try things, ask for help, don’t be afraid to get things wrong. Use the tools available to support you. A few more are detailed below:
Is this the best it can be? – Creative Scotland has produced a toolkit to support partnership working across sectors. It can be used by anyone delivering arts and creative learning through collaborative or participatory projects and programmes. The core of the toolkit is a set of prompt questions to assist you in the creation of a ‘compass’ for your creative partnership – to help consider what is important and what can be improved.
Partnerships & CO: Conversation Openers – an Iriss tool to support partnership working, including those planning a partnership or wishing to reflect on and take stock of an existing partnership.
Co-production Planner – a free Iriss resource that focuses on putting ideas into action. Co-production is a process that creates change – a way of working with, rather than doing to, people and communities to achieve better outcomes.