Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Subtle differences: how to identify creative collaborative activity

I’ve been learning a lot about what creative collaborative activity looks and feels like from Tessy Britton and Laura Billings. I’m coming to realise that until you experience it directly, it can be a tricky thing to differentiate from more traditional activity which might be in, for example, a charitable or consumer paradigm (see Tessy’s post on participatory paradigms). For any ornithologists reading this it’s a bit like trying to decide if you’re looking at a Willow Warbler or a Chiffchaff (without hearing any song).

A Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler

As Jason Lauritsen of Talent Anarchy said recently in a blog about a different kind of event he and Joe Gertstandt are offering:
“Different can be hard to understand in advance. That’s why people and organizations tend to treat new ideas so poorly.  And why we have such a hard time innovating. It can be hard to embrace the different.”
I’ve been reflecting on differences between two Pot Luck dinners held at the same venue in Brierley Hill, one last September (which I blogged about and Storifiedand one last week, both involving 16 people. On the face of it both probably looked pretty similar - 16 people milling around and then gathering around a large table to share food. However the dinner in October was collaborative, and the dinner last week, which was initiated with great intent but got unwittingly shifted to a more traditional meeting.

Pot Luck Dinner last September
The people:
  • In September it was a family-friendly activity, there were 10 adults and 6 children, three generations from one family came along. 
  • Last week it was an adult only space, and in addition, only adults actively involved in some kind of community group or activity - mostly people who run or lead groups or organisations. I doubt that anyone around the table felt that others were missing, after all we’re used to leaving loved ones and kids at home when going to community meetings.

The food:
  • In September the food arrived in tupperware and bowls. The vast majority of it had been cooked or prepared by the person who had bought it along, barring a couple of big bags of sharing crisps and the ice cream lollies.
  • Last week the table looked like supermarket shelves, with branded plastic containers full of supermarket food, and a collection of individual bags of crisps. The only exceptions was some lovely looking home made cake, and my (rather too thick) dal made in a slow cooker and bought along warm. Again, I’m sure those involved didn’t think anything amiss with what was on offer, as we are so used to having food provided at events - by caters and the like. We’re not accustomed to making and sharing.

The conversation:
  • In September we just got on with it. Had a good laugh, naturally and informally made introductions between people who hadn’t met before. There was music, play and fun.
  • Last week it felt quite stilted, given the dinner part was preceded by notification that there was paperwork to fill in for Community First, and then a round of introductions, as you'd have at a meeting.

Pot Luck Dinner last week - paperwork ahoy!
The outcomes:
  • In September we overheard lovely discussions between Joyce and others about her food and Caribbean cooking lessons, with intent expressed for people to connect over this at a later time. Having seen the hall, Joyce soon bought a large family party to INSIGHT for Carers, helping INSIGHT to generate income.
  • Last week I’m not sure if anything serendipitous occurred. I caught up with a couple of people, which was lovely. Some ‘required paperwork’ got filled in, which rather missed the point of bringing people together in a different way.

The washing up:
  • In September Tony and Donna did the lions share of the washing up, and had a brilliant laugh doing it. They wouldn’t even let others help they were having such fun!
  • Last week I had to chivvy people to clear the table, and a rather fed up Marc said they could leave the washing up. This exemplifies what happens when something is delivered by a few to the many (charitable or consumer paradigm) - tasks aren’t shared or enjoyed, they are left. People trot off home without a second thought to the dirty dishes.

Tony and Donna having fun with the washing up

So my first thoughts about identifying creative collaborative activity go something like this:
  • Are the only people present those involved in committees or local groups/organisations? This might indicate a lack of creative collaboration.
  • Are a small group of people doing everything? (They are probably from a committee or group.) This is an indication of community delivering to community. It’s where a handful of local people take on or imitate the role of service providers. A sign of operating in a charitable paradigm.
  • Is anything handmade and/or are lots of people sharing their skills, talents or passions? If so, things are looking like they might be creative and collaborative.
  • What has been paid for centrally? If the entertainment, food and whatever else is going on has been paid from from a group’s budget or a project budget, then creative collaboration is probably limited, or not present.

There isn’t to judge activity which is or isn’t creative and collaborative. I am simply sharing my process of beginning to understand what the differences are and how to know them.

Has anyone else experienced and contrasted differences? What would you use as identifiers?
Photo credits: Pot Luck pictures were taken by me, and the birds are from The Portland Portal 

1 comment:

  1. Very well written keep it up!
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