Holding our Nerve


  • Arts and society
  • Social innovation

In Tessy Briton’s insightful blog on How Do We Create New Knowledge for Creative/Collaborative Participatory Paradigm?, Tessy outlines some vulnerabilities for this time of emergent shifts in ways of working together and how this reflects changes in our own thinking and behaviour. This link between organisational change, for example, change in how we deliver services and how we reconsider our own personal responsibility in this, is one we are examining within our work with the public services in Peterborough. And Tessy is so right – it is difficult and can be deceptively difficult because it must be about the doing and not the talking about doing – a much easier option. The Wikipedia entry on the principles of positive deviance suggests it is easier to change behavior by practicing it rather than knowing about it. “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting”. This is the route the RSA team of Citizen Power and The Map are taking with an ambitious cross public sector delivery programme in Peterborough called the single delivery plan. We are most definitely seeing seeing a new participation ‘Creative/Collaborative’ paradigm emerging.

This programme has emerged from a strong set of working principles to help transform communities in Peterborough:

  • Outcomes, not organisations
  • Addressing the root cause of issues – a preventative agenda
  • Innovation – doing things differently for less
  • Prioritisation – clear focus, not everything we do
  • Remarkably, we are approaching this through the arts, utilizing the tools of creative processes to enable discoveries and change with a committed group of 45  senior leaders across the city. It is big, and risky and a bit of a miracle that we got here at all. One of the key reasons we did is through the leadership of Gillian Beasley,  Chief Executive for Peterborough , who leads by example in taking a full and active part, identifying the long term aim as being about a mind-set change, urging colleagues to try things differently and not seek immediate and band-aid like solutions.








    There is the inevitable temptation to make a plan of action and not take advantage of the opportunity to explore, reflect and observe patterns of behaviour in one’s own working life and act instead upon this. To make this manageable, we are in small cross sector groups of 6 – representing health, the fire service, enterprise, police, council services, the voluntary sector and facilitated by someone with a background in how arts can make change. We have all identified behavioural changes and  lines of enquiry that can address the changes we want to make and are now at the stage of designing ‘experiments’.

    We are trying to find our way without a road map, as Wikipedia says, - acting our way into a new way of thinking. It is transparently a 'top down' approach at the start, given the roles of the participants, but remember this is led by a commitment to a personal and organisational change in working practices. We are doing 'bottom up' and 'from the middle' approaches in other programmes in the city. And over the next year, we hope to uncover some of those key factors Tessy refers to. So far, the toughest thing is just keeping our nerve, holding on to a fragile confidence that working with those we don’t normally engage with and trying experimental approaches together is worth doing.


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