Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Some Reflections on the 'Success' Theme and Team

On the train back from London last week, I made a lot of notes in order to try to capture some of my initial thought about a collaborative project on success. Lisa, Zoë, Matteo, and myself had lunch together before an event about interdisciplinary research collaborations at the Wellcome Collection, and discussed some of our ideas. It struck us that there was a promising set of overlaps in the topics and questions which we wanted to address. After lunch, we attended the event, and heard from Wellcome Trust staff, and from Felicity Callard, leader of the current ‘Rest’ Hub residency.

In the breaks between presentations we had a lot to think about, and a lot to talk to each other about. When we had arrived, we were told that the event was being time-lapse photographed. On the train home, it occurred to me how much time we had spent together as a four, rather than dispersing ourselves around the room. We also spent that time in an unusual rhythm, alternating between periods of quiet reflection (or stunned silence - gloss as you prefer!) where we all tried to process the overwhelming surge of ideas and possibilities, and other periods of intense discussion where we worked together to give these ideas some shape. I came away convinced that Lisa’s initial idea of ‘success’ was going to work really well as a means of facilitating interdisciplinary research, and that we already had enough in common (in terms of interests in experience, ethics, 'the good, healthy life,' and 'the good society') to make that research cohere.

'Facilitated permeability'

As we listened to the presentations, I was struck by the enthusiasm of the Wellcome staff. Some of my more recent research involves understanding organisational change processes in healthcare, and particularly the psychological aspects of that (in terms of identity, status, group dynamics and processes, for example). I’m quite used to being an ‘outsider’ who is coming into an organisation for research purposes. Usually this process is a cautious negotiation; sometimes it is characterised by defensiveness and obstruction. The thing that really struck me about the attitude of the Trust staff was how open and encouraging they were. I came away with the idea of the Trust as a very permeable space. I think part of our conversations about how to proceed from here will need to be about how we can demonstrate our ‘good faith’ and trustworthy-ness (it’s good to be invited in, but it’s also right - and polite – to get a sense of the boundaries and expectations before accepting such an open invitation). I also think we need to give a lot of thought to how we use that permeability in our plans for a project on success. It’s clearly a critical feature of the concept: who will join us in the project, and in what sequence, and what will they do there?


A less positive aspect of the event was the sense of ‘ordeal’ which seemed to be associated with the application process for funding for large collaborative projects when Felicity Callard spoke about her team’s experience of that. I can’t say that this didn’t dent my enthusiasm for a time. On reflection, however, I think we can perhaps make our experience of that process a bit more positive if we take the opportunity to learn from past experience and the experience of others. We can do this partly by using this blog to ‘stay ahead of the curve,’ and to keep track of our ideas and plans. And we can align our diaries and block out some chunks of time for meetings and development work at key times. 

Interdisciplinary and Public Engagement

Here are some of the question relevant to what we want to achieve from our proposed project:

  • What kinds of events and processes can we set up during our project?

  • How can we make sure that each of these activities presents us with an opportunity to learn something about the meaning and quality of ‘success’, and for our partners and collaborators to learn something too?

  • How can make sure that we gain as many insights as possible from taking an interdisciplinary approach to these activities?

  • And finally, how can we structure this so that it combines to form a coherent programme of work, and adds to our cumulative knowledge about success and health?

The possibilities afforded by this seem very exciting, but I also feel a bit of trepidation about it. If we are successful, then we will be embracing a really new way of working for a couple of years. I can imagine that this will be transformational in terms of integrating art and performance in the project. I have begun to appreciate just how important it will be to have Victoria’s curatorial experience as part of our team!

It was really useful for four of us to all be in the same place, I thought. The link between the interdisciplinary component and the curatorial elements really started to take shape in our discussions that afternoon. On the train home, I could see that we’d had a small sample of the sort of thing that a project of this form might offer up every day. Through our conversation, we opened up some avenues for including some aspects of our research interests that we hadn’t initially considered relevant. I’m now quite keen to think about the Experience-Based Co-Design (EBCD) work as part of this scheme, for example. Partly this arose through getting a better sense of Matteo’s interests in empowerment, and in access to social and structural resources, and partly it arose from a ‘lightbulb’ moment. Bringing people together – with the purpose is to improve health – and bringing them there to engage with the idea of success is an opportunity to ‘learn from what works.’ In terms of service-user involvement and healthcare improvement, EBCD fits really with that agenda. 


As we talked, I began to visualise a structure to our theme. The project is going to be segmented (there are elements of work on success at the personal, interpersonal, social and cultural-structural) and layered (we can foresee themes on success as a response to negative feedback, costs of success, the relational context of success, the different meanings and values associated with different definitions of success, the notion of ‘succeeding against the odds,’ success in elite domains, success in the arts as a source of wellbeing - and so on). Zoe described ‘thriving and striving’ as one of our interests and this certainly seemed to capture the dynamic very well.

Spokes reach out from this hub, connecting the core members to various partners and collaborators. Each of these spokes captures a different strands of work, linking to a likely output. Our task now is to add some detail to these strands, so that we begin to see how they might fit together, and how they might best be structured. I’m really excited at the prospect of so many different levels of activity – co-produced ‘events,’ insights into processes through performances, development and delivery of some innovative research outcomes, opportunities for engaging with some new audiences,  and many of those potentially leading to co-authorship/co-presentation.

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