Case Study

Digging Where You Stand — Self Awareness and Resilience Tools

The word resilience seems to be everywhere at the moment. It’s interesting how words develop a prominence at certain points in our history depending on what’s happening in the world around them. It appears we are now living in a time where resilience is a fundamental key skill and our capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, our ‘elasticity’, is crucial.

A year ago I enrolled on ‘Boosting Resilience: Survival Skills for the New Normal’. An Arts Council England supported learning programme, developed by the Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice at Cass Business School, The Culture Capital Exchange and Manchester Metropolitan University Business School. Over the course of three residentials and associated peer and group based activities I have been learning various tools and techniques to help with organisational and personal resilience.

In this article I will share some of the tools that I have found particularly useful in terms of organisational resilience and self-awareness.

Junction Arts is 42 years old this year. You don’t get to be a 42 year old participatory arts charity without a certain level of resilience! We have had to navigate many different political and funding priorities since 1976 and remain true to our core mission and purpose. I believe a core component of our success is the ability to self-evaluate and periodically review our core mission and aims to ensure that we remain relevant and ‘necessary’ to the communities we serve.

Following a period of review in 2017, we used tools from the Boosting Resilience programme to test our revised mission, vision and aims at our Board and Staff away day. Firstly we broke down our mission into three ‘claims’ or ‘assumptions’, and split the Staff and Board into three teams. Each team used a ‘Theory of Change’ model as a tool to scrutinise this claim and really dig down into the detail of ‘how’ we achieve this claim.

Although Theory of Change models are seen as the backbone for the impact strategy for any organisation, research by the Arts Impact Fund show that detailed theories of change are uncommon in the arts and cultural sector. A useful guide to ‘Theory of Change’ was produced by the Arts Impact Fund:

Using the mission statement claim as the end point, each group worked backwards to identify activities, outputs and outcomes that lead to the delivery of the mission statement. This technique enabled us to really get under the skin of the organisation and also identify areas for development.

Digging down into the detail can be hard. Many of us work within broad assumptions. As an arts charity we change the world, we know this, it is proven. However, when scrutinised as to the ‘how’ sometimes we can be found wanting, searching for the simple answer. Through this process I wanted the Junction Arts team (Board and Staff) to collectively revisit our core mission, agree that this is still relevant, and then scrutinise and test our core mission by clearly articulating (through the Theory of Change models) how we achieve our goals. Thus, the aim was to make our assumptions about what we achieve as a charity explicit.

The three teams then took this a stage further by mapping three fictional beneficiary journeys, identifying who our core participants/audiences are. Using a simple storyboard technique, the three teams mapped a participant journey that illustrated change as outlined in our mission (all the time referring to work they’d developed in their Theory of Change models). So, at the end of the session we had developed three Theory of Change models that make explicit ‘how’ we deliver our core mission, and three beneficiary journeys that clearly illustrate the individual benefits in taking part with Junction Arts, and the change that we create as a charity.

These are incredibly powerful documents that add credibility to our work. However, I think one of the most powerful outcomes from this whole process was that it gave us a tool to scrutinise what we do as a team and develop a shared understanding about who we are and the impact we have as a charity. This shared understanding is vital to our resilience because self-awareness is fundamental to being resilient.

For more information about Boosting Resilience: Survival Skills for the New Normal: