Taking an ecological perspective to partnership working

11 May 2020

Senior Partnerships Manager, Corinne Bass, revisits our research exploring cultural learning ecologies and asks, can taking an ecological approach help partnerships' thinking during this tricky period?

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A few years ago, A New Direction worked with Dr Nick Wilson and Dr Jonathan Gross from Kings College London to carry out a study exploring cultural learning ecologies in London. Key questions included ‘what is the nature of a cultural learning ecology?’, and ‘how can we best support its strength?’ The resulting Caring for Cultural Freedom research has played an important role in the development of A New Direction’s thinking around ‘place’ and our work with local partnerships supporting cultural learning in different areas of London.

We are now in an unprecedented time, and over the past few weeks A New Direction have been involved in conversations with local partnerships about how we can best support communities in this changing situation. Even though our lives are now simultaneously more remote and also hyper-local, the central themes of place work – understanding specifically the local needs, working collaboratively and with existing networks – remain powerful.

I recently revisited 10 questions Nick and Jonathan had suggested, drawing on learning from their research, that partnerships might ask themselves when looking to plan a local initiative to support cultural learning systemically, and wondered – can taking an ecological perspective help us to think through our activity in the current context? Can revisiting these questions help us refine and shape our response?

An ecological perspective emphasises interdependency, co-development, complexity and change. Nick and Jonathan organised the 10 questions mentioned above into four sub-sections, which in itself I found useful in organising my thoughts: caring for culture – taking responsibility to help; the current situation… and the future; developing an ecological approach; and strategic aims and governance.

Below I’ve highlighted some questions that particularly leapt off the page for me as I was reading, and which may be useful for you to consider:

1. What do we know so far?

What do we know about the nature of cultural learning for young people in our place at this time? How can we capture, record and analyse the different information about the situation for young people now?

One of the things we have heard consistently is a concern about the potential for increased inequality. Challenges in terms of the digital divide, access to art and creative resources, increased pressures for families, and loss of spaces and support which might have been critical.

2. What skills, experience, and networks do we have that can help?

Should we re-imagine our roles? What expertise and skills do we have collectively that could help? Local Cultural Education Partnerships have expertise that are wide-ranging; from set-building and programme design, to mentoring, coaching and policy, with exceptional reach through networks across their areas. What role can we play?

3. What cultural opportunities do young people currently value?

As the lockdown continues, how can we maintain and sustain communication channels to keep in touch with young people about their evolving needs? What are young people, families, and schools finding valuable at this stage? How will this develop and evolve in time?

4. At present, where do young people have the opportunity to have their voices heard?

What are the communication channels for young people? How can we make sure a range of voices are represented in our decisions and thinking about our planning from here?

5. Are there relevant networks already active? What role could these networks play?

How has the infrastructure changed? Are there new networks in place? How could our network support and contribute to the activities of others?

6. Which organisations have been and could be invited?

How do we/do we need to connect with different organisations in order to fulfil the role we’d like to play? Who else might we involve in our conversations?

A New Direction will continue to connect with local partnerships across London over the next few months, and are planning how we can best provide opportunities for representatives from partnerships to talk together, share learning, and information about new and developing work.

For more about London’s Local Cultural Education Partnerships, please click here, or contact Connected@anewdirection.org.uk.