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Posted by Philip Patston on 19 April 2008, 9:43 pm in , ,

Rounding off

It's been a while since I blogged properly and those who have been following are probably wondering where I've been. Quite a bit has happened in the last three weeks –let me do a bit of a plotted history and I'll wind up with a reflective summary of my overseas learning.

31 March - 5 April: Manchester
I blogged about the Bodyworlds exhibition, but of course that wasn't my reason for being in Manchester. I spent a day with disability arts organisation Full Circle Arts, as keynote at Fayre eXchange, a networking and development day for artists. The audience ranged wider than Newcastle, both in age and experience. The day was packed with different activities - keynotes, panel discussions, workshops and networking - and could well have been relaxed over two days. I was left with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction at having not arranged to work longer with the artists I met, particularly with the younger people who were obviously enjoying and benefiting from the experience of being immersed in an environment of mutual support and inspiration. Once again I was also inspired by the experience of hanging out with artists with unique experience and my resolve to organise a network of artists in Auckland (and perhaps NZ) was strengthened.

5 - 9 April: Devon (Cullompton, Exeter)
My brief for The South West was to engage with cultural and emerging entrepreneurs as part of an "Entrepreneurs In Conversation" series sponsored by the Cultural Leadership Programme. A small group gathered at Exeter University and – catalysed by my exploration of experiential diversity – a satisfying discussion began about context, culture and identity. Once again, though, with a mere two hours, the dialogue had a chance only to germinate and I was left frustrated at having to leave the group with the conversation at such an embryonic stage.

While in Devon I had the pleasure of spending time with my friend and mentor Moya Harris, ex-Director of Equata (now Kaleido) in the beautiful Cullompton district. Sadly, however, during our stay we received word of not only the admittance to hospital of Mahinarangi Tocker, but also the death of my travelling companion Claire's aunt, to whom she was very close. Given this additional stress we decided to cut our trip short and return to NZ without visiting Hawaii to attend the Pacific Rim Conference.

We arrived back on Saturday 12 April and the last week has just been a blur of jet lag, early morning waking and grief over Mahinarangi's death (compounded by the Mangatepopo River school trip tragedy).

So, here are the gems that I have taken from the trip:

  1. I am an international thought leader: The highlight of the trip was certainly the conceptual breakthrough of Constructive Experiential Diversity (CED), moving on from Constructive Functional Diversity's impairment/disability focus to a framework that reframes and explores marginalisation on all fronts. I received repeated feedback that I am leading this way of thinking internationally – it is new and cutting edge, and I need to share it more widely. I see a clear role for WISE SPECIES™ as the structure that explores the diversity of individual and group experience in more depth, transforming it into constructive and creative expression.

  2. I need to bundle theory with application: Another clear realisation is that I need to bundle speaking about the theory of CED with its practical application through WISE SPECIES™. I left people wanting more in the UK, which is good up to a point, but I need to start negotiating a longer engagement with clients in order to deliver value for money and return on investment.

  3. I want to promote all aspects of social change as innovation: It was fantastic to be able to speak to people involved in social change and draw parallels to other areas of business innovation. I think activists, artists and frontline welfare workers need to be thinking of what they are doing in terms of innovation and see the response they receive as a natural reaction to innovation. For example, disabled artists who come across market resistance to their work need to stop thinking of this as discrimination and look at how to market their innovation better. Similarly, social workers and counsellors could inject creativity and passion into their work (for themselves and their clients) by seeing their role as supporting people to innovate their lives and promoting it as such, while understanding the innate resistance to new ideas that humans have, especially about themselves.

  4. I am buoyed by the belief that NZ is served and limited by scale: It is interesting, I think, that the social, environmental and resource issues we face in NZ are both compounded and alleviated by our population size. We have the same range of issues, but if that range of issues were a piece of string, our string is much shorter than most other societies. So the (negative) impact is therefore less extreme than other populations, but so also is the (positive) opportunity to make change. Given this dichotomy, the challenge is to leverage the limited impact while accommodating the limited opportunity. Inverted, this means celebrating the relative harmony of our society while innovating cost effective ways to address inequity.

  5. It may sound glib, but I believe that creativity and play need to lead the way: At the risk of generalising, I think we take society's ills far to seriously. At one end of the spectrum the general public have a tendency to over-catastrophise situations, which often compounds them (eg. boy racers, challenges to religious traditions), yet there is another equal inclination towards trivialising issues (eg. social attitudes to disabled people, the impact of economic and political hypocracy). I believe that employing principles of creativity (design, organic development and lateral thinking) and play (lightness, exploration and fascination) is key to improving our social and environmental future.