— Cultural Sources of Newness

Bulletpointing for policy makers

One of the things that has occupied many of my days and nights over the course of the past two years is the Creative Clash project on artistic interventions in organizations. I have been participating as the research partner,  together with several colleagues in our  research unit at the WZB. Our role was to collect evidence of impacts of artistic interventions in organizations on the basis of existing publications—the project specifically excluded conducting new research, a somewhat perverse situation, given the paucity of available data and the difficulty of conducting such evaluations.

Evaluating the impacts of artistic interventions is an interesting challenge for several reasons:

  • There is no such thing as a “typical artistic intervention.” Interventions can last for a few hours, days, months, sometimes even years. They can involve one artist or several artists, who may engage with just one or two members of the organization or with hundreds. The artists come from all imaginable domains, and they may or may not use their art form in an intervention—their contribution may rather come from their aesthetic ways of knowing and doing, of engaging with people, ideas, artefacts and spaces.
  • The organizational objectives given for undertaking an artistic intervention are also very diverse and often quite broad (e.g., increase employee creativity; expand leadership skills; improve communication in the organization; help develop new product idea; enhance organizational capacity for innovation; clarify organizational identity). We have not seen any artistic interventions for which the management has defined success criteria in advance as a basis for evaluation.
  • No organization stands still during an artistic intervention, nor does their context—the volatility of markets and the socio-political and technological changes of the past years affect all organizations. So it is impossible to establish clear monocausal links between an artistic intervention and organizational outputs. Managers who have experienced artistic interventions therefore formulate their observations in terms of effects associated with the intervention, outcomes that they perceive the intervention having contributed to in interaction with other factors in the organization at the time.
  • A set of underlying question in assessing impacts of artistic interventions in organizations is: who (the artists, the participating employees, the responsible managers?) or what (the intervention, the follow up?) is to be evaluated, and when (immediately after the intervention, weeks or months later)? The literature we reviewed has not resolved this set of questions.

The project funding ends on March 31, and we are presenting findings at the closing conference in Brussels on March 19th, i.e., tomorrow. The conference is co-hosted by the Goethe Institute in Brussels and some 150 participants have registered for the event.

Last Friday a panellist who will speak at the conference from the perspective of the EU policy-making community asked for a bullet-point summary of the findings of 2 years of work. An interesting (! what would we do without that flexible word in English?) challenge. After completing the 60-page report at 9pm last night with Anke Strauß, I tried to step back and bullet-point our thoughts, in the hopes that they might not only communicate some essential messages we want to get across, but also whet the readers’ appetite for more information:

  •  Managers have discovered that it makes a lot of sense to use an innovation to generate innovation. So they are experimenting with the potential of artistic interventions, in other words, they are bringing in people, practices, and products from the arts to help address issues their organizations are facing.
  •  Organizations of all sizes and all sectors in Europe have tried artistic interventions—for many reasons and with all kinds of art forms. There is no such thing as a “typical artistic intervention.”
  •  A wide variety of impacts have been documented although few studies are explicitly designed as evaluations. Most studies use mix of methods, primarily qualitative. Many include perspectives from different stakeholders (managers, employees, artists and sometimes intermediary organizations that produce artistic interventions).
  •  Although employees are often initially skeptical about engaging with an artist at work, the artist succeeds in engaging them. By contrast, by the end of an intervention, people almost always report that the experience was positive, even if it sometimes entailed going through difficult phases of irritation and frustration. (Studies in Basque country found 100% of managers, employees and artists who have participated would recommend such a project to their peers.)
  •  These effects can be found at the individual, group and organisational level, and in fact these levels tend to be interconnected. We have observed that organizational impacts are usually spill-over effects from benefits individuals and groups have reaped from an experience with an artistic intervention. The distinction between the categories of impacts and the groups we have put them into is analytically helpful, but it is important to note that in practice the effects are often interrelated and they reinforce each other.
  •  There is evidence that artistic interventions can indeed contribute to such Strategic and Operational factors as productivity, efficiency, recruitment and reputation, but this is the area that is mentioned least of all (37 times) in the research-based publications.
  •  Apparently, this not necessarily what organisation members consider as the most remarkable sphere of impact. Indeed, few companies that have worked with artistic interventions have sought to document such direct impacts. Instead, managers and employees seem to care more about how  artistic interventions impact the factors that underpin the potential for innovation.
  • Seeing more and differently (117) and Activation (114) are the strongest groups of categories underpinning processes of learning and change from artistic interventions in organizations.  Collaborative ways of working (89) and Personal development (88) are the next two groups with the most frequently mentioned categories. When people discover new ways of seeing and doing things in an artistic intervention, it is an energizing experience that activates the will to act and engage in change. Working collaboratively, rather than simply collectively, is an additional source of potential strength.
  • The power of artistic interventions in organizations resides in the opening of spaces of possibility, which we call “interspaces” in the formal and informal organization. In these interspaces participants experience new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing things that add value for them personally.
  • Artistic interventions are by definition ephemeral phenomena in organizations. They start and they end, so the responsibility for deriving the benefits for the organization and sustaining the effects lies with managers and the employees.
  • Policymakers are called to nurture the field with programs, policies, funding–and experience in their own organizations. (see also results of  Creative Clash study on funding arrangements).

I sent off the bulletpoints, neatly formatted onto a single page, late last night, and tomorrow afternoon I have a 20 minute slot to present the results (with beautifully designed slides!), after a keynote address by Michael Hutter to set the scene by explaining how artistic interventions contribute to the creative economy. The research findings and two other components of the Creative Clash project (funding mechanisms for artistic interventions, and a mapping of the intermediary organizations that produce artistic interventions all around Europe) will be discussed by 3 sets of panellists in the course of the afternoon.  It will be a great test of our ability to communicate our findings and their ability to tune in to new material.

What I most look forward to at the conference tomorrow is what is what we have not written on the agenda to artfully enrich this event on artistic interventions:

1)     We will stimulate participants to provide words during the sessions, and these will be projected on a screen, with the challenge to the speakers and panellists to exercise their ability to improvise by weaving the words into their inputs.

2)      At the end of a day a German poetry slammer, Sebastian 23, will perform, drawing on what he has heard, felt and sensed during the conference.

Might policymakers end up asking us in future to provide poems instead of bullet points to get our messages across to them powerfully and succinctly?