Tandem C&P Interim Meeting, Birmingham 2015 Photo by Guido Bosua Looking back at Tandem C&P: a Conversation with Phil Wood As Tandem C&P, one of our programmes focusing on Community and Participation has come to an end, we talk to Tandem C&P external trainer and mentor Phil Wood about his experience working within the programme and with its participants, and offer a reflection on the Most Significant Changes from all three Tandem C&P rounds. Tandem C&P final meeting 2015 in Ede, Netherlands Photo by Guido Bosua Phil, you’ve been part of Tandem C&P for three rounds, could you start by explaining what Community and Participation mean in the arts and culture sector? We have called it many things: Community arts, participative arts, cultural democracy, Soziokultur, Cultuurparticipatie, co-creation, and have done it for various reasons, at different times in different countries over the last 50 years or more. Tandem C&P set out to offer a space for people who self-identified with this way of working. It therefore recognised that, by its very nature, the work can be intensely local and generally modestly funded, which makes it less easy to develop or even contemplate collaboration with practitioners from other countries. Tandem C&P was established with a key aim of comparing the Dutch approach to participative arts with practice in Belgium, Germany and the UK. Yes, and one of the very important points for Tandem is how culture plays a role in supporting political participation and social inclusion. Indeed, and it is important to say first that collaboration is one of the essential preconditions for social innovation, and Tandem is all about collaboration: it qualifies cultural managers for international collaboration and supports partnerships between cultural actors in wider Europe. Tandem C&P participants. Photo by Guido Bosua Do you think Tandem C&P has influenced participants’ practices in any way? It sure has, in different ways, and we have been able to look at these through our method: the Most Significant Change (MSC). An experience expressed by many was that working with colleagues based in other countries led them to reflect upon the system in the countries where they are based in new and revelatory ways. Several participants from the Netherlands have been motivated to question the pervasive legal and organisational model of the "Stichting" – a Dutch legal entity – for example, and whether artists based in the Netherlands might be better served by other models. One participant from the Netherlands made a point echoed by many others who work within very large organisations that she was accorded more status and her views were listened to with more respect by her partner’s organisation than by her own. Some participants found that the greatest barrier to overcome was not national but between different disciplines. One noted that Tandem had introduced her to people who moved between disciplines or worked in multi-disciplinary ways, and this had given her the courage to do likewise. She said that whilst her first learning – and action – after Tandem had been the need for internal transformations in her organisation, once she achieved that, she was now embarking upon a second Tandem-inspired challenge to overturn the limited and stereotyped ways in which her discipline (in this case dance) is perceived by others. Tandem C&P 2014, Partner Forum Rotterdam Photo by Guido Bosua Tandem Fryslân. Photo by Guido Bosua. Some participants have also looked into the way their organisations work, and their own role in it. Yes, and many people were grateful of the opportunity Tandem gave them to reflect upon their organisation and their place within it. Particularly for people who had come into a managerial role through a background as an arts practitioner, without any specific management training. They valued the insights and techniques which had been offered in the more formal aspects of the programme, as well as the opportunity to put them into practice within the supportive environment of a Tandem project. One participant said Tandem gave her the realisation that her role was not to lead others, or to analyse their problems and give solutions, but rather it was to listen, ask questions and let people find their own solutions to problems. This had been her most significant change. Listening and asking questions, that is indeed so important. We all know communication is key in building these partnerships. It is, as one participant highlights, communication is often the source of an organisation’s strength, and thus bad communication can be a major part of its problems. She said she “realised that what gives our organisation its structure are its relations. The more we nurture the relationships the more people appreciate the content of what we do.” Photo by Guido Bosua. And an outsider to an organiser can sometimes offer insightful feedback and help the partner question their own practices. We have seen this with a few Tandem participants indeed. In one case, one participant’s ability to disinterestedly identify problems in the partner’s internal culture and their ability to offer objective advice in an unthreatening way enabled senior managers to address issues which had previously been too difficult to broach. In general, Tandem has led many participants to reflect deeply about ‘good practice’ – both their own and that of others. Several people expressed their satisfaction at having their ideas and skills recognised and adopted by their Tandem partners, when such practices tend to be taken for granted, or underestimated, at home. Tandem C&P final meeting 2015 in Ede, Netherlands Photo by Guido Bosua We imagine that not all collaborations are successful; how can we reflect on those experiences? It can indeed happen! One participant raised the paradox that it was possible to have a failed collaboration but still find benefit in observing the successful collaborations of others, while also learning from its own “unsuccessful” experience. In mitigation, both members of this particular collaboration admitted to taking it on in the knowledge that it was likely to be challenging and had turned down more obvious and easier partnerships in order to do it. They have learned the importance of having the confidence to speak up at an early stage if things start to seriously diverge from what one had felt the original agreement to be. Whilst risky and potentially painful in the short term, hindsight suggested that it was better to nip a problem in the bud, than hoping it would simply fade away. As one participant voiced: “I wanted to go out of my comfort zone and I achieved it. I learnt that it’s OK to fail, and fail big. You learn much more than if you play safe.” Do you think Tandem C&P has opened the door to further international collaborations for the participants? It has for many. One participant for whom Tandem had been his first ever project outside his home region, but who is now involved in very complex multi-party projects, said: “Tandem gave me the guts to collaborate internationally.” Another participant said that once they had tasted international collaboration it became something they sought out more and more, and could not imagine how they had functioned previously without it. Thank you Phil! Phil Wood. Photo by Guido Bosua. Tandem C&P has now come to an end, but we have five other programmes, including the new Tandem Fryslân, where we will continue to create spaces for learning and exchange.