Changing the logic: trauma release and mosaics in a Syrian refugee camp

We (Artmongers) are just back from our sixth visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. We go with the intention of creating moments of joy and connection.

Here is our report Azraq Report Nov 2018

You might also enjoy these one minute video diaries from our visit

  • Day One: Hamza films from the back seat as we head out to the camp, then see Catherine and Patricio developing and explaining our ideas
  • Day Two: The team bringing fresh energy and new ideas into the camp (and the local hardware shop!)
  • Day Three: A thoughtful day learning t’ai chi together, and how best to make mosaics with minimum inputs
  • Day Four: Catherine intrigues the boys enough to take part in craft and trauma release techniques while Patricio has a breakthrough on the cement front
  • Day Five: Catherine explains a little of how she feels about working on the camp
  • Day Six: using blue for the mosaics was based on three factors: the durability of this colour in the harsh desert climate, it’s visibility and contrast against the natural stone and the fact that this is Azraq camp – and azraq is Arabic for blue.
  • Day Seven: All the world’s a stage… and this world stands out beautifully against the endless metres and kilometres of beige in the camp and environs
  • Day Eight: it’s never easy to capture the work we do with women but here is a sneak peek into the workshop where they created two of the mosaic designs (hearts and wool).
  • Day Nine: after doing several mosaics the team have learnt the best way to make it work. Including this adjustment of using the stones on their side instead of flat, for a more robust mosaic.
  • Day Ten A key success factor for us is what happens after we leave. Her you see the mosaic team (artists and builders) planning their future work.


If you want to contribute to the project you can buy a mosaic here


4 top tips for a community organisation

I was recently asked by a community organisation for my top tips to how they should be structured based on my personal views, Bold Vision, business / third sector / life experience. I decided to share them here…

1. If people don’t know why they are there they’ll stop showing up

It’s a bit awkward not having a role. My first boss would not allow anybody in a meeting unless they had a role since no role = no value = no self esteem.

  • SO –> deciding on the roles after an early settling down period (which I would argue you are coming to the end of now) is likely to make the group more effective AND more motivated.
  • TIP: make the role 12 months so people don’t feel like they are signing their lives away. They can always do another 12 months at the end if they want to.

2. Operational issues will always crowd out strategic ones

Whatever our good intentions, very few people can develop the battle plan at the same time as digging the trench. Committees that try to do both end up having frustrating meetings and never quite getting round to the difficult questions

  • SO–> it helps to have operational teams and strategic teams. Both types of teams report back to the full committee (concisely!) especially regarding action items / key decisions.
  • TIP: this requires some trust and some “letting go”. Usually in the early days everybody has done everything. That’s not sustainable

3. Ground rules shape the space

We identified our values in Bold Vision early on (openness, courage, mutuality and potentialising) and this gives a good yardstick for decision making and process management eg “are we being open enough?”, “is that the courageous decision?”. We also found we needed rules of engagement about respect for others’ efforts, looking out for each other, honesty and so on.

  • SO–> spend an hour in a brainstorm together to identify the values and ground rules of the group then stick to them (I can do that for you if it helps, it’s part of my day job)
  • TIP: it seems like an activity that can be postponed when there is a lot going on (ref 2 above!!) but it saves a lot of time and unnecessary grief so really worth investing an hour in

4. Less is more

In Bold Vision we want maximum engagement AND decision making capacity. So we have several layers.

  • 3 directors + company secretary.treasurer (for formal stuff. More would just make admin more complex)
  • 9 on management team (we try to not use the word committee coz it makes me feel bored already). We have had more and less but this seems to be a good number. The only formal roles are chair and company secretary
  • 5 or so action teams, each led by one of management team and involving a loose gang of 5-15 volunteers
  • 70-100 Bold Backers (who have given money or time/effort) who will shortly be invited to be members. This will give them voting rights at AGM, ability to nominate directors or mgmt team members and a hopefully an increased sense of ownership
  • 500 people on our mailing list
  • SO–> consider a structure that is manageable for your group, will be transparent to the outside world and includes all the relevant interest groups somewhere
  • TIP: go for a next-12-months structure first, it can always be amended as the organisation finds its feet

If this is not specific enough then shout, otherwise have fun with it 🙂

Lastly, in my view, don’t start with what the council/funder wants (they may have no track record in this field!) it matters what works to deliver YOUR objectives while giving those involved a chance to flourish too (and not get burned out)

Plus ça change… is Change Management more of the same?

The more things change the more they stay the same goes the saying.

Yet Change Management is a growth industry and fretting about change a constant source of debate.

The first change management program I was involved with affected the nature of the business, and hence jobs, of hundreds of staff in dozens of outlets. We used a consultancy called Intract and their incisive director Dee Rowe startled me by her announcement “People don’t need help managing change! They deal with change from the day they’re born. But they might not LIKE the changes you want to see. That’s where the work is.”

I recently reviewed work I had done for a multinational company implementing a technical, cultural and strategic change program across many country based operations on a rolling basis. We carried out dozens of in-depth discussions (on-line using Synthetron) with hundreds of staff over a couple of years. In each case, the change program was the same, the company and the products were the same and yet the story was completely different in each country.

In every case, the change story was the same as the history story.

If there was a history of management misleading staff, they didn’t trust the management in the context of the change, if there was a history of triumphant adoption of new ideas, they were confident about triumphing with the new change, if the history was about ignoring customer needs and losing market share – then that was also their concern about the change.

Yet often, the change management team are focusing strongly on the CHANGE and scarcely at all on the CONTEXT, the history of the people who need to embrace and implement the change program.

In every case, by running a virtual debate ahead of the first meetings in each country, we were able to give the Change team clear insights into where their audience was coming from. What has happened to them? What are the sore spots? What is the right language to use to win over the hearts and minds of this particular country.

In some cases this context was driven by events ten years previous. No head office team can be expected to have that level of understanding of multiple countries across time. And with a tool like Synthetron they don’t need to – they can discover the insights from the people themselves and shape their approach to fit. People listen when the message matches their concerns. They switch off when it doesn’t. And they love feeling listened to…. just by asking them about their hopes and fears the tide can already begin to turn. Typically we see 15-25% uplift in their feeling about the change program after a one hour online group discussion.

Quick. Easy. Thoughtful. Meaningful. And aligned with what may be the most important principle of all in change management: you can’t change anybody without knowing something about them.

Behaviour research: the new generation leader

Challenge: to identify effective leadership styles and cross-reference with male / female strengths

Changes in LI (Leadership Intelligence) over time

Our approach: on-line mega-focus group run on the Synthetron platform, then online questionnaire. NB Customer Interpreter is the sole provider of Synthetron crowdsourcing software in the UK. This research was carried out with Aspire Coaching

A few of our observations about 21st century leadership

  • Participants admire inspiring vision, courage, intelligence, integrity, the guts to make change happen, innovativeness and those they believe have a vision, stand for something and have made a difference.
  • What is now being rejected is untrustworthy leadership based on ego, greed or selfishness, those that aim to divide and conquer.
  • The best leaders tend to be female and they tend to improve with age and business or parenting experience. Higher LI (Leadership Intelligence) scores are seen in the public sector and those working in professions or in the coaching/development industry. Seniority helps, but board members have lower LI scores.
  • High LI scorers take a job to make a difference and have a challengein a company they believe in. They are frustrated by hierarchies, work-life balance and lack of opportunities to do what they came for.
  • Women appear to be less of a gamble when it comes to LI –their variance is significantly less than that of men and they are less affected by the sector, seniority level or working patterns.

Timescale: 1 month
Full report: find it here: leadership survey 2010

Behaviour research example: retaining female employees

Thanks to

Challenge: Understand reasons for much lower retention levels of female employees in a professional services organisation
Our approach: Interviews with junior and senior male and female employees and male and female clients

A few of our recommendations to encourage better retention

  • Reconsider the business model where income is based on hours not results. Clients also expressed dissatisfaction with the system that encouraged the professional services company to pester them with unnecessary updates and lengthy reports. They preferred the approach of female account handlers, especially mothers with busy lives who delivered crisp summaries at critical intervals
  • Build connections up and down the organisation between new female employees and succesful family minded senior employees to share coping strategies and indentify effective policy updates
  • Develop alternative career paths where those (male or female) employees who wished to also have time with their families or other interests, could develop expertise and seniority in departments not requiring 24/7 availability

Timescale: 1 month

Behaviour research example: Nudging A&E patients

Challenge: Understand reasons for patients coming to A&E insted of using their GP and ways to affect that behaviour
Our approach:
visit A&E waiting room, interview patients and staff, observe behaviour

A few of our recommendations to encourage better choices for medical attention

  • There are two main patient types: the health manager and the health victim. It is

    Patient behaviour: health victim and health manager

    the latter group who are heavy users of A&E for a range of practical and emotional reasons, many of which can be addressed.

  • Nudging techniques are recommended to shift behaviour in a more patient-centric way eg raising awareness of the salient “cost” of their choice
  • Encourage patient empowerment / co-ownership. “It’s not only doctors or the Chief Executive who have responsibility for this hospital. We all must look after our society. This is a public service and we are all part of the public”

Timescale: 1 month
Full report: find it here: A&E patient behaviour

Behaviour research example: library non-users

Challenge: Understand reasons for current low usage of libaries among adult learners and recommend ways to increase
Our approach:
visit many libraries, talk to staff, watch behaviour, focus groups with  users and non-users

A few of our recommendations to encourage library usage:

  • The look and feel of libraries is offputting to non-users. More transparency,

    Striking architecture at Peckham Library

    openness, clarity, guidance
    “I’m not clever enough”, “it looks boring”, “there’s too many rules”…

  • Libraries have always been about making information and entertainment available to everyone. New initiatives can be guided by that light rather than by the books that were historically the only way to offer this service
  • The library needs to be run for the users not the staff

Timescale: 2-3 months
Full report: find it here on the MLA website (34 page pdf)

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