Self-Care Checklist for Precarious Workers

Self-Care Checklist for Precarious Workers

Tools of the Trade

The gig economy! Love it or hate it, it seems that we’re all in it. Thank you to Rachel Dobbs from UK-based artistic duo LOW PROFILE for creating an infographic (inspired by Sheila Ghelani‘s own checklist of care) that precarious workers (self-employed, freelance, zero hours…) can use as a reference to decide whether they should or shouldn’t take yet one more contract.

This is a fantastic resource as a risk assessment checklist for helping artists, independent producers and other precarious workers to say ‘no’ to work that may cause more harm than good. Use it, share it and check out Rachel’s original post for more insights into her process and references.

Self-Care Checklist for Precarious Workers

Self-Care Checklist for Precarious Workers

The Art of Partnering

Tools of the Trade

I first got involved with Jazz North in 2013 for a piece of R&D on an artist commissioning scheme in line with the organisation’s founding principle of partnership-working – which resulted in the dfscore pilot project I produced with Rodrigo Constanzo – and it’s been really great to see the organisation grow and flourish, from a project-led structure to a fully-fledged NPO with a fantastic new Executive Director, Lesley Jackson (coming from Leeds-based Phoenix Dance Theatre).  

This partnership-working principle is both a great opportunity and challenge: with the right synergy and efficient pooling of resources, ideas can spark brighter and projects become bigger. However, there’s no template for a perfect partnership: the terms of the relationship have to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, and it will widely depend on the nature of the project, budget, timeline, resources available including staff – so pretty much everything! And like with any relationship, sometimes it just clicks, and sometimes you need to lay down a few things before you get properly started.

Preliminary Thinking: Checklist & Questions

I’ve started to develop a few ideas towards a partnership agreement or charter, something that would reduce risk without being stifling.

So far it’s very much about what partners need to discuss, define and revisit throughout the project cycle, with the following broad categories to address:

      Leadership: who is responsible for what
      Communication: how and how often will partners communicate, and who will be responsible for external communications
      Administration: who will be in charge of updating the budget, booking meeting rooms, taking and distributing minutes….
      Evaluation: how, when, when will the project be evaluated; who will take part, and why
      Legacy: what do the partners want to achieve, what will happen after the project phase ends

I’m still in the process of researching and developing this partnership agreement checklist – or whichever format it ends up taking – and have recently come across some interesting resources that I’ve listed below. 

The National Enquiry: The Art of Partnering  

When I conducted the research into co-commissioning and artistic partnership back in 2013, I was quite surprised by the lack of formal agreements and the ad hoc nature of relationships, even at international level. A recent Cultural Enquiry report on The Art of Partnering, led by King’s College London in collaboration with the BBC, published in October 2015, found that, amongst arts organisations surveyed:


This seems to confirms that many partnerships are started on a trust basis and conducted rather informally, and therefore run the risk to be under-serviced, to the point of not managing to conduct an evaluation.

I do love a well designed report, and this one has got a nice collection of pretty bubbly infographics to highlight key findings, of which I’ve copied a few below.

Things to Think About

There’s also a detailed section about methodology, something I’m especially interested in at the moment, and lots of case studies, such as Teach Through Music (a partnership of 5 London-based music organisations delivering CPD for music teachers) and SPINE (library services in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk collaborating to share back office facilities). 

The View from the Producers: Taking Bearings

Also in the past few days, I’ve come across another interesting document about partnerships produced by a British arts institution – in a fairly serendipitous manner, as it’s a document that was mentioned in passing by
Claire Doherty (of Bristol-based Situations) in a video interview she did for The Art of MOOC, a new online experiment about public art, education and participation.

This time it’s a much more personal take on what makes a partnership a success, the fruit of a peer learning event exploring quality in the context of the Creative People and Places programme (an Arts Council flagship programme of investment into arts organisations working in places and with people identified as remote and disengaged). Titled Taking Bearings, it starts with a lovely illustrated “Map of the Voyage to the Island of Quality” commissioned from artist Nicole Mollett and also includes a short story by Sarah Butler – a nice way to position firmly this document within the realm of artistic collaboration. 

Carte du Parnenariat

I really like the journey metaphor and the compass-style layout of questions, as it helps to envisage such partnerships as processes, always moving and growing.

Compass Route Planning

In her introduction, Claire Doherty explains: “We have devised these prompts collectively to be used for ‘a meeting with oneself’, or as a device to enable more open conversation with participants, stakeholders and collaborators.” On the whole, It’s much more conceptual than my own set of questions, and I find it helpful for daring to go to fairly uncomfortable places (“Is the obstacle due to a disagreement about where you are headed?”) and bringing home some common sense (“Have you looked at this from another direction?”).

The Theoretical Background: Enabling Effective Collaboration

Mission Models Money – an action-research programme that ran from 2004 to 2014 – studied funded and observed 6 pilot partnerships between 2008 and 2010 to develop innovative thinking and resources about collaboration and partnerships in the arts. Through this “Enabling Effective Collaboration” initiative, they produced a bunch of documents, from case studies (such as this Opera North + University of Leeds project, or this network of cultural venues in Newcastle and Gateshead) to guidance for funders and a set of practical guidelines and insights drawn from the 2-year research:

A. A typology of structures that can support effective collaboration

“Partnership” means something different to everyone, but MMM identifies 9 models of collaboration based on the case studies and additional examples: from Fully and Partially Integrated Mergers (such as Trinity Laban) to the Creative Adhocracy, a casual, trust-based relationship between individuals choosing to work together (a common occurrence in the arts, of which MMM is an example).

B. 10 essential Competencies, Qualities and Attributes required for collaborative working

As illustrated in the above Map of Quality, there are numerous pitfalls in the partnership journey. This document lists the key behaviours that contribute to the success of a partnership, based on interviews with case studies participants. As noted by one of the interviewees, it is crucial to understand from the start what will be required through the project lifecycle so that partners can choose appropriate project leaders and invest in the professional development if necessary.

  1. Seeing systems
  2. Wanting to learn
  3. Building shared vision
  4. Building a critical mass for change within an organisation
  5. Developing mutual trust and respect
  6. Managing across boundaries
  7. Communicating effectively and appropriately
  8. Confronting issues and managing conflict
  9. Adapting to changing circumstances
  10. Valuing risk taking, tolerating failure
    C. The values created by good collaboration

    These are the added values that participants have observed as an indirect result of their collaborative projects, beyond the desired planned outcomes:

    1. Re-affirmation of vision and mission
    2. Release of new energy
    3. Opportunity to learn
    4. Opportunity to innovate
    5. Generating and enhancing influence
D. Frameworks and planning processes that can enable effective collaboration

This last document is “an introduction to planning collaborative activity and a digest of key early stage challenges”, including advice on working with external specialists. It introduces the notion of “disciplined collaboration” developed by management professor Morten Hansen, which he defines as “the leadership practice of properly assessing when to collaborate (and when not to) and instilling in people both the willingness and the ability to collaborate when required.” MMM has developed a framework inspired by Hansen’s work and based on case studies findings to take into account the specificities of the not-for-profit arts & culture sector. The full framework, with additional questions and references, can be found on MMM’s website, and I’ve summarised the key points below.

Step 1: Evaluate opportunities for collaboration

This step is about identifying levels of experience, resources and relevance of the proposed outcome. Hansen warns that “collaboration is a means to an end and that end is great performance. This means that often it may be better not to collaborate, because there is simply no compelling reason to do so.” This is also the right time to create a relevant collaborative working proposition, and this can be framed around the themes of mission, models and money:

How will collaborating help better delivery of the organisation’s mission or how can it help renew mission?
What will be the advantages for our operational model?
And what positive impact will it have on our finances?

Step 2. Spot barriers to collaboration

Hansen proposes four typical barriers:

• The ‘not invented here’ barrier (people are unwilling to reach out to others)
• The hoarding barrier (people are unwilling to provide help)
• The search barrier (people are not able to find what they are looking for)
• The transfer barrier (people are not able to work with people they do not know well)

To which MMM adds “over-extension and undercapitalisation” as specific to the arts sector, in other words, lack of time, money and resources.

At this stage, partners should be aware of these potential pitfalls and be ready to ask themselves some difficult questions about their own limitations, behavioural, organisational and/or practical barriers that might prevent successful collaborative working. It’s also the right time to take stock of the resources available on all sides, including staff, and to start considering options for what MMM calls “Technical Assistance”, in other words external advisors / experts.

Step 3. Tailor solutions to tear down the barriers

After identifying potential problems, partners can start identifying solutions: it’s time to clarify the shared vision, articulate the strategic objectives, put plans in place to gain new skills or draw in external experience.

Structures and methodologies should also be developed at this stage, defining roles and responsibilities and putting in place strategies of accountability.

Step 4. Review and embed the process

Finally, special attention should be paid to implementing feedback mechanisms throughout the project cycle and enabling sustainable learning across the partnering organisations.
To conclude, MMM shares insights into “early stage collaboration challenges” that pilot project participants encountered – in other words, what they would do better if they could start all over again.

  • Crystallising the purpose: even if it evolves over time, it’s better to have a direction in mind than to navigate in the dark.
  • Ensuring mission congruence: the mission is the identity of an organisation – so it’s essential that partners understand fully how their values and beliefs overlap or diverge.
  • Recognising the different kinds of value being created: as this is an essential element of the partnership legacy, it’s important to acknowledge gains and benefits at all stages of the project
  • Communicating: how, how often, with whom… a communication structure between brand new partners is a must.
  • Paying sufficient attention to ‘soft skills’: issues of leadership and relationships need to be looked at from the start.
  • Understanding resourcing needs: these can be time, money, in-house skills and accessible external assistance.

All the tech I’ve ever used

Tools of the Trade

A few years ago, I created a workshop for Toronto Net Tuesday on event management and technology – trying to get nonprofit professionals who run occasional events – conferences, workshops, fundraisers ) but are not necessarily specialists to reflect on how technology can help them (and when it can’t) and how to go about selecting new tools. I conducted a survey with 50-odd events professionals beforehand, with a clear winning trend in the “most radical game-changer of the past 10 years” category: Internet everywhere, the Cloud and smartphones. However, the same respondents were pretty much all going back to pen and paper for “brainstorming, draft schedules, site sketches, meeting or interview notes, to-do lists & thank you notes.”

To prove the point, I’ve listed below all the tech and low-tech I’ve used on a recent event – a 2-day, 100-delegate industry conference that I planned and delivered for the Jazz Promotion Network. I was hot-desking in a co-working space, working remotely with colleagues in charge of programming. I’ve identified with a * apps or software that are free to use or that I already owned.

What I used on my own

  • for conference details and updates
  • Eventbrite to track registrations and sales (service charge) * (except service charge on paying tickets)
  • MailChimp (setting up templates, creating segments, lots of tracking) * free up to 2,000 subscribers
  • Twitter (I use TweetDeck for my own account, but I find that I don’t like so much to mix it with another account that I temporarily look after) *
  • Microsoft Office 365 (mainly Excel to manage the registration master then Word to format the handouts to print) *
  • Gmail (I synched my professional address for the conference with a new Gmail account, so I could set up all the systems I’m used to – labels, Priority Inbox, and the much-maligned Streak that lets me know when people read an email) *
  • Google Analytics to measure my campaign results *
  • Google Forms for an online registration form and an upcoming feedback form – for the purpose of a small event, I find it infinitely easier to use than Survey Monkey *
  • Yast (to track my project hours) *
  • Facebook – not at all for the event (I didn’t have the capacity to manage both a Twitter and a Facebook account) but for social distraction as I was working on my own. I especially enjoy everything greyhound-related and the Donkey Sanctuary Facebook feed. *


What I didn’t use myself

  • InDesign to create the delegate badges template – it looks so simple when a professional graphic designer whips up a layout in a few minutes, but it’s still a mystery to me.


What I used with the rest of the team 

  • Google Docs for collaborative documents (such as drafting a press release) *
  • Dropbox for reference documents *
  • Skype (much more often that “normal” phone calls) *


What was decidedly more arts & crafts than digital

  • Guillotine and scissors to cut the paper badges *
  • Laminator to make nice solid badges (double-sided to avoid the inevitable twist to the dark side) *
  • Punch-hole – again for the badges * (all supplies and machines kindly provided by London Jazz Festival and Manchester Jazz Festival)


What called for pen-and-paper

  • To-do lists updated daily on a new page of my notebook
  • Notes taken in meetings or during phone / Skype conversations
  • Scribbles (also during phone calls)
  • Quick drafts (usually continued in Google Docs)
  • Sketches of layouts and floor plans


On the day

  • The conference venue had free wifi, which is always handy, but rather strangely very bad phone reception, which could have been more inconvenient if the event hadn’t been so self-contained.
  • I had an internal wireless phone so I could pretend to radio the venue’s operations team
  • And we had to endure typical teething problems with Powerpoint that were easily fixed with a bit of Microsoft-whispering magic



I still remember being bewildered by MailChimp back in 2009 – and now I find it perfectly normal to set up my own templates, integrate with Twitter and generally speaking use most features available in an intuitive manner, without wasting any time (except when I tried to merge two accounts – unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be possible). I use far less pen-and-paper compared to only a couple of years ago, and I got completely used to working in a remote manner (although I need to be part of a social space, like a café or a co-working space, at least some of of the time).

For comparison, in 2006/7 I was working on another, larger conference, using a very clunky CRM software (Act!) and an unreliable company server, making file sharing a high-risk exercise. From 2007 to 2009, I coordinated the Manchester Jazz Festival with a pay-as-you-go mobile phone that was always running out of credit in the middle of a crisis call and with access to emails only in the physical office – about 30 minutes’ walk from the festival site. The festival operations relied vitaly on a 5-drawer filing cabinet that contained all the necessary information – contracts, schedules… I also think that I was sending newsletters via Outlook, so it probably wasn’t very pretty.

We have come a very long way!


While I have used more tech than the above in my life – such as volunteer management software, which I seem to love to talk about – I have borrowed the title for this rather prosaic post from a touring Mammalian Diving Reflexs production called “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had” recently presented at Luminato Festival 2014.  


Open Space Principles

Tools of the Trade

Why is funding for the art better for everyone? That’s the latest issue that Devoted & Disgruntled – a collective of arts activists using Open Space Technology to breathe fresh thinking into old debates – settled to tackle earlier this week at the Battersea Arts Centre.

I sadly had to miss out, but I got to hear more about D&D at the Owning the Arts conference directly from its founder, Phelim McDermott (also Artistic Director of Improbable).

For nearly 10 years, D&D have been offering free, drop-in events to the theatre community – and increasingly the wider arts sector – using Open Space Technology to “connect communities, inspire practitioners and open the door for change”. It’s a conference without an agenda, without keynote speeches, without even an organiser. People gather, decide which topics they will work, divide into sessions, and are free to move from one group to another, at any time. Each D&D event produces a bunch of reports (currently over 1,000 available for download), which can constitute a starting point for further research and debate, policy-making, manifesto-writing, collaboration and probably many other things.

While I knew a little about Open Space Technology through its variants – such as UnConvention, the grassroot music industry unconference which inaugural event I attended in Salford in 2008 and has now reached over 60 editions all over the world, and various specialised Camps such as BarCamp – it was great to hear about it directly from Phelim, who is not just using it for D&D events but has also completely embedded its principles into the creative process of his theatre company.

Open Space Technology was devised by Harrison Owen in the 1980s. It relied on 5 guiding principles and 1 law, brought to life by Phelim in his lively presentation. They don’t just apply to running a debate about arts funding or collaborating towards technological or social innovation: they can be adopted and adapted to shape organisational structures and community relations.


If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.


1. Whoever comes is the right people

It’s all about the invitation: people who care will come, and it’s their contribution matters.

2. Whenever it starts is the right time

Creativity doesn’t happen by the clock. The right moment – kairos – is what counts.

3. Wherever it happens is the right place

This is another way to say that it can happen anywhere, and that even a conventional meeting – or organisational structure, or communication system – can be transformed in Open Space.

4. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

It’s not about “ifs” and “whens”: action must be grounded in reality.

5. When it’s over, it’s over

Or “do the work, not the time”. Knowing when to call it a day is a valuable skill.

– – –

Open Space is also a way to think differently about collaboration, by accepting that dissenting voices are a fully integral part of a discussion, and that a strong, resilient community is able to hold within itself what is actually against it.

It also comes with a word of warning about the danger of setting outcomes. As stated on the Wikipedia entry, Open Space is a purpose-led method, and while the invitation to the meeting will articulate this purpose, it will not set goals or outcomes for the day. Being too intent on a outcome can be counter-productive and stifle the creative and discursive process.

Here is a video made by The Art of Hosting that explains all of this pretty well:

– – –

And a few participant quotes from D&D’s website:

“D&D is genuine horizontal engagement! (No – not that kind… unless I’ve been going to the wrong sessions). I genuinely thought I wouldn’t like D&D. It sounds too good to be true. I won’t start wheeling out the clichés but D&D is the biggest circle of people I have ever sat in. And that’s worth something.”
– Rachel Briscoe

“Don’t waste time resisting, like I did. Resistance is futile; presence is fertile. You should come.”
– Chris Goode

“ … everyone is there on equal terms, whether you’re the artistic director of a major regional theatre or a first-year student just beginning to make work. In a theatre world that is often competitive and jealously guards knowledge like a miser, this is a place where expertise and experience are shared with real generosity and no strings attached. Devoted & Disgruntled is not just a talking shop – it actually spurs action and initiatives such as mentoring schemes, the sharing of skills and spaces, and people coming together creatively and making work.”
– Lyn Gardner

– – –

For more on Open Space Technology, Open Space World is an enthusiastic online volunteer community sharing resources in several languages – such as case studies, good practice examples and a facilitator directory.

The Art of Evaluation

Tools of the Trade

On my third day in London, I got lucky and was offered a place on a sold-out workshop hosted by the Live Art Development Agency that just sounded too intriguing to be missed. Here’s the description that caught my attention:

Fed up with the standard evaluation surveys? Situations and the University of Central Lancashire have been developing an innovative new group based evaluation method to move beyond overt measures of impact and unlock the deeper story of an artwork’s effects on the imagination.

Titled Thinking Beyond Measure, the day-long event, part of the Public Art Now national programme of events, promised a mixture of practice and theory to explore the scope of results and potential applications of what the research team calls the Visual Matrix: an interpretation process based on a series of images that act as prompts to elicit associative thinking and make it easier for people to think and talk about their experience.

The case studies we discussed were Nowhereisland, an itinerant, durational and participatory project by artist Alex Hartley produced by Situations in 2012 as part of Artists Taking the Lead, the Cultural Olympiad series of major commissions –  and Verity, the Damien Hirst’s half-sliced pregnant bronze warrior loaned for 20 years to the Devon resort of Ilfracombe, one of Nowhereisland’s port of call.

The research team, led by Professor Lynn Froggett and Dr. Ali Roy from UCLAN in association with Situations, conducted an evaluation in Ilfracombe on both works in 2013, one year on. They used the Visual Matrix alongside other forms of evaluation to explore Nowhereisland and Verity’s respective role in reflecting local engagement and citizenship, as well as their legacy in terms of change and transformation.

I’ve summarised a few key points from the day but there would be much more to say – not least about the contrasts in findings between the two selected works and between different methods.


First, some disclaimers: the workshops featured two sample 20-minute Visual Matrix and participant feedback sessions, one on each work, so a short version of the 2 first steps of the full process. Besides, workshop participants had, for the vast majority, no direct experience of the artworks – this was meant to be an exercise. By contrast, the case studies that we were somehow reproducing had gathered people with a varied range of exposure to both artworks, from passer-bys to contributors, all living in Ilfracombe and therefore able to reflect on a personal and community level on the effect of these two artworks on citizenship and their legacy of change.

1. The Visual Matrix

Ideal group size should be between 6 and 20, with at least 2 facilitators.

– Chairs are arranged in a snowflake formation – concentric circles that are slightly out of alignment to avoid direct eye contact.

No introductions are made: this is to avoid the bias of expertise and authority that can sometimes be overwhelming in a traditional focus group.

– Participants are explained that they will be shown a slideshow of 20 to 30 images, each lasting for 10 seconds, about which they can then express what they feel – what it reminds them of, in which state of mind they find themselves. They are expressedly ask to suspend judgement and refrain from interpreting or analysing what they see, and instead to feel what the images do to them.

– In the ensuing 1-hour session, which can occasionally be stirred – but not chaired – by the facilitators, participants should be reaching a state of “rêverie”, gliding from one idea to the other. They are not quite holding a group conversation, but rather letting their mind go back to the images and the experience itself  and absorb the new thoughts and images produced by the group.

– A form of documentation, such as note-taking, audio and/or video recording – whichever is most practical and less intrusive – is essential to this stage of the process.

2. Feedback with participants

After a short break, the participants, guided by the facilitators, start pulling together the themes that emerge from the Visual Matrix. This was an interesting process of convergence, pulling together the threads of information produced in the first part of the session, and we worked as a group to make sense of what had been expressed. One of the facilitator organised the ideas in a visual form.

3. Feedback with research group

Reconvening after another break, the research group – now on their own – starts to analyse the participants’ responses, working on their memories and notes of the Visual Matrix session as well as the synthesis co-produced by the participants. The nature and quality of the metaphors and the vitality – or lack of – with which they were produced are equally taken into consideration.

4. Wider discussion

The last phase of the process looks once again at the Matrix results and the layers of interpretation created by the participants and the research group, and can involve external advisors if appropriate: the aim here is to expand and generalise the results, for example to the realm of policy-making.

Benefits of the Visual Matrix

The Visual Matrix is inspired by Social Dreaming and aims at unlocking the deeper effects of an artwork on the imagination. Because it is based on imagery and metaphors, and not on expertise or status, such process makes it easier for anyone to participate. All thoughts are valid and they feed into one another to express a rich and nuanced response to an artwork or situation.

It is essentially a collective, participatory process, which seems appropriate to explore the collective resonance of complex works of public art (or other situations in the public realm).

It is also an open-ended creative process, and as such closer to the artistic process itself than sliding scales of enjoyment or debates about taxpayers’ ROI.


The workshop allowed plenty of time for a group exchange about theoretical and practical considerations, and here are the ones that stuck out for me.

A. Training

The Visual Matrix method has been used for a while in different settings, but introducing it as part of a new evaluation framework for the arts would take some dissemination and training. It would be interesting to get to practice the interpretation steps and to be guided by an experienced mentor, to be able to reap the full benefits in a set amount of time.

B. Participants

Results are highly influenced by the group composition, and the dynamics between the participants will have a bearing not just on what they produce, but also on the ‘quality’ of the matrix – whether it is solid and keeps going in a steady state of “rêverie”, or breaks down into analysis and critical judgement.

Participants for the two case studies presented mostly responded to invitations from mailing lists and in the local media; they were self-selected and not screened against specific criteria.

My concerns here are as much about outreach – to attract a varied group of participants – and effective facilitation, to create the right setting and understand barriers and biases.

C. Image selection

The matrix is supported by visual materials – although other types of sensory prompts could be used, such as sound or movement – so it seems rather important to choose them well. It is probably also worth stating to the participants that the sequence of images is not meant to form a narrative sequence.

Practical Applications

This is an interesting method not just for evaluating the effects and legacy of public art, but also any collective experience: for example, applied to a volunteer programme, this method would allow to go much deeper than focus groups to uncover the intrinsic motivations of arts volunteers and the benefits of volunteering. It enables to measure success in terms of effect, not just figures.

Just like any other evaluation method, the trick is in the interpretation of the findings – and as it’s the part of the Matrix that we didn’t get to do by ourselves, I look forward to more workshops and guided applications to learn more about the process.