• Five steps towards a new future

    Today we shared our ‘Five Steps’ towards a new future.

    We are all wise novices as we navigate these unchartered waters. Wise because we have depths of wisdom and humanity that we can draw on in these novel times; wise because we have experience that guides us through; and wise because we know we don’t know and so we seek out counsel from others and take time to find some kind of consensus. We’re wise because we have missions and values to guide us when that experience feels too meagre to sustain us. Novices because these are unprecedented circumstances and we feel alone in history.

    The cultural sector isn’t simply a business with a cashflow and a business model (although it needs those things to stay afloat and chart a course). It is an endeavour with humanity as its raw material, its manufacturing process, its labour, its product and its consumer. Cultural organisations don’t exist to serve themselves, keep their buildings open, sell tickets, keep employees paid or to coldly distribute art. They exist for their beneficiaries, their audiences, their communities, our society.

    Serving society

    Asking, “What does our society need from us today?” rather than, “How can we carry on doing what we’ve been doing as everything changes around us?” feels like the most important question for our cultural colleagues, leadership teams and boards alike at this extraordinary time. And let’s remember, it’s an extraordinary time for this planet, our humanity, these nations, these communities, this town, this family, these futures. Our cultural organisations exist to serve and enable humanity, communities, towns and futures – I guess we must all commit to remembering it’s not the other way around.

    As we all ask that fundamental question “What does our society need from us today?”, it’s useful to view the experience of the last 6 weeks or so through a lens of 5 stages. Depending on your organisation and its context, you might be at any one of these stages, although I think most are just entering the third stage.

    • R1 React – Initial and immediate response to social lockdown measures, including making people, buildings and assets as safe as possible.
    • R2 Respond – Conscious deployment of creative and organisational resources and plans, including furloughing staff, releasing digital resources and moving into a ‘low-power’ mode.
    • R3 Reflect – Making and taking time to review stages 1 and 2, explore our new environment, build deep learning, develop potential future scenarios and grow deep insight. Explore the need for transformation.
    • R4 Reimagine – Building ideas and responses that might be needed, exploring how we might transform ourselves to meet future challenges. Reimagining ourselves, inspired by our mission and in response to the world. Shaping answers to the 5 challenges facing us.
    • R5 Reshape – Rebuilding our organisation in response to our times (which might be miniscule changes or fundamental transformation depending on your context and analysis). Aligning our organisations to our new models.

    Existential questions

    At people make it work we are creating an R5 tool that helps organisations through this reflection process, suggesting some deceptively simple questions to help draw out learning, shape scenarios and support you to arrive at some tentative answers – the best that any of us can do at this time. You’ll find a prototype here.

    Finding the right time for this reflective, strategic work is imperative – too soon and it feels abstract and crass to be exploring the wider implications while we are battling for survival, but too late and we might have inadvertently taken irreversible decisions that exacerbate social injustices, reduce opportunities to connect and limit our relevance in the longer term. There is a sweet spot in between, when the organisation and its people are ready, or can be made ready, for one of the most important conversations in its history – what does society need of us today?

    Design a future

    As well as enabling us all to ask these existential questions, the R5 tool we are crafting with the sector is helping organisations design a future. Most of our cultural organisations are facing the same crucial challenges in the R4 ‘Reimagine’ stage. We are all challenging ourselves to imagine how to do five essential things:

    Create a new dynamic, flexible business plan fit for our times – one that supports your organisation’s future, built on novel models that can respond and flex to new situations, protects cashflow, and give a level of clarity for the next 6 months at least. Novel structural and partnership models that reduce costs and increase stability are to be explored.

    Build new working practices for virtual and semi virtual teams and relationships – developing new ways of working remotely, collaboratively and with agency. Embed the best bits of how you recently reacted, adopting some agile and ‘sprint’ working so you can create cleaner, stronger ways of working for the long-term. Identify best ways to support your people and your furloughed teams right now.

    Reimagine relationships with audiences and communities that reflect the new world –discover what they need right now and in the future, extending thinking and opening up to challenge. Develop plans, practices, propositions and programming that sustains existing audiences and communities, and reaches new ones, elevating relevance, connection and empathy.

    Explore new income models and sources as secondary spend and ticket sales disappear – develop plans to diversify income and impact so that we can access new money, mining our value propositions, exploring our heritage and intellectual property and generating new value (that eventually creates new income.) Explore loan finance, social impact finance and build new income-earning propositions inspired by audiences and their needs.

    Shape the cultural offer to flex with a post-covid or with-covid social landscape – develop new protocols for cultural spaces that reflect new government guidance and/or social habits, that react to current concerns, artists responses and the ‘supply challenges’ that the lockdown hiatus creates. Find an offer, on and offline, that people find essential and accessible.

    Finding answers

    Naturally while the questions we are exploring might be the same for many of us, the solutions will be specific to each of us – built out of an understanding of our place, our audiences and our own heritage, practice, relationships, values and mission. Such an authentic response, built on these strong foundations, takes a depth of thought, a breadth of insight and a rigour and empathy that our cultural leaders are so well qualified to mobilise.

    In our team we are working on new tools, templates, resources and guidance to enable each organisation in the sector to find their answers to these common challenges. We are building those first of all with our Change Creation cohort of 60 Leaders from 40 organisations in the weeks ahead, and then we’ll be sharing them far and wide. If you’d like to help co-design those tools (we do our best work in collaboration) or feel that you could help us fast track some of them, then do get in touch with us. You’ll also find prototypes constantly shared on our website for your free use.

    people make it work is a team of 50 colleagues – most are cultural leaders in their own right – with about 160 cultural sector clients at this time. We have committed that “every cultural organisation and leader should be provided with the expert support they need at this time, regardless of their ability to pay” and we are realising that commitment to clients and non clients alike, and for organisations of all scales, contexts and artforms, by providing

    We are also offering individual 1:1 support for every cultural organisation that approaches us, of all scales, artforms and contexts. We’d love you to get in touch for 1:1 support if the tools don’t support you on your journey. And join our mailing list to get practical tools – always free.

    Richard Watts,  CEO of people make it work and Co-Director of Change Creation

    Photo credit: Jeremy Beck on Unsplash

    The full article is online in Arts Professional here.

  • Advice and insights from sector specialists

    During these challenging times we are convening weekly panels with advice and insights from our people make it work associates – they all have years of experience of working across the arts and cultural sector in different specialisms… Communication, fundraising, social justice, cultural democracy, governance, business modelling.

    We’re sharing these panel discussions every week so please do feel free to share with your networks and peers. We think their insights and advice are invaluable in these times.

    All the videos and resources can be found here: http://changecreation.org/resources


  • Handling major disruption – Dr Dawn Langley

    These are uncertain times. We don’t know what will unfold over the coming days and weeks. We are in a period of mass disruption, coupled with understandable anxiety and concern. At this time, we’re more committed than ever to support arts and cultural organisations across the sector. Today, we’ve spoken to Dr Dawn Langley, an associate at people make it work, founder of Alchemy Research & Consultancy and former Director of Organisational Development at ACE. We’re sharing her insights on how to plan for the coming weeks and months ahead.

    Handling major disruption

    We are in an open-ended situation and it’s important that we all ask ourselves some core questions such as:

    What is our burn rate? What are the existing monthly costs that we need to cover – salaries, contracts, services?

    What is our safety net? How much cash do we have to spend month on month – what income do we have that we can draw on?

    Without knowing how long this crisis will last, what plans can we put in place for the next 3 months, the next year?

    Knowing that change is happening now, how can we adapt our business model now? How will this change our working practices in the coming weeks and in the future? It seems less pressing today, but the reality is we will emerge from this crisis into a landscape that has changed. Our primary focus is ‘on the now’ but let’s not forget about our future state.

    Some ideas that you might useful…

    1. Form groups – collaborate with others
    2. Stay in touch with your stakeholders
    3. Stay in touch with your customers and beneficiaries
    4. Review all your contracts and know your obligations – this includes event cancelations, tenants, artists, freelancers and ancillary services such as catering, IT support etc
    5. Seek specialist advice – this may include insolvency advice
    6. If you have a large team, consider a phased roll out of digital processes and access so you can test your systems. Think through the needs and access requirements of your team
    7. Ensure you have good back-up systems
    8. Know where to go for support – some of the recent Treasury announcements outline support that could be available to the cultural sector
    9. Act compassionately. Everyone responds to this type of situation differently
    10. Don’t forget to look at cross sector advice – like the Federation of Small BusinessesNational Council for Voluntary Organisations.



  • Responding to change in times of uncertainty – COVID19

    We are all experiencing unprecedented pressure, as public facing organisations at the heart of communities, as vulnerable organisations often reliant on the public to remain viable, as employers and a source of income for countless freelance and casual workers, and as family members, friends and neighbours of people who are concerned and affected in myriad ways by this public health crisis.

    We are all being tested in new ways and on multiple dimensions. How do we respond to the social, financial, personal and economic pressures we are experiencing today, and that might unfold tomorrow?

    We know that organisational and social change is often hampered by complacency, everyday pressures and critically, the lack of a galvanising vision combined with a practical concrete plan that we can engage with; our response to the heating of our planet is a case in point. We know that short term organisational and social change is most effectively achieved when there is an urgent and visceral threat; our response to floods or missing children show us how these can punch through our ‘business as usual’ response.

    We are all being tested in new ways and on multiple dimensions. How do we respond to the social, financial, personal and economic pressures we are experiencing today, and that might unfold tomorrow?

    We know that organisational and social change is often hampered by complacency, everyday pressures and critically, the lack of a galvanising vision combined with a practical concrete plan that we can engage with; our response to the heating of our planet is a case in point. We know that short term organisational and social change is most effectively achieved when there is an urgent and visceral threat; our response to floods or missing children show us how these can punch through our ‘business as usual’ response.

    The public health crisis, Covid-19, has clearly created just such an urgent and visceral threat. Our immediate challenge as organisations has shifted from being about how we reinvent the cultural experiences we deliver to make them ever more relevant and engaging for our communities in the 21st Century, to how we survive for the next 6 months, stay connected with our communities and audiences and support our staff and colleagues through this challenging time.

    While long term issues have to battle with complacency to get our attention, immediate issues challenge our composure – making it difficult to make good decisions when we are under so much pressure to make quick ones. We don’t have the luxury to be slow at times like this, but we also need to consult our wisdom and experience, to involve multiple perspectives and to build consensus.

    How do we act quickly, respond authentically, enable action while also being nuanced and drawing on our wisdom? We have identified some insights that we share here with all humility.

    Combine clarity with iteration

    • At moments of extreme uncertainty, people crave clarity. As leaders we need to offer definite steps and clear guidance. But when circumstances are changing so fast, and when we might not have had time to explore the question from every viewpoint, let’s aim for “fast and flex” not “fast and fix.” Let’s issue clear guidance, but with an indication that it will be updated on a regular basis, that we are continuing to be in dialogue with a range of people and we expect it to iterate. And let’s tell people how they’ll hear the next iteration and how they can make their own voice heard.

    Process Vision

    • We all want a clear vision of the future. As leaders we can sometimes give that, but more often we will enable it to emerge. Let’s share a “process vision” rather than “destination visions” with our teams at this time. A process vision gives a clear journey about how we will shape our plans and future together, what the steps and options might be and how we will reach decisions. It tells people how we will arrive at a destination vision, but doesn’t define it now. Process visions are great in times of uncertainty, since they give clarity of process without fixing our final destination.

    Organisational culture and values

    • We need to trust our true culture and values – how we do things in this organisation – what our authentic approach should be. Let’s draw on our values at difficult times, they give us a routemap through complexity. When we stand in our values our next steps often become clear. During a crisis it is often tempting to ditch our shared values and issue an edict. But our values are only truly useful when they are under pressure… Let’s make sure our culture shapes our times, not our times shape our culture.

    Collective insight

    • Even when we are under pressure the diversity of perspectives in our organisations is crucial, and so let’s make time to hear the wisdom, experience and intuition that exists across our organisation. We’ll make better decisions with multiple viewpoints, and the decisions will be owned and implemented with greater clarity if the fingerprints of the whole team can be felt on our response.

    Connect with our Audiences and Communities

    • Many of our organisations have missions that involve creating transformational experiences for individuals and communities. If we stand in that mission, what responses, interventions or actions suggest themselves? Of course our audiences are not only footfall, bums on seats or income sources… and we know that they are stressed, have needs and that their cultural organisation might be a positive force for them. Let’s stand in our missions and be inspired by our higher intentions as well as by the tyranny of our survival.

    Kubler Ross and Transitions

    • We know that as humans we respond to change in predictable and understandable ways. The Kubler Ross curve eloquently captures the ways we feel as negative change unfolds in front of us – with immobilization, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and testing preceding acceptance and we also know that organisations and individuals experience a drop in productivity and clarity as we transition from one reality to another. Let’s remember that each of us has an inevitable set of human responses to change and uncertainty, and that these responses call for a patient and empathetic response.

    Create opportunities for control

    • Most of us struggle when we feel control has been taken from us. Fast moving global, national, local, personal situations inevitably shift our sense of certainty and erode our sense of control. Let’s look for opportunities for everyone in our organisations and communities to exercise control – offer options, encourage the development of individual or team plans, explore alternatives and give choices wherever we can. While the circumstances might be beyond our control, our personal responses don’t need to be.





  • A panel of sector experts – helping us navigate our response to the current COVID-19 crisis

    Today, we convened a panel of sector and industry experts to help us, our Change Creation cohort and the wider sector navigate our response to the current COVID-19 crisis.

    How do we respond? What can we do to support our staff, stakeholders, trustees and communities? How can we re-model our current programme and offer to support communities, people and partners? How can we adapt to a new way of working? What  does our contribution need to be to support the greater good, the health and wellbeing of our communities?

    A link to the video can be found on our resources page.

    We’ll be posting videos of the panel, insights and ideas on how you can communicate, re-shape, plan and prioritise over the coming weeks and months. We’ll share all our tools and resources and if you need any support, please do get in touch.

    Our thanks go to our panellists who gave their time to share ideas and wisdom to support the resilience of the sector.