So… this week I have spent two days in Birmingham being energised, inspired and challenged with bells on* by the people I met at Losing Control (a conference hosted by Practical Governance and the Social Change Agency).
Often, conferences can be draining places. Long periods of sitting, lots of opinion, little space or time to digest or respond… I suppose like a sort of adult-version of show and tell with a sense of one-up-man-ship. I felt Losing Control was completely different. Sessions were kept brief, they were peer-designed and led (with opportunity for more to be added on the days themselves) simply categorised by the labels: talk to me, teach me, help me or calm me. This meant I could self-manage my time and my experience resulting in the greatest value for myself and maximising the created value with others. Sure, I still felt tired come 3pm Wednesday, but I left with a greater appetite than when I entered, to lose control, define and play my role in social change.
This one is easy; every moment was inspiring. Thanks to the diversity of those attending no two conversations were the same (let alone sessions!) I loved discovering new methods of disruption – be that with silliness (Camerados, Fun Palaces), or through re-imagining the possibilities of applying lived experience. I particularly enjoyed attending the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust session and the value the Commissioner could see in employing ex-offenders. It was more than just ‘they’ve been there’, it was not being afraid to recognise the natural and aquired skillset of a criminal and value it (shock horror). After all, it takes a strategic thinker to be five steps ahead and it takes an untouchable confidence to challenge those who perhaps need challenging. “We are all shaped by our experiences, but those experiences don’t need to define you” as the short film concluded.
My favourite moments of the two days were the crunchy ones. The ones where (respectfully) people were challenged, including myself. I agree with others that we need to think about the language we use when we talk about system and culture change. We cannot assume that all understand, so plain language is a must, but more than that, do we even understand what each other are saying? Is there a level of assumption that social change would look like ‘X’ and that’s the mission?
There were moments that felt very much like ‘the right direction’ but not quite enough. Like risk wasn’t entirely embraced… although I suppose movements should look a bit like the piano that moves across a room, inch by inch, going un-noticed until one day the pianist realises, they never used to sit by a window. It certainly felt like there were enough sectors, locations and passions represented to see that happen. It’s almost as if there is as much power in us coming together as there is in having us scattered and that’s why a network rather than an event or a campaign is the best legacy.
*bells are purely figurative, although music did feature in more of a jazz piano/Abba karaoke form at the end of day one.