80 by 18: Reflections and ruminations

80by18header

The Learning Lives group are involved in a number of innovative research projects.  One of these is the 80 by 18 project which forms part of Keri Facer’s work for the AHRC Connected Communities programme. Here Paul Strauss (the project researcher) discusses the project and calls for contributions…

We held our second 80 by18 project workshop yesterday at the M-Shed, and now seems a good time for sharing some reflections. Around 30 people were at the table representing themselves and their organisations, almost all of whom work directly with Children &Young People in some form or have a strong interest in the work of those that do.

Despite a lower turnout than the first workshop in February, it was a really productive session. Workshop participants – some 80 by18 old hands, some newbies – got really engaged and helped us continue generating ideas for “experiences”, as well as conducting a first review and thematic categorisation on the 300 or so ideas that have already come in.

Here are some reflections – both mine and others’ – on the gathering process, and the ideas we’ve received so far:

  • “Bystander syndrome” – people think it’s such as good concept that someone else is bound to put in their idea, or one just as good. Pin people down! Get the ideas in! We can sift out duplicates later
  • Diversity of ideas – to get a good spread, it matters a great deal where ideas are sourced from –geographically, culturally, and organisationally/ institutionally. We’re doing all sorts of things to try to source diverse ideas, including street fieldwork in particularly targeted neighbourhoods, making links with community organisations and interest groups all over the city, and finding ways to capture the views of more marginalised young people.
  • Quirky ideas? Some really inspiring ideas have come in, but taking an overview of them the more fully formed ones (idea + resources to make it happen + why it’s important) seem to reflect white, middle class, professional Bristol. What’s missing – felt several participants – is “quirky old Bristol”. Quirky is a word we keep coming back to in this project…

One submitted idea that was held up as emblematic of the type of thing we’re looking for was: “Visit every Poundland in Bristol”. On the surface, this seems a bit ridiculous (where are they all anyway, and why would you attempt to do this?). But actually it’s a quirky challenge that takes you places you mightn’t ordinarily go – including geographically/ sociologically – and is as much about the journey/ the process/ the adventure and what you’d see on the way. Shared reflection on this led to a new project coinage – “the Poundland factor”!

Another idea which was ‘favourited’ was “pick your own blackberries and make them into jam”. Why? The simplicity of it – on the one hand – but more the fact that it’s not a one off experience but something  formative, involving skills and knowledge that you are likely to come back to many times in life and which may open up a different perspective on your locality and its resources. So there we have a “blackberry jam factor”, too.

A final reflection is that the 80by18 project is already about much more than developing a list. Some really revealing conversations are starting to take place within its gaps and “spaces” – about its significance as neutral space for networking and connecting and sharing ideas across the boundaries and structures that people working with children & young people  find themselves stuck within.  There is a clear sense that, as resources get squeezed, and as structures are dismantled and networks disrupted from the centre, these are the sorts of spaces where interesting conversations might happen and loose or not so loose federations spring up.

The call for ideas has been extended to 20th of April. Please do keep putting your own in, talking and sharing and encouraging others to submit theirs. Pin people down! Face to face is best. We’re adopting the ethos which should be familiar to anyone who’s been involved with recent mass social movements: if you think of something that needs doing, go for it! (He writes, before leaving the country for three weeks…)

Paul Strauss

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