I Am Seen

Inclusion in creative practice

Last week I was fortunate to attend the Learning Technologies Barcamp – an excellent event run for the last 9 years by Martin Couzins. The format is simple. People are invited to join a series of short facilitated conversations; each round lasts about 15 minutes and is sparked by the facilitator’s areas of expertise. Once that time is up, the people seeding the conversation will move to the next table to talk about their topic with the next group. The event comes to an end when all groups have had a conversation with each of the facilitators.

This year the theme was inclusion, and I was delighted to be there as an artist and facilitator. In conversation with Martin prior to the event, we agreed I would come up with an invitation for people to stretch their creative muscles as we talked. I thought about different ways we could use our hands as an artistic device – to hold a brush or pen, to draw around, to use as a way of directly applying paint to a surface. For me – the hand seemed to offer a simple way to involve people.

Then, on the day of the event, I watched an episode of Bargain Hunt before leaving the house, and everything changed. In the middle of the programme there was a section about John Petts, a London born artist who moved to live and practice in Wales. In 1963, Petts designed and created a stained glass window featuring a Black Jesus for the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, following a white supremacist terrorist attack on the church, that killed four African-American girls aged 11–14. Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair.

Petts, a conscientious objector during World War II, was said to be horrified “as a father and as a craftsman” upon hearing the news. Working with Welsh newspaper the Western Mail, Petts was able to encourage donations from many thousands of people to pay for the window. He visited Birmingham, Alabama – spending time with the local community, and the window was installed and dedicated in 1965.

The Welsh Window. Designed by artist John Petts, the stained-glass window depicts a black Christ with his arms outstretched; his right arm pushing away hatred and injustice, the left extended in an offering of forgiveness. The words ‘You do it to me’ are included in the lower sections of the window.

I’d not heard this story before, and it really moved me. The horror, the tragedy, and the beautiful artistic response from thousands of miles away, left a mark. I love the idea that so many people wanted to be included in that response, and in that moment, I reimagined what I could offer the good people at Barcamp that evening.

When I arrived in London, I explained my day to Martin, then set up a table with a long roll of paper on it, and plenty of different kinds of pens. I drew an outline loosely based on my guardian figures and turned it into a blank ‘mosaic’. As people arrived, they saw me working and a few approached me. I’ve been to previous Barcamps, both as a listener and participant, and as a painter. Last year I made art while everyone talked – this year we’re making art together while we talk. The event started and I briefly explained my original plan, and the decision to change it based on what I’d seen earlier in the day. I then invited people to get stuck in – talk about inclusion and what it means to you, and draw that experience as you go.

People started interacting with each other, the tools and the surface, and art began to happen. Here are a few things I noticed:

The art was invitational. People were generally willing to participate and were not coerced in any way. When we’re facilitating learning – how often can we make that an invitational process rather than a coercive one?

Folk noticed that what they conceive in their mind’s eye, doesn’t necessarily materialise on paper. I encouraged people to focus less on a preconceived outcome, but instead to play with the process of applying colour, shape etc. This focus on process can help free us from some limiting beliefs.

I invited people to decorate a piece, or pieces of the mapped out ‘stained glass’ design. Some folk took one panel, some took more, and some ignored me completely and adapted panels to suit their design ideas.

People seemed to enjoy the opportunity to make – to try something different, and to feel included in an artistic process, something many of us had not experienced before now.

By the end of the evening, the guardian was nearing completion. It was shown to everyone, and the following day, I finished up the outlines to enhance the ‘stained glass’ effect of the design. The finished piece is titled ‘I Am Seen’.

‘I Am Seen’. Cocreated art – made by guests at Barcamp 2020

Considering the theme of inclusion more broadly – I want to acknowledge the time invested by Martin in seeking to create an open, inclusive event. Initially – the invitation to take part was open – anyone could see it and anyone could ask to take part. In some ways this proved successful. For example, I was the only male facilitator, all the others were women and/or non-binary. In terms of age – I am pretty sure I was the oldest at 54 – and there were people facilitating conversations who are much, much younger than me.

In other ways the invitation did not work so well. One person of colour was going to facilitate and had to pull out at the last minute due to ill health. That meant all the facilitators were white. We were conscious of this beforehand – and resolved to be more considerate in future of where we plant the seeds, the invitations to participate. An open invitation is an important thing, and where it is made is equally important. I’m currently studying The Dice Charter as a useful tool for conferences and events. You might find it useful too. I also want to acknowledge a conversation about inclusion I had with Sukh Pabial which was really helpful.

Thank you, Martin, for organising another excellent evening, and thanks to everyone who spoke and made art too. You can read more about the event here – and I’ve no doubt that Barcamp will return again in 2021.

Learning Technologies : Fishbowl Reflections

The definition of Learning Technology can be described as the ‘study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources’ Richey, R.C. (2008).

On Tuesday I visited the Learning Technologies Next Generation fishbowl discussion. This gave me a chance to catch up with a few friends, and watch and engage with a conversation topic of interest, using a conversational technology I enjoy.

Typically a fishbowl discussion is set up as shown in the diagram above, in the round with a panel in the centre. In an open fishbowl – one of the centre seats is vacant and at any point in the discussion, that seat can be filled by an audience member. Traditionally, when the empty seat is filled, one of the existing panel members moves to the audience. This way, there is always a space to be filled, should anyone wish to do so.

The panel members were Euan SempleLorna MattyGer DriesenBeth Aarons and the session was facilitated by Nigel Paine.

I chose to sketchnote the event. I’d not made a sketchnote in a while and wanted to practice, to see how I got on. Notwithstanding that I couldn’t capture as much detail through this method, I enjoyed listening, and creating an interpretation of what I heard.

Something that interested me was how little technology itself featured in the conversation, despite often being contained in the questions. It wasn’t absent – people referenced certain apps with their pros and cons, the acceptance that technology has and is improving and can have really useful applications, to aid planning for example. However, most of the exchanges were about:

  • behaviour
  • taking responsibility
  • getting started
  • start small
  • keep it simple
  • getting out of the way – managers take note!

I enjoyed being at the event. Afterwards, one thing I reflected on about the structure, was that on this occasion, the panel stayed put, and the one empty seat was occupied and vacated by different audience members at various points in the conversation. My personal preference is for the panel members to self select out of the centre as the empty seat is occupied as described above. This means the make up of the panel can and often does change completely, and that can create really interesting shifts in the discussion. That said, I really enjoyed listening to the exchange of thoughts and ideas.

If anyone who was at the fishbowl is reading this, please let me know what I missed. And given this session was a precursor to the 2018 Learning Technologies conference in London today and tomorrow, I wonder how many of these themes will also feature there?

Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

Interesting Questions

There are a few questions which frequently circle my mind. The patterns, speed and shape of their orbit changes according to what I am working on, but they’re nearly always there, somewhere. Questions like, How much is enough? Why am I not kinder? Is she really going out with him? Where do I find clarity? Where do good ideas come from?

Come and Play

Together with some friends, I am exploring that good ideas question through an emerging project called The Art of Innovation. ‘What’s that then?’ I hear you ask. Very briefly, it is a project designed to explore the space where the arts meet business, in pursuit of changing lives for the better. If you are in London on June 8th – we’re running a workshop and a free to attend Art of Innovation session at a lovely venue overlooking the River Thames. You can find out more about that, and book a place here. OK, enough of that, where was I?


Something I have become much more aware of in recent years, is the idea that doing something different, sparks and prompts other thoughts, ideas, and actions. Take three things I enjoy doing, walking, my art, and my work. Previously, in that elusive search for clarity – I’ve tended to see these things as separate entities. Keep them separate, keep things clear… In December 2015, I began to integrate walking into my work more intentionally, in that I would make time for a regular stroll most days. The trigger was a Fitbit which I got for Christmas, and once I got over my tendency to be gamed by technology, I settled from a hectic ‘oh my god I must walk round the kitchen another 20 times before I go to bed to hit 10,000 steps’ mania into a more fluid, useful rhythm.

In time I began to realise that the walk influenced and affected my work, and vice versa. They blend, not always, but often. Sometimes the blend produces useful ideas immediately relevant to a work problem I am wrestling with, sometimes the ideas are daft/stupid/lousy/beautiful/adventurous, and any combination of all of the above. Sometimes there are no ideas. I dropped my guard, allowed the walk and the work to speak with each other, and as a result, got better at both (trust me, you should see the way I now put one foot in front of the other, it’s awesome).


In April 2016 I began my free art adventure. I walked to the train station and on the way, I placed a piece of art I’d made, outside the local town hall. Attached to the note was an invitation to whoever found the art, to take it home if they wanted to. The project continues, at least once a week I make and leave art in my local community. The adventure is unfolding in so many ways that to write about it here, would a) wear my fingers to stumps and b) risk boring you to death. I will write more about the project, and for now, it’s useful for the purposes of this blog post, to know it exists.

In truth – the adventure started some time before that. What sparked it? Maybe it was the hand painted postcards I made for friends while on holiday, it may have been the first Leap Day I ran in 2012? Who knows – I guess an important thing to note is that good ideas sometimes start from a specific point, other times, they are a combination of almost invisible threads, gradually winding together into a rope which can be more clearly seen.

The free art project began with the intention of helping me learn to let go, to see more beauty in impermanence, and as a way of building some discipline into my previously sporadic artistic adventures. As I continued to work on the project, I let it infuse my consulting work, and vice versa. I’ve used art in my consulting work for years now, so this is not a new thing, but it is now much more intentional. Lowering barriers, seeing what I do as something more fluid, more dynamic, less separated. A recent example of this blending in practice can be seen here, as I used art to relieve some stress, and to help me prepare for a conference presentation. The project has recently won a community award and attracted a small amount of grant funding. It has become a simple and effective way of changing lives for the better.

The more that what I do becomes a series of overlapping, meandering, ebbing and flowing plates, the more interesting things emerge. As I conclude this post, I’m preparing for conference talks, workshops, artist open studios, and an exciting 3 day artistic experiment involving 200 senior managers keen to explore how to apply creativity and innovation in their work. At the heart of this work is a simple yet powerful raison d’etre. The primary reason myself and my associates do this stuff, is to change lives for the better. More to follow, soon.


Sorry, I almost forgot. Where Do Good Ideas Come From? They come from you. And they come from this fantastic book by Scott Berkun.