Reflections from The Art of Building Power and Self-Organising

Tricia Reilly from the Losing Control Advisory Council attended “The Art of Building Power and Self-organisation” on October 22-24th 2019

To share learning across the Losing Control network, this blog features Tricia’s reflections and outlines some key insights from the three day training 

Over the past 15 months I have been drawn to so many wonderful groups. In July 2018 I joined Power To Changes’s Community of Practice for Health & Social Care. In September 2018 I joined my local radio station Radio Thamesmead (RTM) and created Community Connections. Also that month I joined my Local Neighbourhood Forum becoming their Secretary. All in my search for social change and my need to affect positive and real change for the communities I live and work in.

I have had an increasing desire to do something about it over the past year. Joining the above groups however have not been enough for me. Whilst we (the groups) are more effective at engagement than the larger organisations operating within our communities, we still have a long way to go. When I heard about The Art of Building Power and Self-Organising I thought it might be just the the thing to help me on my way to affect positive change.

Back in February 2019 I was introduced to and sponsored to attend Losing Control 2019 by Power To Change. I had never heard of Losing Control despite working in Community Development in some shape or form for the past 8 years. I came away from the Losing Control’s 2 day conference feeling energised, ready for action and wanting more. I have never felt quite like this after attending a conference before. I joined the Advisory Board of Losing Control and through that received a bursary to attend The Art of Building Power and Self-Organising.

After working in Health, Social Care & Community Development for just over a quarter of a century. Having facilitated many groups, meetings and training, even facilitating Forum Theatre – what could possibly be different from what I already knew?

These are everyday words but they felt very different used in the context that they were, they gave me so much more power as a participant of the training.

The Language! Sometimes, I feel, we forget the power of language and the words we use, how they affect people. At the beginning of the course I felt like those “holding the space” were speaking a completely different language even though they were using English words. Including words like: invite; host; hold; space; noticings; harvesting. These are everyday words but they felt very different used in the context that they were, they gave me so much more power as a participant of the training.

Usually I am the first to volunteer to do things but we were invited to experience things we don’t normally do. As such I consciously chose to not continually check my email and not to volunteer to host – just experience as a participant. I immersed myself over the next 3 days and was fully “present” in the “space” which is why I believe I ended up with only half a page of notes. I would normally have tried to capture every pertinent word and come away with reams of notes. I “trusted” the practices and the “harvesting” by others to aid in my recall. As a consequence I had a much richer experience.

…Encouraging individuals to let go rather than hold in almost.

The environment was different too. There were break out areas where you could take time out if needed. Places to chill or have some quiet reflection. There were musical instruments we could use during breaks to have fun together as well as use to mark the start and end time of a practice. There was a blanket and fruit in the middle of the room for snacks throughout the duration. All making it just a little bit different!

The thing that struck me most was that people came as themselves rather than their designations or organisations. That completely changed the power balance and we started and continued to all be on an equal footing. Whilst some of us shared where we came from and what we did individually throughout the course it didn’t seem to change anything. I was surprised by how some of the practices evoked such emotional responses. Encouraging individuals to let go rather than hold in almost.

One practice I found strange but very effective and will definitely be using was the hand in the air. It was the most effective and efficient way of redirecting people back to the exercise when needed. I don’t recall it ever being explained and yet I found myself automatically following others without knowing why. It felt quite bizarre on the first day and continued to during the third day. However my hand progressed from half raised in the air on the first to fully during the third so I slowly became more accustomed to it. I have struggled in the past to bring back even groups of 10 yet here was 1 person redirecting 40-50 people within a minute or two. It was quite astonishing then, and even now I can’t quite believe how such a simple technique can be so effective and so powerful! The “hosts” managed to effortlessly keep us on time using this practice throughout.

The transparency was refreshing – the budget was shared and explained. The crowdfunding for the food had brought a surplus of money and we were invited to vote on where the surplus money would go. Democracy in action!

For me it was like being part of a different world that has gone back to basics around areas of values and respect.

The best thing for me was the realisation that I can implement these practices in both my working and personal lives. For me it’s opened my eyes to how I interact with others and the words I use. Rather than just learning different tools and techniques. I have discovered a new way of being. For me it was like being part of a different world that has gone back to basics around areas of values and respect. The language, care, personable, connections, checking in and checking out, consideration. All qualities that I feel are diminishing in today’s society.

I was fascinated comparing and contrasting practices, making sense of what I was experiencing to what I have used in the past. Discovering I use some of the practices already without knowing it or giving it a name. The difference being the language I used and the expectations I had as a result.

I wasn’t fully engaged with every practice. The great game of power was difficult for me. I just couldn’t get in to it. On reflection I thought perhaps was because I have been privileged to, on the whole, always have or feel like I have the power – the power lies within me if I choose to use it. Maybe it’s my experience with Forum Theatre that’s ingrained that and perhaps I didn’t have that power or knowledge before. I come from a working class background and have at times struggled to understand how others have felt powerless so this is definitely something I need to explore further.

The questions game where I couldn’t respond to questions being asked of my question was my favourite. I was only allowed to listen which encouraged me to re-evaluate my question, look at it from others perceptions and make changes to the way I posed the question. This improved the question dramatically.

So some quick changes for me and my practices: The language I use; The redirection (hand in the air) practice; offer some quiet/care space when running events/activities, being mindful that practices can effect us differently; use of musical instruments as an aid – chimes to start and bring activity to a close; increased transparency; use of food; sharing power.

Long term I aim to introduce and hone my skills in most of the practices I experienced over these few days. I intend to be fully involved in the Community of Practice we are in the process of setting up to support each other and share best practice. I have a significant amount of reading to do and many more courses to attend. This is just the start of my exploration into the Art of Building Power and Self Organising and it promises to be a journey of discovery!

Thank you to the Hosts of the course both those experienced and other participants. Thank you to Losing Control and Power To Change for connecting me to this practice and setting me on my next adventure!