POLITICAL LABORATORY - OUR DEVELOPING METHOD
What follows is a walk-through of an early diagram (posted above) of how we think an Alternative UK Laboratory process should begin - as an opening event, at least, and with an emphasis on the emotional journey involved.
We are feeling our way towards the best model - so please give us any ongoing input, via the email address at the end. (The pictures and videos throughout are sampled from a range of our events conducted since our launch in March, earlier this year).
"ENTER... HEART - friendly, welcoming, food and wine"
The aim of this first event is to create a warm and welcoming space of possibility for people at different stages of their personal and social agency. Some will feel excluded, others will be relatively confident civil society actors and entrepreneurs - so the space must be actively open and generous.
In the design and planning stage, we will be unsure of how people will enter into the space: we can’t assume people will show up just because they are invited. This will be considered as a whole task and challenge in itself. We created some initial guidelines for the variety of networks that could be engaged in the 'What is a political Lab' page on the Alternative UK site. But it's unlikely that a simple invite will suffice.
When they do get through the door, we will start with something that is very warm and welcoming - a bit like a warm bath. The goal is that those braving the space will be happy to be there and feel it is a safe space. How do we generate safety, for example? There will at the very least be food and drinks, enough to make people feel they won’t be hungry for the rest of the event and understand that it is is a social space.
The power of the arts WAKEs US UP TO 'THE REAL AND NOW'
As they are relaxing into that space, we then stage a brief moment (5-10 minutes) of artistic performance or display. The point of this is to engage and unsettle the underlying emotional patterns that people have brought into this room - the polarities and identities, the "them" and "us", that defines their inherited public and civic identities.
Official politics tries to seize people in a visceral way - to get at their fears and hopes. A new politics should be not any less visceral, but appeal to much more of the human condition than the usual triggerable emotions. That's the power of the arts - meaning, that's what complex, passionate, multi-signifying pieces of art/performance can do.
The performances we have in mind are varied, and would be entirely specific to each opening event. They may include spoken word poetry, music, video display, dance - whatever is appropriate to the nature of the locality, the backgrounds of the participants. The artistic effect we're going for may be confessional, celebratory, laughter-inducing, simulatory (eg, imagining a new reality or future before people's eyes) - even outright shocking (or "discombobulation", as we say in the diagram).
An example of that shock approach comes from our launch at Kings Cross Impact Hub. Two young actors from the New Theatre Network were having a casual conversation across the crowded room, which became increasingly threatening. As it was reaching a crescendo, one of them smashed a chair in front of everybody and people felt really confronted.
Watch the performance below:
That emotion of feeling confronted, or "discombobulation", is what we wanted to achieve with this particular audience - which was Central-London-based, with lots of personal and professional capital, ready to have their competencies challenged. We wanted them to wake up to the tough facts of their lives - how many people are dying of poverty every day, how the planet is being destroyed, how anger simmers in communities. If we don’t wake people up to these factors we are not really setting the scene for our laboratory correctly. But there will be many different creative ways to do this.
A scene of possibility: "what about this... this... and maybe this... And maybe this as well"
As people are hesitating in this space of being discombobulated, we gently introduce some stimulation and curiosity. Something that will make people feel that there is somewhere to go from here. But not give them all the answers. These examples, like mini Ted Talks, should be resourced locally, giving people examples of things they could be connected to. It should be a gently building scene of possibility - “what about this, this and maybe this. And maybe this as well”. We see that these are factors in the way forward. None of them are presented as "the" answer - it is about us being stimulated and curious.
through play, We begin to enliven and awakeN...
Then we have the awakening and enlivening space, which has got to be facilitated. This is a creative space that we have to design - and until we design this space, we haven’t really got anything. We need facilitators, creatives, visual thinkers and artists in that space right now, designing how we can slowly bring people into this awakening feeling.
Not that they are fully awakened, not that we can do everything right now, but just so there is a sense of the journey we could go on together in these laboratories. We want to give a taste of that. It will require courage, a willingness to step into that space. And once you’re in the space, it requires a lot of generosity.
The element of play is important. Being playful means that we’re not looking for a solution at this point. We want stay in this space until a solution arises, and not try to get to the solution before we are ready. We want to keep the play going.
From an A/UK perspective, there are elements which we do know we want to deliver - say, our I, WE, WORLD framework. "I - We - World" means we want this new politics to work on the the individual level, as well as the social level and global level.
If we are really successful in the laboratories it will have this emerging sense of common meaning and purpose. What we are trying to do together and how it will give us meaning and purpose in life.
Here's an example of something we could do - the 'divide and connect' facilitation exercises from TV2 Denmark's "All That We Share" video.
we walk away, feeling a sense of responsibility...
In order to carry us through to the next laboratory, and so that people don’t just think “well, that was nice but I probably won’t go again”, some sort of commitment will be made, arising from the experience. Something we will then do everyday, for the next however many days, until the next laboratory happens.
Or it could be a promise between two people in the room - "I’ll do this, if you do this". We don’t want to fix the nature of the promises too much, but there needs to be something done at the end, so that we go back into the world with a sense of responsibility for what happened and what will happen next.