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Top 3 Ways that Arts can transform your Community Consultations

Community consultations can get a bad rap. Too many surveys, too many public meetings, too much talking!  If you have ever wondered how to access the people who can’t (or don’t want to) fill out surveys, then the arts may hold the answer.

I have been involved in the creative and community sectors for years, working with inspiring artists and arts workers on many projects, as well as with Councils on community consultation and engagement processes. I am also an artist myself. I know that the arts have value across all sectors, with a profound ability to connect us, to enrich communities, to reach the hard to reach, and to inspire new ways of thinking and communicating.

Below are some suggestions on three ways by which you can harness the power of the arts to help you in your work.

THE ARTS AS ACCESS

Firstly, the arts can help you access your stakeholders. The simplest way is to identify a cultural activity that attracts the people you want to consult with, like a music festival, and set up a consultation mechanism right there. Easy.

A more complex way could take the form of an incursion to a school. For example, you could tour a play exploring mental health or other issues, followed by a Q&A to consult on how current services are meeting needs, and where the gaps are. This will help you focus discussions to gain the insights that you require.

One project I was involved with sought input from people who didn’t respond to the usual means of consultation. We ran workshops with adults with intellectual disabilities and children in school holiday programs, to identify what they valued most about their community. They used drawings and photographs on postcards to express themselves, and we gained unique insights. Who knew that ‘walking my ferret’ was a thing! While it may not sound significant on its own, it actually helped make up the tapestry that is a love of open spaces in small towns.

THE ARTS AS A CONNECTOR

A major strength of the arts is the way they can bring us together to share an experience, tell our stories, and create our culture. Imagine being able to tap into the knowledge and wisdom that is shared through a day of food and dance at a multicultural community event, a weaving circle of indigenous women, or an arts workshop in a government housing community. Or you could combine a ‘living library book’ with an art inspired ‘conversation couch’ encouraging the exchange of views and ideas.

In 2009 Latrobe City Council undertook a major project - Green Expectations – to explore the role the Latrobe Valley has in electricity generation and how that may play out in the future. Green Expectations collected community views about climate change, created an installation using these, and culminated in a large community event. It brought people together and provided an avenue for their views and ideas. The elements used to achieve this included digital storytelling, community weaving, song writing, short stories, puppets and more.

THE ARTS AS A MEANS OF EXPRESSION

In an effort to open up conversations about living and dying, artist Candy Chang covered a derelict house in her New Orleans neighbourhood with chalkboard paint and wrote ‘Before I Die I want to _____,’ By the next day, the wall was covered with responses. This project struck a chord and has been replicated across the world. It is a great example of a simple, participatory installation which empowers people to express their views.

Mass installations of small repeated objects can be extraordinarily powerful. We like to be involved, to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. A simple consultation using that premise could be a ‘cloud’ of paper cranes, each carrying a message. It would just take a few people in a public space, teaching origami and asking key questions. The ever-growing installation will draw people to you and open the way for creative responses.

Verbatim Theatre is a form of theatre where the final piece uses the exact words spoken by interviewees. I witnessed this in action at a conference where, over four days, attendees were interviewed and on the final day the theatre company presented the work back to us, providing instant insight and feedback.

The above ideas are just skimming the surface – a few examples to get you thinking. Your choices will be governed by many factors including who you want to consult with, why you want to consult, your timeframe, and your budget. It can be simple, quick and cheap, or highly complex requiring a budget, specific expertise and a long lead in time. Whatever way you choose, utilising the arts is going to access a wider group of people than those who will respond to a survey - and it will be way more fun!

 

The Xfactor Collective is a community of pre-vetted specialist consultants who help social change makers achieve their social mission. We have a diverse range of specialists across 300+ areas of specialisation. To find out more about working with The Xfactor, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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