actions best practice


Everyone has their own values, audience, process and formats (or, practice), so this may not apply to all, but I wanted to share my own process with you. I like systems-thinking, I’m a logical person (and a nerd, let’s face it!); defining my patterns helps me both create a structure and then keep on top of that structure as the project develops.

As a consultant I have found this process helps others to define their own patterns and structures, too; it’s become my starting point for helping them find their signal through their own noise. This way of working might not suit you (which is absolutely fine!) but I offer it here to provide an example of how I think and work. I use this process whether I’m making art or developing changemaking campaigns – because making art and making change are fundamentally the same thing, for me.

I start with a bunch of questions which are always the same, but as I break them down per project or campaign they naturally find their own uniqueness and flow. So take this as a fluid structure – as ‘stakes in the ground’ which can be adapted accordingly, rather than as a fixed template.

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. Who am I trying to say it to?
  3. What kind of emotional engagement or direct action am I trying to trigger in those audiences/communities?
  4. What is the best media/artform/platform/space through which to reach them? What is going to create the most meaningful interconnections between myself, my art/message, and my audience/community? And if I am trying to trigger action and not just emotion (be that conversation or physical activities), what are the most suitable methods to drive that exchange or activity?
  5. How can I reach those audiences – be that physical (printed material, face to face, like-minded networks, etc), or digital (an online profile such as a website, social media spaces, or email newsletters, etc)?
  6. What resources (materials, collaborators, partnerships, funding, in-kind support, etc) do I need in order to turn my ideas into realities? What introductions or supporting documentation will I need to gain those people’s interest and trust?
  7. What is my exit strategy? How long do I want to do this project/campaign? Where do I want it to lead – what would come next? What documentation and evaluation will both ensure that this project/campaign/message remains visible after I’m ‘finished’, and help build the ongoing legacy for my own career and the cause(s) I’m aligning with?

Many geeks work these things through digitally, using mind-mapping software or ‘GTD’ (get things done) tools, but I always start with large bakersheets and colourful marker pens. I call this my ‘braindump’ phase – just get everything that connects to this idea out onto the paper; no critical thinking or curation, just getting #allthethings down in one place.

Once I’ve thrashed out the ideas and started to see my own signals through my own noise, then I leave them to one side and do something else – read a book, go for a walk, hang out with friends – anything that allows this new braindump to settle in to my subconscious. All ideas need time to get comfortable, and production processes are no different. Society often tells us that ‘reflection’ is wasteful. Society is wrong. You will naturally find that this reflection time provokes ‘oh! I forgot that‘ moments, so just add them directly to the bakersheet, or scribble them down on whatever is to hand (just make sure you transfer them later).

Only once I’ve added as much as I can currently think of to this first braindump, and given it some reflection time, do I transfer these notes to the digital space. I’ll start with taking a photograph of the braindump so I have an archive of it, and so I can keep it digitally to hand as a reminder of where I started. Then I use the notes to type up a one-pager which encapsulates the values, intentions, partnerships, resources, etc and makes them easier to share with those I’d like to be working with. Sometimes I send this out really early to a select group of trusted peers, just to make sure I’m explaining it properly and to scoop any wise suggestions I’ve missed out. Your peers are invaluable; don’t overuse them, always give them due gratitude and credit for their time and help, and be available to reciprocate when they need your time and help.

Once I feel I’ve logged everything, I make a rough timeline. Some people find this a bit odd, but I start with #7, with my exit strategy, as it solidifies where I’m going with it all. From there I work backwards, drafting a really loose schedule (including potential funding deadlines) which helps me see what needs to happen in order to make this thing come to life, step by step, and over a feasible duration. If you work alone you may feel you can mostly do the work in any order, but invariably you’ll need to have some outside connections, so you’ll need to build in time for them to do their thing too. A good producer needs to be very good at herding cats – provide deadlines for your contributors which build in a contingency. Include friendly reminders and some breathing room, so if they do happen to be late in providing you with info/actions it won’t damage your project/campaign overall.

Next, as I’m confirming who’s interested in working with me, my collaborators, I confirm which communication platforms they’re most comfortable using. But that’s the next phase: production. I’ll write another post on how to produce your work, including outlining the tools I use which bear in mind things like security, privacy, intellectual property rights and effective collaborations online and in person. I’ll also talk about funding and partnerships, in-kind support, and all the other things I’ve learned help make your ideas become a reality.

As always feel free to share your own process with me, either in the comments or any other form of contact which suits you.

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