Archives for category: innovation

It’s May. How did that happen?! Anyway, taking a look at the TH blog I’m reminded of why I never kept a diary: that the minute there’s anything interesting going on in your life, there’s no time to write about it (professional diarists excepted, of course). Anyway, the point is, if you judged from our blog you’d imagine this has been a quiet year for us, whereas it’s probably been the most busy we’ve been since we set up shop together almost nine years ago. So, now that we’ve almost reached 2016’s mid-point, I thought I’d capture some of the highlights.

What you will have seen here, of course, is a lot of cross-posting from Angel Academe. For those out of the loop, AA is our network of largely (though not exclusively) female angel investors, set up as part of Sarah’s mission to encourage more female HNW’s to invest – and invest specifically in female-founded tech start-ups. So far it’s been quite a year for us. Among other things we’ve: screened close to 100 business; held our first 2016 pitch-based “studio” event (with another one right round the corner); closed three funding rounds since January, with another three in the pipeline; and run the second of our Investor Academe workshops for those new to angel investing. We also launched the third year of Entrepreneur Academe, the mentoring programme we run on behalf of the City of London.

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Birdsong, one of the 2015 Entrepreneur Academe conhort

For details on all our Angel Academe, Investor Academe and Entrepreneur Academe work, check out the AA website. Many thanks to our sponsors for their continued support of our work: Thomson Reuters, haysmacintyre, Kingsley Napley and of course the City of London.

Our big consultancy gig of the year has been working with the fabulous Wales Millennium Centre on their digital strategy. We’ve been in Cardiff pretty much every week since January, really getting under the skin of the organisation (as is our wont), and figuring out what it really needs to achieve through digital means. It’s a crucial point for the organisation as it begins to commission its own work alongside the work it does as a presentation house. If the musical Only the Brave, which we were lucky enough to catch during its inaugural run, is anything to go by, then there’s an exciting future ahead for the Centre, and we’re delighted to pay even a small part in that.

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Sarah takes a snap of the Wales Millennium Centre

We’ve been doing work closer to home, too. Our Future City is a project that brings together educationalists with professionals from the arts, culture & heritage sector to improve “the lives and life chances” of children and young people in the city through an engagement with creative practice. Simon’s been helping them think about the impact of digital media on young people and how they might develop a programme around “digital skillfulness”. It’s also been great to be working once again with our old friend Marc Jaffrey, OBE.

Following her success in last year’s UKBAA Awards and Tech City Awards, Sarah made the Maserati 100 list, which celebrates those helping to build the UK’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. There’s also been a fair bit of public speaking for us both, with engagements for (among others): Mass Challenge/Wayra, Cass Business School, the Digital Catapult, Goldman Sachs, the Association for Cultural Enterprises, Brighton Aldridge Community Academy… the variety alone should give you a good impression of how diverse our work has been over the year. Oh, and of course we’ve kept up our long-standing associations with UKTI and Innovate UK.

Lastly, I’m still managing to keep my skin in the creative game, with my DGMFS Media project now releasing digitally-distributed music: my own, and that of friends and fellow travellers. If nothing else, it’s an education about what it means to be a creative practitioner in the digital age.

That’s it for now: just a snapshot, as I say. As ever, you can keep up with us on twitter: @turnipshire, @simonphopkins and @angelacademe. We’ll try to back here with another update before the year’s out 😉

Simon

Monday July 6th saw the second of this year’s external supplier briefings from BBC Online, with the first being held in Salford on June 17th and featuring similar content*. This event, hosted in inimitable style by Connected Studio’s Robin Cramp, was a more intimate affair than previous briefings, held not at the BBC Radio Theatre but at the storied Whitechapel Gallery in London’s East End. As a consequence the event seemed to me a much more interactive day all round.

The first of the afternoon’s presentations was from Holly Goodier, the Director of BBC Marketing & Audiences, whom I’d seen just a couple of weeks previously at the BBC Leadership “Digital Playlist” event I’d helped organise for the BBC Academy (and which, yes, I need to get round to writing up…) Holly’s presentation was entitled “The Emotional Web”, and charted the web’s move from purely functional to increasingly, well, emotional – and talked through BBC Online’s response to this shift. She identified several key themes:

Personal, not just personalised Speaks for itself, really, but the watch words here are intimacy and authenticity. (She cited women discussing their morning routines on YouTube, a fitting meme, I thought.)

Conversation Nation The 1,9,90 model long regarded as the paradigm for participation levels online has changed dramatically; up to 77% of online users are now active participants, although that of course ranges from full-time vloggers to people simply posting Facebook updates. The challenge for the BBC, Holly said, is to make content that is inherently social.

“The Zone of Disappointment” Regular readers will not be surprised to read that I pricked up my ears at this one, as Holly reminded us that it’s not all unicorns and rainbows out there, and that the BBC’s online work exists in an ecosystem that includes bullying, trolling and public humiliation. (Shameless plug: my post “Technology and the Young” addresses some of these points and my overall concern for millennials – and those who follow them.)

“Hooks” Yes, utility and function are still essential for the web’s users, but the balance between function and emotion online skews very differently for the under 35s; I’ll let you guess which way.

Holly returned to her opening remarks, that BBC Online was about bringing the nation together. Yes that could be the Olympics or Wimbledon or global new events, but it could be Bitesize, too. What remains essential is that everything BBC Online does – in keeping with the overall organisational mantra “audiences are at the heart of everything we do” – should be life-enhancing in some way or other.

Next up was Paul Crowley, the Head of User Experience and Design (UX&D). The BBC’s Director General Sir Tony Hall has said that the BBC should be “Internet First”; Paul talked about how the BBC’s Global Experience Language or GEL needed to be re-thought to reflect this.

To illustrate what “Internet First” might actually mean, he gave some examples of (relatively) recently launched services: BBC Taster (more of this later), the iWonder Guides, and BBC Live (a platform for multi-headed live events like Wimbledon and Glastonbury that builds on the legacy of BBC Online’s groundbreaking Olympics coverage). And yet, Paul said, things were only just getting started.

So here was the question for the GEL: what is the role of consistency among such proliferating services? And how could the GEL allow more and more stuff to be done with less and less resource? The key was to think less about things looking the same and more about them working the same way – providing consistency in terms of functionality and allowing greater levels of re-use. He drew interesting parallels with the development of the UK’s national electricity grid in the 30s which might seem grandiose until one considers that bbc.co.uk is currently receiving a staggering 35 million unique visits per day.

Paul concluded by talking about the creation of the UX&D roster, which has seen 7 suppliers (from a pool of 270 applicants) chosen to each work with a specific BBC Product area, allowing for a much more “productive, effective relationship” between both parties. More on the roster later.

After a short lunch break, attendees were invited to join either a “technical” or “editorial/procurement” break out. I attended the latter – no surprise there – but for the record, the former included talks by Roux Joubert (General Manager, Platform), Chris Yanda (Executive Product Manager, TV & Mobile Platforms) and David Buckhurst (Technical Architect, Platform Test).

Upstairs, the afternoon kicked off with an excellent presentation from Damian Kavanagh, the Controller of BBC3. Much has been written about BBC3’s proposed move to online only, which has just been approved, provisionally, by the BBC Trust. Whatever the drivers for the move are, Kavanagh made a clear argument for its strategic sense.

In terms of content, the channel will continue to build on “what is already great about it”, concentrating on two strands: “make me laugh” (scripted comedy) and “make me think” (hard hitting documentaries). There will be no formatted factual, no panel shows, no talent shows, no (or very few) acquisitions and, of course, no repeats. Indeed, this last point is key; an on-demand only channel avoids the need to fill hours and hours of schedule.

Addressing the question of whether the move was “ghetto-ising young people”, Kavanagh made the point that the network was simply moving to where the young people already are. In that sense, the young are “ghetto-ising themselves”. He also pointed out that to some extent this was already happening, citing a short film about transgenderism that they posted on Facebook and went viral.

Given that the room was full of digital media creatives and salespeople, the question of long- vs short-form video was one I felt keenly anticipated by many. I suspect he may have disappointed some by saying that initially the ratio would be 80-20 (long-short). But Kavanagh pointed out that this was vastly more than the industry standard (about 0.05% short-form) and that in any case, this was a merely the starting point – the amount of short form would undoubtedly increase over the years.

He finished with the observation that the channel – which will be a pathfinder for the rest of the organisation in this move to online-only – was already learning a great deal from the digital sector, not least in terms of collaborative working, often a sharp contrast to traditional ways of making TV.

Jon Howard is an Executive Product Manager, Digital Creativity. I was lucky enough to meet Jon a few months ago and was fascinated then by the work his team is doing. He started by saying that Tony Hall wanted the BBC to help inspire a new generation to “become creative with code”. For some this might simply mean teaching kids to code but Jon believes that this needn’t always be the case, and is interested in developing light-weight tools for kids to use in creating their own content, games and services, aping the direction in which much of the creative industries has moved.

He showcased a game-building platform for 8-12 year-olds, indeed, did a live demo, always a risky gambit! His team associated the tool with the Sunday morning kids’ show Technobabble (“the smallest brand on the BBC”) and they’d been delighted with the tool’s uptake. Particularly interesting was how the service faired after the show went off-air. The usage figures of a traditional game would plummet when on-air promotion stopped. However, although usage did dip, it maintained a healthy user base with kids building and sharing games by the thousands for weeks after tx.

The final session of the breakout came from the excellent Maureen Gore, giving what will sadly be her BBC swansong. Maureen was to talk about procurement generally and specifically the performance to date of the Digital Services Framework – a dry subject to be sure, but one Maureen always manages to bring to life.

The DSF is currently in the middle of its second iteration; a third will be announced in Q3 this year. I won’t go into great detail about the process here; instead you can get the full run down on the BBC procurement site or else drop a line to DigitalSuppliersEngagement@bbc.co.uk.

But the headlines for DSF II were certainly encouraging with 299 agencies making the final cut. An initial fear of Maureen’s was that once ITT’s had been matched to agencies’ declared capabilities, they were often going out to 40-50 companies. But in general, of these only around 6 or 7 were responding, suggesting that agencies were being realistic about their capacity to deliver. Finally, something in the region of £4m was spent with agencies on DSF 1.

The final plenary session of the day covered an old favourite of this blog, Connected Studio, the open innovation initiative, and its sister website BBC TasterAdrian Woolard, Head of CS, gave us a run-down of the initiative’s performance so far, and it’s an impressive one: 103 events, the involvement of 2792 participants and 458 companies, 821 ideas generated, 41 pilots and 50 more pilots in the pipeline. Adrian was particularly proud of delivering two projects in collaboration with the World Service in Nairobi and Cape Town.

 Eleni Sharp and Will Saunders then introduced BBC Taster, a groundbreaking area of bbc.co.uk for experimental projects – “a home for new ideas”. It’s impossible to overstate how important this is for the BBC; the understandable expectation of it delivering perfectly working products and services can by an impediment to innovation, where a certain degree of risk is essential. Taster allows for experimentation in a discrete environment, and has worked with most areas of the BBC, including Arts, Radio 1 and Drama; so far it’s generated an impressive 3.5 million page views.

They showcased three Taster projects: R1OT (a social media visualisation tool developed for Radio 1), Your Story (BBC News archival content tagged to your Facebook timeline) and I Am Smarter Than… (a personalised quiz).

Adrian finished off by talking about Connected Studio’s future, which would include more work with BBC Labs, more calls across different themes (and not necessarily broken down by “Product”) and work on immersive tech. Significantly, the early stages of the process will be carried out online rather than at events. As fans of the open innovation process and as a consultancy keen to see large and small companies work together for mutual benefit, we’ll be watching closely.

Naturally the day ended with some networking and the chance to catch up with some old friends. I’ll leave you with this thought. This has been a tough couple of weeks for the BBC, with the government’s sideswipes taken at the corporation increasingly ludicrous – yet nonetheless deeply worrying. Today’s session – as I say, a less state-of-the-nation event than previous ones and more generally down and dirty – left me in no doubt that BBC Online’s work is essential to the health innovation in UK media. My thanks to the Market Engagement team for inviting me down and congratulations to Jake Bailey in particular for pulling off such a packed, but slickly run event.

Simon

*Videos from Salford are going to be available from next week; I’ll tweet when they go live.

This is the second part of a lengthy and detailed conversation with Dan Simmons, done on behalf of the Knowledge Transfer Network. In the previous post, Dan discussed his background in the record industry and how it led him to conceive and then found “a record company for ideas”: Propelia. In this second half Dan talks about his work with one of the company’s roster of “pathfinders”: Robert Rowland Smith.

Constellations

Around the time that I started Propelia I met the philosopher Robert Rowland Smith, who is also a blue chip consultant and a best-selling business author. Robert had come across the workshopping process known as Constellations, a modern adaptation of a Zulu process that draws on the collective unconscious of a group and in doing so enables “a different form of knowing”. After attending sessions as a participant, had become a practitioner.

I was immediately, intrigued: why is this Oxford Don doing this? He doesn’t need to, it’s not exactly glamorous’ so I went to this little church hall with 15-20 people to watch a session. The participants sat in a semi-circle and Robert asked who would like to “constellate” something. Someone would bring up an issue or problem and Robert organised the group to represent different aspects of the issue. I got it straight away: you can feel the system at work, you can feel the information. Robert’s job is to orchestrate it then simply keep it moving, albeit with an agenda. But essentially, it takes on a life and form of its own.

Moving beyond ideas

This was brilliant, but how could you bring this into the innovation mix? What we’ve done since at Propelia is help develop a philosophical position for Robert: that we are going beyond the age of ideas. Everyone is now saying that ideas are no longer enough. The situation in France is not a new idea (we discussed the post-Charlie Hebdo dialogue in the last part); what Robert is saying is that we still need transition and change but it’s going to be about this interlocking forms and different assumptions. What is the new form of knowing? And how do we bring this new form of knowing into the innovation process?

The Ovation

Having helped set out Robert’s stall, we’ve launched something called The Ovation. (In the word “innovation” you’ll find the word “ovation”). The Ovation process is based on Constellations and is aimed at driving innovation by looking to ask and approach questions no-one else it looking at. It’s about finding what we call “the Ovation moment”; once you’ve have found that ovation moment, you can go back to the innovation process and you can begin to build strategy around it. Robert has actually written a book called The Reality Test which about is the limits of reality and how reality rarely meets strategy or innovation.

We spent 12-18 months writing a simple blueprint for bringing out innovation through knowing and allowing the system to tell you where that knowing is. Because that’s not always clear.  What we’re doing with Robert is trying to bring him into that space and present him as someone that can prepare you for innovation (and by extension save a lot of money, time and heartbreak).

Look at Kodak: utterly dominant in their field and unable to survive the noughties as they didn’t know what questions to ask – they didn’t know where to look for their collective knowing. Kodak could have been a travel company who helped people “find the moment”, rather than taking a picture of the moment. They could have said, we know how to find the moment, let us find it for you. Or another approach: these days people don’t have photographs that they keep, and they are losing their photographic memory; how much more valuable would Kodak have been if they’d addressed – and even owned – that problem?! What Robert is saying you have to give birth to things you don’t understand fully.

Spreading the message

We are now talking to three brand agencies that want to be involved with this type of leadership and enable it with their resources. At present we have no competitors; we have 2-3 good years in us to create a bit of magic because I know I will wake up one morning and know I can’t do it anymore: that I’ll no longer feel relevant. I always want to get out while I’m ahead. We’re doing a multi-pronged attack, going in at a very senior level where Robert will examine a breakthrough and how it has been understood and look at that as a lesson about how breakthroughs come about.

We’re also working with a magazine called Formula Life that serves a very high net worth readership. We’re using the magazine to showcase Robert and the Ovation process, through boutique, bespoke offers to their readers. For example £5K will get you three sessions in iconic locations like Abbey Road or Darwin’s House; Robert will talk about the theory and ally it to the location, and use that location as a catalyst for new thinking – for new knowing.

We also want to align ourselves with a big innovation project, with one key partner that gets where Robert is coming from. Oh and of course I want him on the cover of GQThe guy who’s thinking of and practically approaching breakthrough in a completely different way, that’s where I want him to be.

Thanks to Dan for the considerable time he gave for this interview and for taking yet more time out to check through the transcripts.

Simon

 

 

On behalf of the Knowledge Transfer Network, I’m currently doing research around cross-innovation, asking: how does collaboration between different sectors and disciplines drive innovation? And more specifically, how can Creative Industry practice provide innovation in non-CI arenas? I’ve been talking to a range of practitioners in the field, and over the next few weeks will be showing how artists, creative strategists and digital technologists are working in fields as disparate as health, transport, policing… and on and on.

This is the second of those interviews, with Dan Simmons discussing the fascinating Ovation approach to innovation. It was a pretty discursive chat and I’ve tried to preserve that spirit here. In part 1 Dan talks about the founding of his agency Propelia; in Pt 2 he discusses his work with “practical philosopher” Robert Rowland Smith and the creation of the Ovation. Here then, is part 1. Take it away, Dan.

The sui generis Marilyn Manson

It starts with Marilyn Manson, as every story should. While I was really still a kid I did loads of work experience at record labels and eventually blagged my way into a really good gig at MCA/Universal – and specifically Interscope. I got given the rock repertoire to market internationally as their artists were emerging in the States; like I say, a great gig for a 21/22 year old kid.

These days everyone talks about being a brand, but back then – ‘96/’97 – it wasn’t so common. Now on meeting Manson it was immediately apparent that this was a very smart guy who knew exactly what he was doing. I was there when the Columbine thing happened; the media and the authorities alike wanted to pin it on him. If he’d inflated it they would have really gone for him, but he handled himself superbly. Anyway I was there as his shows grew from small venues to stadiums and I saw his art grow and grow.

I also got to work a little bit with Tony Wilson, a guy who carried his history with him, of course. But whatever worked for him the first time round wasn’t going to work the second. It was quite sad because people really wanted it to work; this was Tony Wilson after all. Interscope paid a fortune for his label (the Factory reboot “Factory Too”) so they were invested, but it ultimately it wasn’t worth it.

So I began to mull over this idea that there are some groups that cannot do it again: look at McCartney. But for a while, these stars burn really brightly. This is when I hit upon the notion for a record label for ideas. What would happen if you took the alchemy of a record company and applied it to ideas? What kind of magic would emerge? But for while, this remained just an idea.

Moving on from the record industry… and into digital

This was also the time the web was starting to happen and is was obviously an interesting place. I spoke to a small number of people at Universal to put some budget towards as this was the future. I spent a year doing that but struggled to get traction so then moved on. I helped set up an early music search system (remember, this was before iTunes). But what really fascinated me was how you could open up new market spaces and how a small group of people could create really big things. Again: it might not last long, but if you get it right you can have a massive impact.

On Blue Ocean Strategy

I worked with just two others to set up an email service. Our whole thing was: “why aren’t emails branded?” So from here on out I had a career effectively running my own little marketing agency’ which then went on to help form the Email Marketing Association. And over and over I was dealing with the same issues: the right timing, the right market, the right brand, and the right IP. I really got into Blue Ocean Strategy. In fact I think that it’s formed 90% of my thinking. In a nutshell, most companies try to innovate within a red ocean: price, incremental innovation, positioning, and so on. The blue ocean is where you burst through all of that that and you change the parameters so much that your product exists in its own space. Take Cirque du Soleil. The circus is tried and tested with hundreds of years of tradition, right? Along comes CDS: it has its own space, its own audience, its own price point and it completely blew circus apart with changes in demographics, pricing, you name it. Again, that’s what Manson was trying to do, to move into a category of one.

I tried to bring that kind of thinking into areas as diverse as festivals, agriculture, leisure, brands and music. I lived in Australia for a time and I took a massage company into pubs and clubs with a pay-what-you-want model. The company went from the front room of a flat to being one of the biggest providers of massage in Australia! I like that environment, that kind of growth: it always fascinates me.

That “record company for ideas”

So I’d been doing this and running my little agencies; and I’d developed a social media platform, showing how to use social media to be a micro broadcaster. And then my sister -Rachel Botsman – was asked to write her first book for Harper Collins. As she was completing the drafts she realised she wanted to unpack it into a brand and launch strategy and asked me to become involved, which I did and got her to the first TED talk on what became the currently £9bn valued Sharing Economy.

Anyway, the first book came out and it went nuts. I saw my sister break like an artist, going from being sustainability consultant to a public speaking superstar in just a few months, and that’s when my mind went “hold on a second, this record label of ideas is happening with my sister!”

So at that point I wrote to TED and asked them how many talks they did and it turned out is was about 20,000 a year! That’s just one provider – think about all the other platforms for lectures and presentations – for ideas! And yet all these people with big ideas don’t have agencies. No-one is servicing them like a record labels or publisher would, or for that matter as a modelling agency would. Someone needs to identify the best in the market, help develop them conceptually and then commercialise them.

That’s why I founded Propelia. I was fortunate to be introduced to the founders of a big speaker bureau who gave Propelia its first investment and from there on out it happened really quickly as they also helped Propelia get its first clients.

What we needed to work out was how you take individuals at the top of their game – We’re not looking for the leader who shouts the loudest – and find a consistent journey for someone who is (necessarily) continually changing and growing. We’ve developed a process to look at this journey and help analyse it.

Looking for new kinds of (thought) leaders

What’s interesting to me is that the model – and the look and feel – that weirdly I thought would be at Universal (and wasn’t) is here, not least in the diversity of people with whom we work.

One of the pleasures of the work is consistently meeting fascinating people at the top of their field or sector. For instance, this week I was with an activist called Lisa Ma. It was only our first exploratory meeting with her but she is looking at activism in another way. We discussed everything from Occupy to the Charlie Hebdo protests and she has a view that chimes with me: that these movements contrast with a complete lack of leadership in modern political, academic or business life. We live in an age clearly of uncertainty and transition; leaders need to be highly flexible but this tendency is restricted by our class and the political systems.

We also need leadership in “digital” – things need to be lead and indeed be steered. I think it can all be morphed into a new type of leadership that can handle the ambiguity of modern life. This isn’t built on theory; I’ve spent my last 15 years immersed in it, I’ve invested in it, I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve learned from them. So to me I it’s fascinating to see the shrinking of one style of leadership on one hand and the emergence of a new one on the other.

We call these new kind of leaders pathfinders. A path finder is a thought leader who is able to ask for help. We’re working with leaders who see an opportunity to morph and see that this needs a whole team of people to bring this about. It goes back to Marilyn Manson for me: the creation of a punk ecosystem that’s compelling and interesting, dynamic and relevant and complex and not in any way patronising. So all of our clients, who as I say all come from divergent bases, and might appear random, nonetheless all reflect this ethos. We’ve never done any PR on it, but the interestingly they all talk to each other because they’re all woven from the same cloth, looking for people to take us over a transition.

In part 2, Dan discusses his collaboration with Robert Rowland Smith, the Ovation.

Simon

On behalf of the Knowledge Transfer Network, I’m currently doing some research on around cross-innovation, asking: how does collaboration between different sectors and disciplines drive innovation? And more specifically, how can Creative Industry practice provide innovation in non-CI arenas? I’ve been talking to a range of practitioners in the field, and over the next few weeks will be showing how artists, creative strategists and digital technologists are working in fields as disparate as health, transport, policing… and on and on.

First up, the Jo White of Rhythmix in Brighton introduces the work of Wishing Well, bringing muic and sound design into hospitals across the region. What follows is a lightly-edited transcription of a long and in-depth conversation Jo and I had a couple of weeks back, touchin on her background, the formation of Rhythmix and then a detailed look at how Wishing Well came about.My thanks to Jo for giving us so much time.

 

jo

About Rhythmix

I’m one of the project managers at Rhythmix, a music charity based in Brighton that works across the south east. We’ve been around for 15 years evolving from a consortium of music services who wanted to figure out how to engage young people who are not in the mainstream: children and young people who may be excluded from music education, who are not engaging with their school generally, or are in care, or are excluded because of disability.

Rhythmix’ job, then, is to engage children and young people whose circumstances make them vulnerable. Essentially we’re an arts organisation that’s interested in social and personal as well as musical outcomes: increasing self-expression, self-confidence, helping young people to engage with the support available to them. A lot of work I’ve done over the years has been supporting children who have never played an instrument before or had an opportunity to write songs. Personally I’m less concerned with performance, more with inclusion. But before we go into detail, a little on…

How I got here

My background is in folk music. I don’t have any formal qualifications – music or otherwise, beyond A Level, having dropped out of university to get involved in direct action, specifically the anti-road building movement. From that time I spent 10 years living with direct action teams and travelling communities in the west country and northern France. We lived communally, aspiring to very low impact lives.

Music was a really important to us – we earned our living as buskers. So one way and another, things of the fringes, music and community became came very important to my life. I spent time in France, where there’s still semblance of a folk tradition and became hugely interested in how folk music can bring communities together.

I knew I wanted to work with young people and music and over the course of the next few years ran into people describing themselves as “community musicians”. I moved to Brighton, enrolled in the legendary “Workshop Skills for Facilitators” course at Goldsmiths University and became a practitioner. I went on to eight years or so of leading workshops, keen to work especially in creative projects for primary age and in disability settings. Gradually I became more involved in project management with Rhythmix and at the same time becoming increasingly interested in middle ground between community music and music therapy – which are related but very different disciplines.

Enter Wishing Well

Around that time I met Kate Murdoch. Kate had been working in Paris with a group called Musique et Santé – Music and Health. They’ve pioneered a way of working in healthcare, taking musicians right to hospital; bedsides, not to perform one-to-one therapy with individuals for a set period of time, but to be just on the ward and interact with patients spontaneously.

They are interested in the sound ecology of a hospital. This can be especially harsh for children, surrounded by bleeping machines, ventilators, CBeebies in the background, anxious voices, unfamiliar language and loud footsteps. Moreover, research has suggested that children in critical care are über-vulnerable to the sonic environment and become hyper-vigilant, trying to decode what each sounds means. So softening this sound has become really important.

Kate had completed a “train the trainer” programme with Musique et Santé. We knew that she was the best person to bring the approach to our own team. We selected 10 practitioners who all had some background working in SEND (Special Education Needs and Disability), good vocal skills and a good range of music experience, and we put them on a five-day foundation course led by Kate and Nick Cutts, another M et S alumnus whose organisation Opus is based in Derbyshire. I have never seen a group of people so transformed! It’s the kind of training that really turns you inside out: three days of classroom-based and 2 days shadowing interactions in the children’s hospital.

We started Wishing Well, then, very much in the mould of Musique et Santé, although the Musicians are developing the methodology in their own ways and bringing their own ideas and expertise to the table. In particular, we wanted to look at how music technology might help. We use iPads at bedsides as they can be used by children with very light touch, really enable interaction and create incredible sound worlds. We’re interested in how music technology can support a better sonic environment for patients when live Musicians can’t be present; interactive sound installations in play areas and speakers placed in pillows, personalised play lists on iPods. (Brian Eno did similar work at the Chelsea & Westminster A&E)

We made a short film about our work at The Royal Alex, during the first years of Wishing Well, funded by Rockinghorse Children’s Charity through a successful Youth Music bid; you can watch the film here.

Our current work

We work with the Royal Alexander Children’s Hospital in Brighton, and with the children’s wards Hastings and Worthing. Additionally we work with Chailey Heritage Clinical Services, who provide respite and rehab services for children with profound disabilities and acquired head injury.

There are real differences between the various hospitals, so we adapt our approach to each setting. For instance, the children’s ward at Conquest Hospital in Hastings, there is a high turnover rate and we rarely see the same child twice. By contrast, at the Royal Alex in Brighton, we target children in the High Dependency Unit who are in hospital for long and frequent stays throughout their lives. These children are at risk of developmental delay and missing out on all the normal things that childhood should bring. So that’s what we try to provide – normal things in an extraordinary environment.

Let me give you some examples of our work…

Our Musicians do a certain amount of one to one work with young people with very little movement. We use technology to create an environment where they can express themselves through music so that there “disability” is no longer an issue. We’ve worked with some incredible people who are taking the concept of triggering sounds to new levels; building bespoke digital instruments which can be played with the same level of expression as a more conventional instrument

On the other hand, an intervention can be far simpler. We had a situation recently involving a girl who had had a tracheotomy. The staff needed to insert a valve in so that she could talk, but the girl was finding it extremely uncomfortable and difficult to use. The nurses suggested getting her to sing songs she knew in order to distract from the discomfort and to learn how to articulate verbally using the valve. Simple but very effective.

Or again, just think about the environment on a hospital ward: it’s almost an entirely alien one. The beds don’t look like beds, the tables don’t look like tables; the children have no frame of reference as nothing looks like it does at home. One way we can help maintain wellbeing, then, is to bring something familiar to the hospital environments: a song that they have heard, their mum singing at home, or songs from the children’s TV they know well. We bring the outside world in.

On a different tack, we’re also working with people with advanced dementia who are being looked after on specialist wards. These patients are in the assessment ward for three to four months at a time with the hope that the Nursing and Occupational Therapist teams will be able to help them so that they can then go back home or into a specialised residential home.

Our practitioners work alongside with the OTs and move between “reminiscence repertoire”, identifying music that was meaningful to people in their twenties and creative improvisation, helping people be present and define themselves in the moment. We want to offer a new experience too; why not have new experiences later on in life? Digital technology has been a real enabler here. We had one lady using Thumbjam on the iPad who was delighted to be “playing the violin” after so many years. By taking people back into their youth we are able to bring them a great deal of comfort and help the OTs improve wellbeing.

The importance of advocacy, and getting to the right people

Everything we do is publically funded, so of course a big part of my job is writing funding applications. Beyond that, a lot of my role is about creating partnerships and about advocacy. I put a lot of time into finding the right people to speak to at a hospital, then into explaining what we do, how we do it and why it is so important. The joy of working somewhere like the Alex is that we have music champions who not only understand the work but shape and guide it. They understand completely how the soundscape of the hospital can effect children and their recovery.

Success measures

We’ve has put a lot of thinking into how to capture outcomes: we are, after all, an outcomes-based organisation. But while this is a vital field of work, the Musician in Healthcare is a new role so we’re working hard to build up our evidence base. People can interpret “wellbeing” in very different ways for example. Clinical research like Randomised Control Trials are hugely expensive and time consuming.

Much of what we capture is necessarily qualitative – and bear in mind that with a lot of our children the indicators work with are non-verbal. So we’re observing things like calm but alert states, eye contact, interactions with staff and family members and ease of going to sleep. Again, difficult to capture, but we can describe these outcomes, especially when working with a person who knows that child very well. And it’s important to record the anecdotal stuff too, things from parents and staff like “It’s the first time I’ve seen this child light up and since we have been in Hospital”.

Possible future directions

We work across seven trusts with multiple funders so it’s a bit like spinning plates. I’m trying to secure long term funding, of course, allowing us develop more sustainable programmes, with rigorous evaluation and more widespread advocacy. Building up a language and an identity around this work has been a huge process for us and is ongoing. It takes time – and therefore money – to make this work understood. In the meantime there are several initiatives either in planning or in early stages.

With the best will in the world, our musicians are only going to be at the Alex, say, twice a week. That’s six hours in total. Try telling families who’ve just had a really good interaction that you’ll be back, next Wednesday! That’s a long time to wait for the next bit of fun. I would love to work with people whose expertise is digital technology to address this. Can we have musical or sonic “play areas” at the end of each ward? Can we have speakers in pillows for children who are profoundly sick who can be comforted by immersive sound? Interestingly, we haven’t yet gone to a local external creative media company, although this is of course a town renowned for them; clearly there must be local possibilities for the co-creation of this kind of project, where technology and creativity meet healthcare?

We’re delighted to be delivering a Music in Healthcare course for 3rd year medical students at Brighton and Sussex Medical school. They choose between various optional modules at certain times of year (called student selected components). Our first module was full and it was heartening to see how the students understood the role of music in building trust with the children that they might look after.

We’re currently working with a team of creative dance practitioners and colleagues at Surrey Arts to create a Music and Movement pilot for people with dementia. I find it personally frustrating that we separate out music and movement in our work. We want to enable people to express themselves in any way they can. It’s fantastic working with creative dancers – like us they are participant led and our methodologies seem to blend seamlessly.