Bristol Ideas Hopeful Futures credit Jon Aitken 01903

Here + There Category

How can we sustain thoughtful international collaboration

by Emma Boulton

“Hope often works best alongside tools for proactively tackling future challenges” (Superflux, 2019).

It’s been a few months since Here + There wrapped up and pathfinder producer, Emma Boulton, has a few observations to share from across the prototypes to collaborative enquiry.

How could we ground equity in international projects?

Shortly we will be sharing the report from the Collaborative enquiry, a 9-month collaboration where we aimed to explore collective thinking towards new models. Without spoiling the ending, I want to share a couple of points from my observations.

Context is everything. Fully understanding the contexts of the collaboration from collaborations, to communities and histories. In practice, it means expanding knowledge and experience and being guided by your international collaborators, communities and audiences.

Next, it’s to think micro and not macro. It is true that when we collaborate internationally the scale of a project or piece changes drastically, however, try not to be distracted by the macro and keep the micro (and a project's intentions) in sight.

Mind The Gap

There is a gap in innovation funding for international R&D. Access to specific skills, knowledge and support is brilliant, but sometimes what individuals and companies really need and want is the finance to conduct R&D. The gap is visible in many ways, however, I want to highlight two in particular.

First, what is afforded by investment cannot be easily measured. Research and development is more than testing something in real terms; it is the freedom to think a little further without the pressure of a quantifiable or immediate return on investment. This is something I believe each of the Here + There teams has benefitted from.

Second, the design and direction of opportunities. In international funding, the opportunity to engage internationally can come with loaded agendas, a series of assumptions, and desired outputs. In short, those with resources have the ability to dictate what is and isn’t a challenge, what should or shouldn’t be explored, and where we work. This felt ever present and was a consistent tension that surfaced within the collaborative enquiry’s labs.

So what is the response?

  1. Funders to reimagine their funding streams and opportunities to encourage experimentation and allow for reflection and headspace to think.

  2. Recognising and responding to power imbalances is the start towards building equity

  3. Place creatives in decision and design processes when developing funding calls

  4. Rewrite the ways in which we measure and record impact and value

Adaptive Problems, Response, and Growth

During the labs, Malaika Toyo, Made Culture (Lagos), presented adaptive problems and suggested that understanding the layered ecosystems within the problem is the key to negotiating and navigating change. She delivered an excellent talk during Hopeful Futures which introduces this - incase you missed it why not watch it here, this event was held at the Watershed in Bristol in November 2022.

Adaptation and responsiveness are celebrated traits of the creative and cultural industries.

Being able to diagnose varying factors and create a path utilising your existing skills and resources to navigate the landscape or build a response is key to survival in this competitive sector. Creatives have been doing this for some time, and often out of necessity because existing models don’t fit or resources are unbelievably stretched. Remember a significant portion of this sector is made up of freelancers and micro to SMEs.

In a group conversation, one team made a point to say “we don’t want to grow in the way others want; it’s not us”, and this was because ‘classic’ forms of growth are not compatible or relevant with their company or ambitions or values. Totally reasonable - I have seen several start-ups fold because their growth hasn’t been considered or sustainable in the longer term. In the Here + There prototypes we investigated how R&D reveals and shapes growth uniquely to the individual or company and how that maps along to international collaboration. Gill Wildman encouraged teams to explore what growth could look like to them and identify the step changes toward it. In the enquiry, we thought about how the labs could enable opportunities and knowledge for creatives, alongside that we surfaced thinking about the foundations or frameworks that encourage access to opportunities and further growth.

Climate Justice Contradictions and Co-existence

By now I would hope you’ve read the work produced by Zoe Rasbash, Climate Emergencies Action researcher at Watershed. If not, why not? Read Zoe’s work here.

In our conversations about internationalising, specifically the practicalities of international working and climate, we both agreed there is a need for a more developed and nuanced discourse. Travel is unavoidable in an international collaboration or partnership development, and that is unlikely to change. Instead we want to think about how more nuanced thinking about carbon and environmental impact can be factored into international work that doesn’t solely focus on travel and shipping. Can transport/shipping be replaced by local production? What is the trade-off with digital carbon emissions? If travel is necessary, what methods of transport should we use and how do we or the international collaborator get the most value from it?

There is also a deeper point of reflection which feels more urgent than ever before. The effects of climate change are disproportionately leading to further inequalities across the world. Take the previous point of adaptive challenges and think about ecosystems on global terms - it’s scary to think at that scale, as Zoe frequently says it is overwhelming and it can be easy to feel demotivated or defeated.

I am hopeful that R&D projects can explore viable options where we position climate at the heart of creativity. Both Raucous and Trigger have presented two ways to reimagine production and touring internationally in ways that minimise impact and support circular economies. Through the variety of labs we’ve hosted, we have collectively embraced climate, understanding what is at stake, and collaboratively visioning hopeful paths into the future. Whether it's new models like the enquiry set out to imagine or creative works in Gathering Moss and Future Leaders International Labs. We should continue to ask questions and invite more conversations.

Here + There, where next?

Here + There was conceived to dig into local rootings and how this shapes our place in a globally connected network. I’ve spent a lot of time mulling these two words over and over and I’ve come to think about how we don’t always think like that or start from that position necessarily. During the enquiry, I observed times when local rootings or a ‘here’ness’ didn’t start from an immediate physical location but actually started from a global point that faced inward to the local. That point itself creates an interesting question and what ‘here’ really means and its relationship to time, place and culture.

I’m keen to revisit some of these observations and thinking in my current project, Playable City. The project has engaged with global conversations and built an international network of collaborators and producers, and in the next year, I’ll be thinking about our international connections and collaborations again.

Title image: Bristol Ideas at Hopeful Futures, credit Jon Aitken