As a provider of Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC), you will have a big list of contacts. You will have blanket schools lists, and then the more personal contacts of the schools who really value your service, and perhaps some priority targets you are trying to 'crack'. You will have regular contact with government bodies or others to whom you justify your funding, or even theirs by providing stats to meet their community cohesion or other targets. You probably have networks with similar organisations in your field. You might have been cajoled into cross-sector events, which often seem to be for the greater glory of someone else entirely.
The Tide~ LOtC liaison group did something quite new in my experience. Tide~ researched and gathered together as many representatives as they could from the whole 'LOtC sector'. The group comprised over 20 invited representatives of organisations including rural, city and touring museums, archives, theatre companies, environmental/installation artists, nature reserves (urban and rural) and more. In addition some overarching structures were presented such as the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and several local authorities.
The diversity of the group revealed a corresponding diversity in practice and in the challenges posed by each sector. Health and Safety was a major issue for some, and a matter of course for others, some offered 'off the peg' activities for schools, while others had the flexibility to tailor their offer to meet the needs of each visiting group.
The diversity of the group was a reflection of Tide~'s preparation and their strong links to the wider education arena. They had also identified sectors for which they did not find active partners – the built environment, outdoor & adventure and extended services.
Given that the group was brought together by Tide~, it had an explicit interest in how global learning might be developed through LOtC opportunities. This lead to an interesting dichotomy between a desire to make the most of a unique networking opportunity and the advancing of the global learning agenda.
My experience included moments of feeling like an impostor – hearing colleagues discussing concepts or current issues with a depth of knowledge, insight and clarity which seemed way above my own. This is where genuine networking becomes wonderful - there are corresponding moments when you discover what you take for granted in your own practice is genuinely interesting to others. In part this was a reflection of the quality of people Tide~ invited. It also reflects well on their breadth of contacts, partly because of good planning and chairing, but also I believe due to the the novelty and rich mix of the gathering that meant we all had things to learn and things to offer.
The most obvious outcomes that could only come from such a gathering are cross-sector connections. One example was between a theatre company and an environmental centre with a focus on forest schools . . . I hope the connections lead to some project outcomes. Another more subtle outcome was a small revelation I had while talking to an officer from Solihull Borough Council, about the potential of places of worship for global learning : a conventional visit to (for example) a Christian church might focus on the ceremonial points – altar, font, stations of the Cross, etc – but equally there is likely to be information about international projects the church supports, possibly crucifixes sent to bond friendships across the world etc. In many ways these links reflect the religious practice more clearly than the architectural focal points.
So far I feel this group has offered productive challenges to each others’ practice in three ways.
The group had a time-limited life expectancy, which made it easier for a number of participants to justify their input. As a result of the success, the group's life has been extended, but still with a finite commitment.
I feel the short life span enables the group to focus on what it is best at and ignore some tensions that would emerge if it were to become a permanent endeavour.
Key questions arising for me:
If the networking element is so productive, shouldn't all LOtC providers be encouraged to participate, and is there a moral imperative to continue the group?
Did Tide~'s handpicking the participants play a part in the quality of the work, and if the membership were broadened, would the quality dissipate?
The group was set up by Tide~ to meet Tide~'s needs. If the arguments for its continuation are based on the general good of all, who could/should take responsibility to lead it?
Assuming attendees at the Tide~ group are well networked in their own sector, could there be a model of them cascading as 'champions' whilst enabling non attendees to make links between sectors?
The group is explicitly supportive of global learning and similar agendas, but a considerable amount of time was spent on general LOtC issues such as the Quality Mark, Council Membership etc. Some other regions have LOtC groups, but none with such a specific agenda, is this unfair on providers which don't share the global learning ethos? (Is that our problem? Is it a lure to make them explore their potential for global learning?)
Could the work of the group be done through other structures? Perhaps an online challenge to add an explicit element of global learning to the offer for schools. This could be done with social mentoring, either informal such as Facebook technology or more structured as in Jane McGonigal's global development game www.urgentevoke.com
The group has been very enlightening to me. Just as global learning often involves expanding your identity to embrace connections and affiliations you previously overlooked, this liaison group has made me see the links between a civic museum and gallery, an RSPB reserve and a forest school.
The Herbert Museum was involved in this publication ~ At the heart of it ~ using local collections to inspire global learning.