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Changing places

Have you played the word game Bananagrams? Seek it out if not – it’s excellent. If you have, you might know that the best way to form good words yourself is to have a quick look at other players’ jumbled-up letters. There’s something about observing someone else’s game for a bit that ‘re-sets’ your perspective and clarifies your own moves.

I’m finishing the Clore6 programme feeling that spending time in other people’s shoes should be mandatory in the professional world – especially in the social sector.

Clore Social Leadership has been piloting a six-month programme – Clore6 – specifically for emerging leaders from organisations that work with young people. It couples the leadership development of Clore Social’s Fellowship Programme with an ambition to foster greater collaboration and collective solutions for the youth sector. The ‘job swap’ is the final component of Clore6.

Brathay Trust is renown for both its residential and community-based work with young people and families, and its innovative and insightful internal research team. In arranging a job swap at Brathay, I wanted to experience good youth work, good research and impact measurement. Brathay also places openness and learning at the heart of its organisational culture which, particularly pertinent for my work, facilitates a cyclical scenario in which youth work and impact measurement improve one another in turn.

Individuals from all levels of Brathay were prepared to engage openly and honestly with me. The openness and trust within the organisation was evident, and I felt like a member of the team for the short period I was there.

Reflections from the week that have stuck with me include:

  • The centrality of relationships to everything: The most obvious being the relationships between young people and those working with them, but also between colleagues within organisations and across the sector. Facilitating open and trusting connections struck me as one of the most important aspects of leadership, and I’m returning with a clear focus to strengthen the relationships that drive our work at the Centre for Youth Impact.
  • The impact of impact measurement: Many organisations still feel under huge pressure to use data to prove their value to others. Efforts to gather this have the potential undermine, rather than enhance their work with young people.
  • ‘Measurement’ remains critically important: But this is so only when it is used to learn, and it must be meaningful for organisations and practitioners. Complex but critical work is done with young people in a whole range of settings, and impact measurement, done well, helps understand, improve and communicate this work.

These themes are familiar from frequent conversations with practitioners in our networks, but an immersive experience allowed me to feel, experience and therefore (hopefully!) address them with greater vigour, and greater empathy. The job swap wasn’t about learning new things, but it inculcated clarity and a sense of purpose, humility in some areas, and reassurance and validation in others.

So – take a minute to think about an environment that might shift your perspective, challenge and inspire you. I found it helpful to zero in on my potential blind spots, as well as what might energise me. I was surprised – and pleased – by the willingness of others to accommodate the placement. My hosts seemed to see the value of an external perspective on their work, which was reassuring in what could have felt like a slightly indulgent personal development exercise!

All this has reminded me of the importance of stepping out of my own reality, as far and as often as possible. A few days away has allowed many pieces to fall into place.

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