CoLab Dudley — our principles

Jo Orchard-Webb
Jan 16 · 6 min read

This lab note builds on our Monday post on the ‘why’ of principles focused evaluation (PFE), which was followed yesterday by a post on the ‘how’ of PFE. Today’s post continues the story by introducing the 8 lab principles that have emerged from our practice, research and reflections as lab team and a community of doers.

These principles aren’t plucked from blue skies, or the random reflections of a single team member — rather these are grounded in the collective insight of our diverse lived experiences & values, two years of intensive practice as a lab and platform, as well as detailed research captured and analysed over that period. Through a very intentional lab design phase over the last few months we have gone on a journey of identifying goals, the multiple capitals in our system, and woven within that the principles we have begun to test in guiding & improving our work as lab team.

To be clear this is a starter for ten — the substance of these principles is unlikely to change, however, the wording will evolve as we test them out in our conversations as a team and community. Similarly, as we use them to inform our practice, (i.e. our norms, conversations, decisions, plans & actions) different aspects of the principles may require greater or lesser emphasis. The point I am making is that in our PFE approach — as with all aspects of our lab work — we are testing, refining & iterating. Again, as with all aspects of our work, we experiment in the open, and genuinely welcome ideas, suggestions, and questions from the curious!

These 8 principles are one of a number of design tools to help take us as a community and platform in the direction of a more welcoming, kinder town based on caring connections between people, places and the planet.

In the list below the shorthand for each principle is in bold; this is followed by a more detailed explainer; and then an outline of it’s counter-principle in italics. By counter-principle we mean the practice that is the opposite intended by our principle. The counter-principles are really important for clarifying and reminding us of old habits, lessons learnt, or practices that we know through experience generate unintentional negative outcomes.

  1. Persistence and Being There matters. Change takes time. A determined, but caring persistence in our work on the High Street builds trust. By adopting the long view of change we are able to see broader patterns, learn from our histories, and commit to building deeper roots. As opposed to short-termism and a rush to quick solutions. These often result in a failure to respect the context, traditions and histories of our communities and places, and can lead to unintended negative consequences.
  2. Build creative spaces and experiences together. We co-create spaces & experiences and through that change the way the community uses & relates to them. This changes the way we all think about our capacity and right to shape the places we care for and for which we feel a sense of belonging. Rather than creating spaces and experiences for people. Creating things for people removes opportunities for everyone to experience a feeling of belonging and the sense of wellbeing from sharing and growing creativity.
  3. Celebrate gifts and skills not labels. Create opportunities for ALL of our talents to shine — no matter who we are. Rather than targeting people with particular attributes and characteristics, or making assumptions based on labels. Labels arise from prejudice and stereotyping. They isolate people, divide us, obscure our talents and undermine our collective strength.
  4. Relationships matter. Create intentional conditions for us all to connect with strangers and build generous, caring relationships. Animate our peer networks of friendship, reciprocity and mutual support. Prioritise the connections and trust that emerges between different people, and between people & places. As distinct from transactional or passive connections, which impoverish and further isolate us as a community and as individuals.
  5. Encourage abundance thinking and practice. Help identify and make good use of the many and varied talents within us AND resources around us. By revealing and re-purposing our talents and gifts — both made AND natural — we help unlock value that has been ignored, unloved or thrown away. Abundance encourages cooperation and sharing. Abundance thinking is at the heart of a regenerative local economy and culture. Shift thinking from quantity to quality, from lacks to abundances, from scarcity of resources to flows of resources. Includes a shift from emphasis on money and finance to value real wealth and different capitals.
  6. Nurture the courage to be curious and experiment. Embrace and be open to learning and experimenting. Share the learning openly and generously. As opposed to feeling fearful of experiments that don’t work out as expected and covering up the experience. Rather than being proprietary about the learning that emerges, or keeping it within one group or organisation.
  7. Default to a doing imperative. Learn and test through doing and prototyping. Show what is possible. Help others to move quickly to doing together. As opposed to pointless bureaucracy and talking without action which blocks change and closes down who can or who wants to be involved.
  8. Work at the speed of trust. Have patience as relationships build, but be impatient optimists once the trust is forged. Embrace a range of rhythms and timelines that enable the emerging relationships and connections. Rather than forcing institutional or unrealistic timetables, expectations and deadlines on an organic process.

Principles, unlike fixed rules, are subject to judgement and interpretation which is why they are so valuable to a lab team driven by a set of common values, and mindful of changing contexts, relationships and complex system inter-dependencies. This does not mean PFE encourages a free-for-all of unchecked, unintentional action — quite the opposite. Our next steps involve testing out the evaluation questions we have developed for capturing both our adherence to the principles and the outcomes (interim and longer view). This process of evidence capture is like many forms of developmental evaluation ongoing; integrated into team (weekly) planning; and enriched by multiple data types & sources (e.g. stories shared, journeys observed, artifacts captured or created, team reflections, maps co-designed, community observations and analysis etc.).

For each of our principles we will be collecting data that provides us with:

  • a description of adherence to the principle by the team (i.e. evidence of how the principles are implemented)
  • a description of results (i.e. evidence of what happened when the principles are implemented, including testing the pathways to outcomes)
  • an indicator of the form(s) of scaling it contributes to in our work (i.e. scaling up, out, deep, scree, or conditions). [See this great article by Gord Tulloch on the different forms of scaling we should be mindful of in this type of complex social change work.]
  • a rating for each question where relevant (e.g. poor/ improved/ good/ excellent)
  • linkages & feedback loops between the principles where relevant
  • any wider context/ system observations — we will be paying attention to the broader system patterns & flows that relate to each principle. Drawing upon participatory & ethnographic research traditions we believe in the value of contextualised data!

Over the next few months we will share the initial yields of this learning approach from our upcoming season of doing so you can see HOW/ IF PFE guides and inspires us as a community.

To be honest we are really excited to find a form of evaluation that resonates with our way of working and the complexity of the context and system in which we experiment. I hope it serves us well. If you are similarly testing / have tested alternative evaluation approaches let us know — let’s work out loud together!

CoLab Dudley

Observations, interactions and reflections from a social lab in Dudley town centre

Jo Orchard-Webb

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Geographer exploring everyday participation in environmental & social sustainability | #participatoryresearch #detectorism I @colabdudley I #connectingforgood I

CoLab Dudley

Observations, interactions and reflections from a social lab in Dudley town centre