There are few clear boundaries between the different phases of a project but once you have started to explore creative ideas with a group, perhaps the most important feature of social practice – that of creative exchange – is already in play.

This phase can take many forms and follow very different timescales. Following an approach to an active age group for example, an artist and group may agree to discuss opportunities to develop a project together over a number of meetings. Similarly, an artist and a youth group that has professional leaders might establish the basic starting point for a small project in one meeting. It is valuable at this point to remember those funding streams that support artists and groups to undertake a research stage without any onus to develop the project further.

This exploratory stage may include some or all of the following:

  • Formal and informal introductions, meetings and initial conversations

  • Exchange of priorities and interests

  • Shadowing/Observing/Tour

  • Taster workshops/activities

In many ways, this stage is about the partners getting to know each other, establishing mutual trust, finding common ground, finding out what the opportunities exist, and ultimately deciding if everybody wants to work together for what might be weeks, months or years. Don’t presume that you know the group, every group is different. It is recommended that minutes be taken at all meetings and distributed to participants as a record of inputs, decisions and actions. This will reinforce shared understanding from early on and avoid any misunderstandings by providing clarity at each point.

At some point it needs to become apparent whether everyone wants to commit to further developing a project together, or not. If the project is to develop further, the stakeholders involved must commit to the project and be prepared to invest in its development. 

Early workshops may lead to more experimental, open-ended explorations that still have no predetermined outcomes. The group may feel less confident during this phase as so much is unknown. The trust built up in the early stages will pay off now. Advocates within the group may be key at this point to provide reassurance to other group members. Help the group to recognise that in many respects this time can often be the most creative phase of a project. It is important to name that, enjoy the process, and claim the process as a priority. 

A discussion about potential outcomes and outputs can be helpful or cause anxiety in equal measure. Having some conversations about outputs can be valuable, particularly for people who like to know the trajectory of a project, but only insofar as it doesn’t stymie creativity or raise concern about achieving those goals. Recognition should be given to the probability that appropriate outputs will emerge from process driven work.

Be conscious of time. Allow time for action and reflection. You may need to undertake some work by yourself in your studio as part of the process but be aware that information gaps may be created as a result.  Be conscious of the pace of the project. It needs to be sufficiently challenging to provoke and maintain interest but not so much so that people feel left behind. Don’t let the energy dissipate.