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2.1 Engaging with each other – Key concepts

As we have highlighted, the complex and diverse contexts for any SEAP often means that there will need to be a range of people involved in any work. Alongside the artist (who might also be a researcher), there are usually a collection of individuals who, without which, the project would be possible. Given the intention of SEAP, we acknowledge that everyone involved is of equal importance – and that each member of any SEAP team will bring unique skills and expertise that may be necessary for the work to succeed in achieving its aim.

Picture 2. PACO’s stakeholder network map for the Daimieiocchi project

2.2 What is the stakeholder?

The term stakeholder is used to refer to ‘a person such as an employee, customer or citizen who is involved within an organisation, society etc. and therefore, has responsibilities towards it and an interest in its success’ (ref) From a project-management perspective, Imperial College London considers a stakeholder in terms of three distinct categories: somebody who can influence a project, somebody who is affected by a project or somebody involved in a project.

We use the word to identify people within a project who (as the term suggests) have a ‘stake’ in it – they will each have a desire to see the project succeed, and will possess the knowledge and skills to help deliver a positive result.

So, any SEAP will likely have a range of stakeholders who each has a connection to the challenge or problem that it is looking to address.

2.3 Who are the stakeholders in a socially engaged art project?

For this lesson, we’ve developed stories which we use to illustrate and demonstrate how and why there is a value in developing sustainable relationships within the teams who work on SEAP. As part of this, we’ve created characters who’ll feature in these stories and who are representative of the types of stakeholders you might encounter if you work as part of a team on a SEAP. They can range from associates or friends, to partners and participants who come together as they share the motivation to get involved.

For our lesson, we will encounter how one person experiences SEA both as a student and after their graduation in their working life. By following our character, Fatima, through two stories of her involvement in SEAP, we will be able to see how she works with others to develop projects which aim to address important challenges in the lives of different communities.

Figure 2. The Three contexts of a relationship

2.4 Three contexts (Social, Organisational, Individual) of relationship in socially engaged art projects

Every SEAP emerges from a context – from a situation or an event, a set of circumstances or an environment. This context defines an experience or shapes the lives of a community, or has an impact on people within a particular group. Often this context is defined or shaped by external factors (from outside of the community) and will have a profound and noticeable effect on individuals. It may be that some impacts aren’t immediately noticeable or recognised and only become understood once they’ve been identified.

More often than not, the contexts within which we live and work are created by a whole range of factors and can seem beyond our control as individuals. The ways we live, play socialise or work are influenced by a collection of factors and situations – and they are incredibly complex once we start to reflect and consider what these are. The most significant challenges we face in our lives today are often a consequence of how complicated modern life has become – we may not be able to separate one challenge from others and, because of this complexity, it’s difficult to understand how or why things are this way. And it’s often overwhelming if we even start to consider how they might change.

2.5 Addressing challenges with the three contexts of a relationship

As we work within a SEAP team, we move between each of these contexts, both as we develop and conduct the project. Each context prompts different questions and can pose different challenges.

By starting to define these challenges we are able to identify how we can overcome them or how we address them in order to build a successful and sustainable team for any SEAP:

Categories of challenge – Social context

    • Diversity-related challenges
    • Changing roles/needs of stakeholders
    • Personal matters
    • Environmental challenges

Firstly, since socially engaged art embraces various individuals and groups, conflicts in diverse groups and challenges are inevitable (Olsen, 2019). Secondly, individual and organisational change occurs quite frequently as a project progresses. For example, a community representative quits his/her job, or an NGO is merged and managed by another institution. Personal challenges also affect a project, such as a participant’s physical distance to the venue or family matters. Lastly, environmental challenges such as Covid19 significantly impact a project due to the related regulation. These challenges influence both individual and organisational contexts. Therefore, researchers must be flexible in amending the project scopes and methods.

Categories of challenge – Individual context

    • Acquiring research competence
    • Utilising existing networks
    • Understanding stakeholders’ individual values
    • Showing empathetic and respectful attitudes
    • Building personal trust with stakeholders

For the Individual context, there are five categories of challenges or tasks. These five categories are often (but not always) progressed to the following categories. First of all, an individual researcher should acquire research skills. You need to identify the required skills for yourself and find someone with skills from different expertise. Acquiring research competence also includes showing your skills to colleagues, critically affecting the next category, the Utilising existing networks. The existing network facilitates smoother communication with research targets, connects you to key stakeholders, and fills the skill gaps. The next fundamental individual challenge is to understand stakeholders’ values. The value in our context does not imply the simple notion of trade-offs or give and take. Understanding value in a socially engaged art project must be construed in a holistic concept (Rokeach, 2008). In this context, the efforts to understand partners’ value can be viewed as “corresponding”, which is our theoretical background of human relationships (see more in Ingold, 2017). You may express empathy and respect to your partners by corresponding with stakeholders. In doing so, you can eventually build personal trust with your stakeholders.

Categories of challenge – Organisational context

    • Embracing diversity in the team
    • Mapping and managing stakeholders
    • Planning and executing communication strategy
    • Setting and achieving project goals

The Organisational challenges/tasks are performed alongside the Individual contexts. The diversity in a team enhances creativity (Runco & Pritzker, 2020) which is particularly crucial for a socially engaged art project. As we introduced in previous sections, mapping stakeholders at the beginning of a project is the starting point for effectively managing them. Then, researchers can plan and execute communication strategies depending on the initial stakeholder relationships. The communication strategy should consider Individual challenges, such as stakeholders’ research competence. For example, some partners may feel stressed or have limited access to computers. In this case, researchers must consider visiting them in person or calling them to collaborate smoothly. Lastly, it is essential to set the project goals by considering each stakeholder’s value early to keep team members on the same page. However, stakeholders’ power, needs, and interests are likely to change as a project progresses. Therefore, being flexible regarding the methods and project goals is equally important.