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Figure 5. The longitudinal course of a partner’s involvement in three contrasting couple relationships (Levinger, 1980, p.522)

5.1 Our relationship, and their processes

The complex challenges involved in building a team to work on a SEAP can seem quite overwhelming but, by considering this process in terms of any new relationship (social, work-related, business or even romantic), we can prepare and plan for how that relationship can develop – hopefully managing any ups or downs, or the potential for tensions or possible diversions at each stage. 

We hope to present a structure for how a new partnership follows a familiar path which begins with experiences of association and concludes with an acknowledgement of where transformation occurs. It’s possible, therefore, to use a simple tool which has been designed to mirror four distinct phases that a relationship tends to follow, and this is something that can be used to structure and manage the process through which a SEAP team can come together in the development of their new project.

This tool builds on an idea that interpersonal relationships are works-in-progress, and that they’re things which involve making, growing, giving and taking between each of the individuals who are part of the team of people who come together. George Levinger was an academic and psychologist who wrote about relationships and helps us to understand the kinds of things which can contribute to their development – and to their eventual success or failure ​​(Kelley et al., 1983; Levinger, 1980).

He proposed five stages which any relationship moves through (Acquaintance, Build-up, Continuation, Deterioration, Ending – ABCDE) – and we’re particularly interested in the first parts of the process, especially since the early stages of building teams for SEAP work is focused upon building mutual connections and an awareness of each other so that progress can be built upon as the preparation of a project is carried out.

We identify two research partnerships by adapting Levinger’s relationship model to research project perspectives. Similar to Levinger’s explanation, the partnership develops through Association, Consolidation, Continuation, and Transformation. However, depending on whether partners identify future opportunities at the Transformation stage, the research partnership can either end at one project (Single-occasion partnership) or continuously collaborate on two or more projects (Sustainable partnership). The degree of involvement between partners continuously increases to a certain point, when partners become close friends.

Figure 6. The modified longitudinal research partnership in two contrasting occasions

5.2 The Relationship as process (ACCT) tool

Within the development of SEAP, there is a need to build relationships which are successful as a project is brought to life – so that once the project begins, a team’s interconnected values and motivations are at the heart of how it is carried out. It’s important to acknowledge that relationships are very rarely fixed or concrete, and are (as Levinger’s model demonstrates) always moving and almost always quite fluid. We can recognise in our own experience how personal relationships such as friendships can move or change, and in some cases how they might end for many different reasons. Our interpersonal partnerships aren’t ever simple and this is, as Levinger might suggest, part of what makes us human. Each phase of Levinger’s ABCDE model is connected to the larger process of a relationship and should be considered individually at the same time. 

For this unit, we make use of an adapted or redesigned version of Levinger’s model to reflect the unique context of SEAP. Our tool consists of four phases, and we position the relationship that’s developed over their course as something which leads up to the project taking place or being carried out.

The four phases of our ACCT tool are:

  • Association

Within this phase, a relationship will be in its earliest moments and there might be some uncertainty especially if working with new partners. Individuals might be meeting others for the first time, so will be invested in finding connections between them, and using these as the basis for building a working relationship. 

  • Consolidation

Once initial links are made within a team, it becomes possible to explore and identify common goals, and to share motivations for why individuals want to be part of a project addressing common objectives.

  • Continuation

For this phase, trust becomes an increasingly important thing to consider – as it’s at this point that a project starts to take shape, and where its common goal, outcomes or desired impact will be developed. Individuals in a team may be presented with opportunities to take on roles and accept responsibilities for aspects of a project and how activities may be carried out so that a project will be successfully executed. 

  • Transformation

Once the goals of a project are established, and the team is ready to begin the actual work that’s involved, this phase presents an opportunity to reflect on the process of development and how (or whether) things have changed in the team. Roles or responsibilities can be formalised to acknowledge a project’s formal structure and to reflect the activities through which it will be carried out – and it’s this moment of actualisation or realisation which helps transform a disconnected group of individuals into a team, founded on a sustainable relationship.

Figure 7. The Relationship as process (ACCT) tool

Using the ACCT tool has helped us to understand how and why people are motivated to work on SEAP, and it’s given us insights into people’s individual experiences as part of a bigger team so we can start to think about which might be the most important factors in trying to make any team successful (and sustainable).

Each phase in the ACCT process will usually consist of a range of activities for dialogue (such as meetings, group chat etc.), within which team members can bring ideas for discussion, where decisions can be made which explore and develop possible directions for a project, and which highlight the potential for success and what impacts might result from it. At this point, those within the team are usually the people who will also work to carry out a project. However, this isn’t always the case, and sometimes people can join or leave as the relationship develops through each phase of the process described by the tool.

5.3 Tool application in case study 1

In Unit 1, we were introduced to Fatima, who, after graduation from University, now works in the Museum / Gallery sector and is keen to use arts-based methods within her role and, in particular, sees a value in developing SEAP with her colleagues to connect to people within the community who live and work nearby. As we mentioned, Fatima has had the experience of SEAP during her time as a student, and the process of how she developed her own SEAP is what we’ll focus on now and in the next Unit. 

Here’s Fatima introducing the background to how she came to work on her own SEAP as a student:

In the period leading up to contacting others to be involved, Fatima reflects on the advice she’s received from her tutors and the material that she’s read so that she can cultivate a sense of what the project hopefully means for her, and also how it might take on new or different meaning for others. There could be a range of possible contributions which complement the ideas Fatima has developed for socially-engaged arts’ approaches and, by being as open as possible she realises that the potential impacts of the project will be strengthened by taking onboard everyone’s ideas and not trying to immediately take the lead.

Activity 5.1

The Activity in unit 5 is to understand how to use the Relationship as process tool. Fatima’s case (the story of a student we have described so far) is provided as your reference.

Here is a summary of Fatima’s story so far. 

Fatima thinks the youth community is facing mental difficulties due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. Inspired by a guest lecturer, Fatima would like to initiate a project. Fatima has the basic research skills for mental health issues (e.g. interview, data analysis – qualitative & quantitative, took optional modules in the psychology department) and an interest in socially engaged art methods on the mental health issue. So, she brainstormed her idea by sketching and doing preliminary research. However, Fatima feels she needs more skills and a network to realise the concept. So, she contacted her tutor and received feedback on her idea. In the meantime, her tutor advised her to contact the guest lecturer and get further information about socially engaged art and the project. 

The first part of Fatima’s story is demonstrated in figure below.

You do not need to consider every detail of the Three contexts we introduced previously. However, it is helpful to think about the task for each ACCT phase through questions such as what are the environmental challenges now? What do you know? Who are your existing networks to support the idea? How can you contact existing and new people for the project? These questions facilitate the planning of tasks in each phase. We will introduce the Checklist useful for identifying tasks by phases in later units.

So, what is your project? How will you initiate the project? Please write down as much as possible for the Association phase of your project on the blank form provided below, or use your drawings on paper. The rest of the phases (Consolidation, Continuation and Transformation) will be completed in the next Activity. You can also download the editable PowerPoint slide in this link.

EVALUATION | True/False, Fill in the blank

Now that you have watched the MOOC and reflected on its content, try to answer the questions in the quiz to complete this lesson.