From talking to organizations small and large who are currently embarked on major change initiatives, I have realised that there is a pressing need for new research in this area, which might inform both policymakers and arts organizations alike. The original aim of ACE's Transform funding was to provide a national pilot to explore how organizational development funding could help a small number of identified organizations become more 'resilient' through a process of change-related action research. But with ACE currently engaged in its own internal change initative (aka downsizing), it seems that the opportunities for knowledge exchange that could have come from Transform have been vastly diminished. So this is a plea for the four other organizations currently funded through Transform along with West Yorkshire Playhouse to share the results of their learning.
West Yorkshire Playhouse is currently halfway through its change initative and it has clearly already been a challenging but exciting and positive process. Working alongside the change agents at the Playhouse, we are trying to tell the story of the process of change, rather than evaluate its outputs. This has provided a refreshing approach to evaluation, and in my opinion is one of the key advantages of taking an action research approach to change. But it has also created challenges for the funders regarding grant release, raising a legitimate question about how to evaluate and fund a process rather than a tangible output.
I have also been struck by the role that stories and metaphors can play in the change process, and was interested to read about an approach called Appreciative Inquiry, which aims to create a momentum for and celebrate change by generating positive knowledge about the organization, therefore representing a possibility-based model as opposed to the all-too-common deficit-based model of change. So the lesson to take away here is to generate positive stories about your organization and create some strong, positive metaphors to describe and understand it. This will help staff to rally around the artistic vision and increase their sense of pride and motivation.
The academic literature on change management argues that change should be evolutionary and incremental, and that in post-modern organizations, it should be internally driven and shared across the organization (reflecting Hewison and Holden's call for distributed leadership). But it seems to me that in the arts sector, change generally seems to be externally driven and revolutionary, often generated by a crisis such as a loss of core funding, which forces organizations to change. This is hardly surprising when arts organizations are dangerously under-capitalized, funded on short-term funding agreements and subject to sweeping changes of direction in cultural policy. But all this does highlight the need for a more grown-up and joined-up dialogue between funders, academics and arts organizations, so that the organizational change that is increasingly vital is understood by all key stakeholders and empowered to work as effectively as possible.