University of Edinburgh: Curating our narrative
This programme gave us a moment to recognise our commonality with one another and to use this to create a shared narrative for the future of our School. In working with Invisible Grail, we were able to tap into our creativity and find an innovative way to express our identity in ways we couldn’t have imagined when we first set out.
Professor Charlotte Clarke
Former Head of School, School of Health in Social Science
University of Edinburgh
In October 2019 a new art installation – a larger-than-life coat – was unveiled as the culmination of how the School experience the purpose and impact of what they do within the University and beyond, into their wider community.
Over a period of six months, Invisible Grail worked with Professor Charlotte Clarke, former Head of the School of Health in Social Science, and her colleagues at the University of Edinburgh to enable them to curate a shared narrative for their School.
Key to this project was bringing people together to nurture a shared vision of how they saw and expressed themselves, now and for the future. This included challenging preconceptions of the School, championing their role in unravelling stigmas and making progressive and important steps forward in Health in Social Sciences.
Their School narrative was to include multiple stakeholders, ranging from other Schools in the College, other Colleges in the University, current and potential students, peers across the sector, to policy makers and the public. Most of all though, the narrative needed to be meaningful and resonate for the people who belonged to and made up this community.
In designing this programme, we applied some of our most creative approaches to professional development, and with Charlotte’s trust, we opened up the conversation with colleagues in the School to encourage them to breathe life into their most expressive and expansive ideas.
Key principles of confidentiality were built in from the very first moment. Ground rules were established and became the foundation of the four days across the programme.
To develop and curate the narrative of the School, activities were designed to deliver these intended outcomes:
- A curated and developed narrative which is both iterative and sustainable
- The need to consider the School’s key alliances in planning for the impact of the narrative
- An interconnected balance between narrating the future, as well as the past: reflections feeding into the future; a balance between narrating what we ‘do’ with what we ‘achieve’
- Shared leadership in practice as a driving force in the School
- Inclusion of all academic and professional services colleagues in curating the narrative
The first day took place following this invitation which was sent to all colleagues in the School:
You are invited to participate in
Tales of the Unexpected
Not Roald Dahl
The School of Health in Social Science at Edinburgh University
In 2018 we’re a School to be reckoned with. We’re here and we’re thriving.
The School is a collection of dedicated teachers, researchers and passionate practitioners with second-to-none administrative support doing first class work. So, what is the story we should tell the world?
Come along to this programme devised and facilitated by Invisible Grail, which will help us identify and tell others about our narrative in creative ways. We will be working towards creating an engaging and arresting articulation of our story which we plan to curate and exhibit in some form or another (to be decided by all who participate) at the end of the programme in the Autumn.
Friday 11 May, 12.15 to 4pm,
Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, High School Yards
RSVP: Head of School
The programme started with a facilitated discussion to unpick how colleagues wanted their audiences to see them, what they would like people to say about them, how they would like people to feel and what this all meant for their what they do day-to-day. This discussion was to be a focal point around which to base their narrative.
The experiential nature of the programme began when people arrived on the first morning.
To set the creative tone and conjure a sense that ‘anything is possible’, participants were given a small gift on arrival that they were instructed not to open. When invited to sit at the tables in the room, participants opened their gifts to reveal a flower, and were asked to acknowledge the colour of the flower before placing it in a vase in the centre of the table.
Over the course of the following days, facilitated techniques encouraged participants to develop metaphors and articulate their vision for what they wanted to tell the world, far beyond the scope of normal impact statements. They expressed their ideas in ways that would be understood and resonate with the wide range of stakeholders who will encounter their narrative.
As the aim of the programme was to create a narrative for the whole School, a Curator Group of interested colleagues took ownership of the process of engaging others who had not been able to join the first workshop. In doing, and working in partnership with Invisible Grail, they have brought alive a spectacular vision of an artefact which would express the School’s narrative:
There is a giant coat on a huge hanger suspended from the ceiling.
The coat is thick, warm, it could be a man’s or a woman’s, it is multi-coloured.
It hangs suspended but doesn’t touch the floor. The scale is important. It’s massive.
In the lining are sewn hundreds of names (the names of all the staff in the School with space to add newcomers).
Around the shoulders of the coat is wound a huge scarf that trails to and along the floor.
The Curator Group met on four occasions, with support from Invisible Grail facilitators, and commissioned a group of Masters students from Edinburgh College of Art to make the giant coat. At the end of the six-month period, a final workshop helped to develop further content for the narrative.
What’s been the outcome?
The programme revealed a strong sense of commonality between participants. This sense of collegiality has been borne out in their continued commitment and engagement to a new phase of the project that extends beyond the original brief.
The coat itself was unveiled in October 2019. This physical output from the programme is a demonstration of colleagues’ shared vision.
For the client, the programme and creative project were part of her final work as Head of the School, and demonstrate how the School has evolved to become a close-knit community with a common understanding, and tangible commitment by colleagues to their professions and the impact they have through their work.
All photography © Sam Sills