With each small team of citizens and professionals, we aim to create ‘Elephants spaces’. These are spaces where everyone feels relaxed and informal. They can then leave their ‘labels’ at the door.
The Elephants Trail starts with exploring and building relationships between people from very different backgrounds and life experiences. Getting to know each other enables discussion about power, inequality and the most difficult issues.
Each team then shares influence and makes decisions together. This includes deciding what they will work on. The Elephants Trail makes use of approaches such as Deep Democracy. This means ‘leaning’ into situations where there are differences and tensions and saying what needs to be said, rather than using power and rank.
The teams actively work together for practical change on an issue that directly affects the lives of people with the hardest lives. The aim is to create long-term solutions in which people believe and trust.
Along the way, the teams learn together about not only the issue and each other, but also how to work together effectively. Some people have described their Elephants experience as ‘life changing’.
We are part of an interconnected whole: The Elephants Trail seeks to connect the contributions of a wide range and diversity of people. One principle of the Elephants Trail is that diversity of people is important for high-quality thinking. We try to:
• use different ways to contribute and learn to allow for individual styles
• discuss openly how people from very different backgrounds can connect
• ensure diversity in everything, including leadership and facilitation
• continually review and identify perspectives that may be missing
People share a vision: The vision of the Elephants Trail is of people with lived experience and professionals working together to tackle severe and multiple disadvantage (when clusters of problems happen in people’s lives).
People are resourceful with many strengths: One principle of the Elephants Trail is that everyone has strengths that are needed to produce solutions. We try to:
• discuss everyone’s hopes and fears, and what the ‘elephants in the room’ might be
• spend time getting to know each other as people
• identify what skills, knowledge and networks each person has to offer
• discover what learning or support citizens and professionals need to work together
• celebrate achievements together as they occur!
Open, trusting relationships enable effective dialogue: One principle of the Elephants Trail is that good relationships are crucial; they need time, respect and trust. We try to:
• take time to really get to know each other as people (not labels). Build respect, trust and care, not “hi and bye”
• set rules for behaviour that are checked frequently
• build a shared purpose and vision, while appreciating uncertainty and different perspectives
• develop bonds that can outlast the project (who is the glue to keep everyone together?)
• see issues in terms of relationships, rather than structures or services
Leadership is collaborative and promoted at every level: One principle of the Elephants Trail is that there are different types of knowledge, and that lived experience is valuable. We try to:
• identify how the current system has positive and negative impacts
• find out about what is already going on to make things better
• make it feel safe to admit biases and to try new things
• use activities that encourage creativity and reflection
• clearly value both lived experience and social knowledge
Feedback and collective learning inform adaptation: One principle of the Elephants Trail is that it is important to test new ideas and to learn. We try to:
• test the problem defined, the aims set and the processes to achieve them
• explore things that are difficult, with no expectation of where we will end up
• highlight that the only silly idea is the one that is not shared
• test ideas for real, and learn from them, before moving on
• be open to continually learn, adapt and refine from what does and does not work
Power is shared, and equality of voice actively promoted: One principle of the Elephants Trail is that all types of power must be shared, and unequal power addressed. We try to:
• ensure that everyone leaves their personal agendas, badges and labels at the door
• define the problem at hand all together
• put the hard conversations at the start and don’t shy away
• be fully open about information and limits to what can be achieved
• share ownership, leadership and support between everyone. Support the people closest to the problem to lead
• use meeting spaces and formats comfortable for citizens
Decision-making is devolved: On the Elephants Trail, local people decide what they will work on, and then work with professionals, when appropriate, to make decisions together.
Accountability is mutual: On the Elephants Trail, there is no failure, just learning that leads to system improvements and change. We try to:
• evaluate the process and outcomes as we go along – and not wait until the end!
• check anything that we feel we have achieved against what we aimed to do
• highlight things that did not work and what we learned from this
• recognise things that were unplanned or unexpected
We also try to:
• be clear who all the audiences are, including any new ones that have become appropriate
• tell the story of the group’s journey
• report what we have achieved in different ways to different audiences
• arrange to monitor how things go after the end of the project
People are viewed as resourceful and bringing strengths: Creating the conditions through which people facing disadvantage can develop agency, and which they are fairly remunerated for the resources, strengths, insight and energy they bring to the project.
Accountability is mutual: Creating noticeable shifts in power and control in relation to decision making, individual choice on the part of people facing severe and multiple disadvantage, ensuring people facing disadvantage have greater control of resources which have allocated for their benefit, changing funder behaviour and power dynamics between funder and funded projects.
Leadership is collaborative and promoted at every level: Shifting perspectives on what is recognised as expertise and what is seen to be of value and worthy of remuneration. Ensuring everyone involved in the project is working in conditions where they have choice and can develop agency.
Power – In RAPAR we recognise that Power differences exist and, within this economic period, grow. They are material and ideological, formal and informal, and they both inhibit and complicate participatory processes. Power is expressed within physical environments through human activity that occurs inside of structural and organisational hierarchies. It is we, human beings, who generate and reproduce power relations through regulations and the policies that are designed to apply those regulations within our service development and delivery. At the same time, it is also we who can interrogate, challenge and even alter those power relations within our individual and group interactions – but, first of all, we have to decide that we want to make changes happen.