Our project values have emerged from and for the work we do. They are values that inform our thinking, practice, and sense of the project’s ethical commitments, but they are also informed by our practice and what we’ve come to recognise as being important in our work. Our understanding of these terms is shaped by our day-to-day working and project interactions. They are living values that do important work for us in helping us to set priorities, establish frameworks and draw boundaries. But rather than understanding our values simply as guides for the project, we see them as being in an ongoing relationship with our activities, intertwined and in negotiation with the work we do.
We discussed our values for months before settling on them at the project’s mid-point by reflecting on the methods we have employed, the work we have created, and what’s gone well, as well as the problems we have encountered. While it has sometimes felt like we were taking a long time to decide upon something that is fundamental to the project, we came to realise that we needed to establish our practice, relationships of trust, and priorities in order to recognize and understand the values that underpin them. In selecting our values, we are indebted to CLEAR Lab as we adapted their clearly documented process for choosing their project values when working on our own. Feedback and insight from project partners and participants have also played a key role in shaping these values and bringing our project priorities into focus.
Care is a capacious term that invokes a range of emotions and behaviours: one feels care and does care. It is frequently associated with feelings of empathy, compassion, concern, and actions of responsiveness, support, and reciprocity. Care’s capaciousness as a concept means it is helpfully flexible, but its indistinction can lead to misuse with self-serving, careless, or even harmful behaviours labelled ‘care’. In LBO we seek to avoid this kind of unconsidered, platitudinous care, focusing on the careful labour required to enact responsible, respectful, reciprocal relations. We deploy this project value carefully and self-consciously, always asking if, and most importantly, exactly how the work we do embodies a commitment to assisting the communities and environments we work with and in. In practice, this means engaging with one another, project partners and the communities they serve alert to power structures and vulnerabilities. It means developing ways of working that prioritise mutual flourishing while remaining attuned to the increased responsibilities that come with privilege (this responsibility leads to our third value, ‘accountability’, outlined below). It means paying attention to our team members’ and partners’ embodied and mental wellbeing, our workloads, obligations and interactions, and considering the multiple, intersecting risks of the work we do and minimising the possibility of harm wherever possible. It also means listening when alerted to potential or existing harms, even when those are being communicated in subtle or indirect ways, and considering the accessibility of our practice at every stage and working to develop research environments and habits that make participation not only possible, but comfortable and rewarding.
As we’ve discovered, research that prioritises care is hard work. It is labour and time intensive. It’s complicated and frequently goes wrong. But as much as care-focused research methods highlight problems, they provide the affirmative ways to repair those problem. As much as they complicate the work, they also clarify it by providing ethical goals and guidelines that help us gauge the ‘success’ of our work. Care provides an alternative metric for success, one based on safety, satisfaction and support, rather than academic outputs and project deliverables.
Creativity is the driving force that moves the project forward. Our project uses participatory making experiments – whether that be co-creating a theatre production, virtual gallery, museum exhibit or immersive experience – to open up conversations with our project partners and participants about experiences of, and future possibilities for, disability, health and care. We understand that creativity (creative action and creative thought) can shift the ‘horizons of the possible’, challenge normative, ableist and consensus thinking and enable us to imagine other ways of of being and doing in the world.
We understand creating as an ethical action that requires openness and criticality in equal measure. As a result, we prioritise self-reflexive, collaborative, critical creativity. Often, this practice involves a lot of questions: What are we creating and why? What tools and methods are we employing and why? Who does our creation represent (or fail to represent)? Who is this creation for? What might it do in the world? Who might it affect and how?
Our team comprises people from different disciplinary and professional backgrounds: some of us are ‘creatives’ – artists and makers – while others come from critical thinking disciplines in the humanities and research management roles. Our work together has helped us realise that these approaches are not distinct and that we are all engaged in creative acts whether we are making something tangible, facilitating the research process, reading, talking or thinking together. Creativity occurs at all stages of the making process, whether we are making theatre work, designing a digital platform, or writing something for our website, and it comes from multiple perspectives, including embodied and lived experience, critical arguments drawn from theoretical literature, and practical experimentation. All of these perspectives inform and spark the generation and development of ideas, discussion and critique, production and reflection.
Creativity is necessarily an act of thinking critically about the world or a particular context, because we have to think critically to imagine other possibilities. Recognising this allows us to understand that creative practice enables, and is a form of, criticality and their entanglement is essential for the work we want LBO to do.
Accountability refers to ‘the actions that enact our beholdenness’ to others (CLEAR Lab book, 12). The ‘us’ here is the LBO and Immersive Networks core team, and accountability is about an ongoing and continuous awareness that we and our work exist in relationship to others, that our work will affect others, and (especially) that we need to consider these effects carefully and adjust what we do to so as to make sure the outcomes are enabling, affirmative, and careful. When deciding upon our project values, we discussed several terms that contained within their meaning a clear sense of obligation regarding respectful and ethical relationships with others: responsibility, reciprocity, humility, respect, commitment. These are all important to us. Our understanding of accountability is underpinned by a sense of humility (being open to learning from others), respect for different forms of knowledge and ways of knowing, especially those that emerge from experience of bodily difference or disability, and commitments to particular actions to maintain good relations with one another and our partners.
Accountability immediately raises the questions of who are we accountable to, and who is our work for? Why is it worth doing? What right(s) do we have to do the work we’re planning and whose permission do we need? There are some straightforward answers to these questions and some more complicated ones. We are accountable to our partner organisations, which means that the work that we do needs to align with, support – and be determined by – their priorities, plans and desires; that we treat them with respect and care; that we value their time and expertise and don’t waste their time, energy or resources. We are accountable to the communities our partners serve, and again, our work must serve the interests and needs and priorities of these communities.
Accountability means that we prioritise accessibility: we commit to communicating in a variety of ways and providing choices and alternatives; to paying attention to the spaces we work in, changing them, or moving to other spaces when this is more appropriate; to being aware of power dynamics and histories of oppression or exclusion and working to mitigate their ongoing effects. And we are also accountable to the wider possible audiences of our work, those we may not know or anticipate. So we have to keep asking: who might be touched by our work? How might it touch them? And how can we ensure that it doesn’t cause harm? Sometimes accountability might mean taking on a killjoy role, asking uncomfortable questions of ourselves and others and being willing to inconvenience or be inconvenienced if something needs to change. It also means that our obligations to our project partners and the communities they serve don’t end when the project ends: accountability means staying in good relationships with those we work with and a commitment over time to tracking how our work travels and where it ends up.
Our values signal our commitments, but we acknowledge that they are works-in-progress. This is not a contradiction however, because research is itself always work-in-progress. Understanding and practising these values and their complexity is central to everything we want LBO to do.