Category Archives: Business Economics and Informatics

How can we be accommodating of neurodiversity in dance?

This is an interview with Professor of Organisational Psychology, Almuth McDowall, that appeared in One Dance Magazine UK.  

Jessica Lowe spoke to former classical ballet dancer, Almuth McDowall, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck. Almuth specialises in diversity and inclusion, occupational health psychology and professional competence at work. 

In your experience and work, how might a neurodiverse dancer be experiencing dance differently to someone who is ‘neurotypical’?  

Can I start by clarifying what we mean by ‘neurodiversity’? The term originates from the work of hugely influential sociologist Judy Singer. Her writing argued to frame all human functioning as biodiversity, including how we think, feel and act. There are conditions (or neurominorities, or neurotypes) that make people different, such as autism, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or mental health issues. Judy’s work encouraged everyone to look at strengths, not just deficits. I suspect that many dancers are ADHD-ers – hands up who was sent to dance school because they would not sit still? A dancer who has a different neurotype might be particularly good at experiencing the world in a sensory way – hearing music differently or more poignantly, having a real need to express through movement and not through words. 

From your own work, can you give some examples of how the dance sector can be thinking about, and accommodating neurodiversity? 

A good place to start is your own observations – how do you observe that dancers are doing their best work? What are good practices that help everyone? One of the features of a neurodivergent mind (although I don’t like this word too much!) is great sensory sensitivity. A cluttered, noisy studio where music mixes with voices can be distracting. A calm environment with good lighting benefits everyone. Regular breaks are important, too, as is giving people the opportunity to take solitary time out – their social batteries might be empty.  

Our research shows that there is a big gap between what people think neurodiversity is, and what it means in practice. Take the example of dyslexia. Most think that it’s about reading and writing difficulties. We find common challenges are forgetting things, self-organisation and managing stress levels. So, a holistic approach to dance and education is vital. We should ensure that dance educators and leaders have some knowledge and know when to consult professionals as appropriate. 

What advice would you give to those seeking to make their dance business, school, or organisation more inclusive and accessible for neurodiverse dance students or professionals? Where might somebody start? 

  • Engage a specialist for introductory training.  
  • Don’t make assumptions about why someone is not performing – forgetting a rehearsal time might not mean they don’t want to do it; perhaps their mind finds it hard to remember. 
  • Put genuine inclusion at the heart of your practice. What benefits neurodiverse dancers benefits everyone. 
  • Ensure that you canvass what people’s needs are and listen attentively. Commit to action plans and put these into practice. 
  • Remember your legal obligations – the Equality Act 2010 says that when someone reports a protected characteristic (and several neurodiverse conditions are recognized disabilities) then the environment must adapt to the individual. Not the other way around. 

In your experience, what might be some simple approaches that we as a sector could adopt to better accommodate people’s individual differences?  

Greater schedule flexibility, both formally and informally, paired with clear communication and considered scheduling of work. Often, rehearsal times are changed at short notice, and casting decisions announced with little lead time. Our research has shown that this needs careful consideration to make the sector more inclusive. 

What kinds of support are available for dancers who suspect they might be neurodiverse? 

It can be difficult as an adult to get a diagnosis, as waiting lists on the NHS are long. Think about a private diagnosis – might your employer or school even pay for this? An alternative consideration could be a cognitive assessment to profile your strengths and weaknesses. This is done by a psychologist. They can recommend onward referrals, and specialist providers will link in with government schemes such as ‘Access to Work’ (see link below). A few sessions with a specialist workplace strategy coach can be beneficial.  

I am less keen on some of the self-diagnostic tools out there (although we are developing a better one!) and please all be cautious with non-professional mental health advice on TikTok! 

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How studying in my 40s gave me much more than new knowledge and skills

Fabien Littel did an MSc in Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck. Here, in a blog post that originally appeared on his personal site in October, he talks about his experience studying whilst in his forties. 

Fabien sitting in front of an open laptop looking at the screen with a dog sitting on his lap.

It’s only been two weeks since I handed in my dissertation, the final step in completing my MSc in Organisational Psychology, at the end of a life-changing 2-year adventure. It’s only been two weeks, and it will be another good few weeks before I get my final results and know if I’ve been awarded the Masters. Still, I already know just how much I have learned and how I developed a new perspective on work, and life in general, which no grade won’t take away. I have often used the term “life-changing” to refer to this experience, very mindful of how cliché and over-hyped it may come across. It is however merely a fact: through these studies, my life has changed. I am now embarking on an academic path I would have only dreamt of a few years ago, and most importantly have developed the courage and confidence to understand, accept and express my individual beliefs and views on the world around me, and to move away from the comfort and convenience of general blind acceptance.

From jigsaw puzzles to research journals
Looking back at September 2020, why did I suddenly decide to get back to university? My light-hearted answer to this question is usually that, during the first few months of covid-19 lockdowns, I had developed a dangerous addiction to jigsaw puzzles, and needed to find something else to occupy my free time. This was only partly a joke; I had genuinely built a large collection of jigsaw puzzles, was on them before, after – and sometimes during – work

(I’d argue that it helped me focus my mind…), and they frequently invited themselves in my dreams too. Aside from that, I was increasingly interested in what motivates people to work, what makes them feel good about their job, and what might they feel more conflicted about. The pandemic played a part in this too, as companies had to take responsibility for their employees in a way they never had before, and many employees had opportunities to contribute, in one way or another, to the response to this crisis, and gain a new sense of purpose in the work they were doing. I started reading on the topic, and gradually felt that I wanted to develop some more in-depth foundational knowledge to shape my own thinking. From there on, it became a relatively quick process, and probably just a matter of days until I enrolled onto my MSc. Organisational Psychology quickly appeared like the most appropriate choice for my area of interest, and to build on my first Masters in HR by approaching work from a different angle. And the choice of university was quite straightforward too, once I had narrowed down the options for part time online learning. Birkbeck, which I ended up joining, stood out with its mission of supporting lifelong learning, designing classes for people who study alongside work, and for its longstanding expertise in organisational psychology – a choice I never regretted, quite the opposite.

Learning about yourself while learning about others
The nature of the course and what we were studying meant that it enabled us not only to learn about careers and organisational behaviours of others, but also to reflect on our own. And this started quite early on, as we looked at career development, or employee motivation. A large part of the learning was about reading required lists of weekly research journals and additional material in support of essays and other work. And we weren’t short of additional recommendations from lecturers.

One of the first ones I took up was to read Herminia Ibarra’s book Working Identity. It provides a perspective on the sense of identity attached to people’s careers, and importantly how a change of direction and transition in one’s career can help reinvent this identity, or how Ibarra calls it, “becoming yourself”. She describes a process consisting of experimentations and sensemaking to define your new self, and a long process of transition made up of small steps, taking place through the course of several years. The book is illustrated with examples which bring to life these experiments, and steps people have taken to lay the foundations of a new career, and indeed reinvent themselves. It was a fascinating read, which I did just as I was beginning to envisage what a different second half of my career might look like, therefore couldn’t help seeing it both as a complement to the course, and a self-development book for myself. From that perspective, it made a great difference to read it when I did; while I was at first concerned about this perspective on career transition as taking years, requiring deep-level self-reflection and experimentation (especially when feeling a certain sense of urgency for change), it helped me take a more measured and long term view on a process which I am still only just probably half way through, and helped me come to terms with the fact that you shouldn’t just expect to wake up one day with a clear view of where your career, and life more broadly, should go, but that it requires time and effort.

“Resistance is fertile”
From the very start of the MSc, we were told that one the main skills we should develop was our critical thinking, and that we needed to find our voice. At first, this might have seemed like a contradiction as we were also told to base our writing and arguments on existing research and scholar literature – so how can we be critical, and find our own voice, if we can only repeat what has been said before? It turns out we were vastly underestimating the spectrum of ideas and perspectives already out there, and still learning the art of taking existing views, organising them and building on them in a way that becomes deeply personal to you (an art I am still working on…). The most energising and stimulating side of the reading we were doing was to read papers with opposing views and paradigms, particularly those highlighting the shortcomings and challenges with what had been seen and applied as most mainstream theories for decades. This came through particularly in a couple of modules, including one looking at selection and assessment, led by an inspiring lecturer who was committed to providing insights on not only the widely accepted theories and processes, but also the challenges of racism and social injustice which came with them, including issues such as racial bias in cognitive ability testing, and perpetuation of social inequalities via practices mostly developed through the lens of white western men.

Her teaching took inspiration from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, particularly in rejecting the “banking” view of education, whereby someone in position of power imparts the knowledge they are the custodian of, to others in a position of inferiority who are expected to receive and accumulate this knowledge. Instead, it advocates for co-creation of knowledge, which is something we experienced through this teaching. Of course, some concepts and ideas were presented and shared with us, however through discussions opened up by the lecturer, there was a clear acknowledgement and respect of everybody’s individual experiences, and how much these experiences contributed towards everyone’s learning, and provided much richer perspectives.

I was fortunate to also get the opportunity to join this lecturer, together with a couple of other students, in a collective writing project, which I hope to share more about in due course, and was for us an amazing way to bring co-creation to life, and constructively share and bring together our lived experiences and beliefs, in an environment of solidarity and support.

Becoming a truer version of myself
University, and studying in general, is a time for exploring, exchanging, and experimenting with ideas, developing your own thoughts and beliefs, your hopes for the world. Too often, for young people, this risks getting quashed when confronted with the reality of the corporate world. One of the benefits of experiencing this after twenty or so years working, observing the dynamics of corporations, getting satisfaction from achieving things and bearing the scars of burnout, is that it enables you to pause and revisit those twenty years with a little bit of distance, and some new perspectives. What it did for me, was to bring out views on the world of work, and systemic injustice or harmful phenomena, as well as hope for meaningful and fundamental change, which I would have briefly thought about and kept well hidden in the past. It gave me permission to think these ideas through, resist the sense of inevitability I had felt up until that point. Learning, reading and discussing new concepts such as neoliberalism, social constructionism, social Darwinism, moral disengagement, and many more, which wouldn’t have meant much two years ago, put names on what had only been until then passing thoughts, and opened up the door for even greater exploration, and knowledge that not only did others share similar thoughts, some had actually spent much of their careers defining and studying them.

Practically, unearthing and embracing these views throughout the MSc, together with conducting my research project on matters related to moral reasoning at work, contributed to me questioning in more depth my own contribution to the world through my work. This led to my decision to leave the defence industry (which I have talked about in an earlier article), and to find a way to continue on this academic path. “Following your dreams / passions” is an easy piece of advice often given, however remains a very privileged thing to do, when the reality of daily life and cost of living hits, and prevents many from exploring a path of their choosing. And so I do feel privileged that I was able to find arrangements I could put in place to enable me to follow this path further through starting a full-time PhD.

I am only a couple of weeks into my PhD with the University of Southampton, grateful, energised and excited about what the next three years will enable me to learn and do. And I remain very mindful that I wouldn’t have reached this point if it hadn’t been for the opportunity to conduct part-time studies online while working. Both the practicality of what Birkbeck had to offer, and the commitment and dedication of its staff to deliver a truly transformative learning experience, despite some of the challenges they may have faced in trying to safeguard this level of quality and acceptable conditions for themselves, is to be applauded. At times when careers are stretching longer and many people will look to transition part-way, enabling access to higher education to the working population should be seen for the powerful and genuinely life-changing impact it can have.

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“Who are we – and why are we here?” Corporate Purpose, and why it matters.

Profile of Prof. Sue KonzelmannProfessor Sue Konzelmann explores the history of corporate purpose and its potential to support small business growth.

Ever since the Limited Liability Act of 1855, UK companies opting for that status have effectively owned themselves, and in the process, acquired a legal identity of their own. This of course, begs the question of what sort of identity – or personality – that should be, an idea that underpins the concept of organisational branding, and the wider question of corporate purpose.

People who are obsessed with money, tick-box checking or espousing values that they do not – or cannot – live up to, tend to have rather limited popularity. It’s not so very different for businesses, with the likely effect of having a negative impact on customer retention and the ability to recruit the best talent, not to mention damaging effects on the environment in which they operate.

Corporate purpose encompasses many of the same questions; but it takes a wider perspective than organizational branding, including questions such as “what are businesses actually for; and how should they relate to society and the environment?”

Corporate purpose is not a new idea. The purposes of early companies were typically public, such as building cathedrals and universities and developing much-needed economic infrastructure including transportation and finance.  But by the turn of the twentieth century, for most businesses of the time, corporate purpose had shifted decisively from public to private.

Following the First World War, however, the question of whether companies should serve a public purpose was reawakened by the huge uncertainty accompanying a world depression, recurring financial crises, rapid social change, growing inequality and, of course, a devastating pandemic. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s hardly surprising that the question of corporate purpose is now firmly back on the agenda. It also strongly suggests that we didn’t get the answers right the last time we thought about it – and that we should do better this time round.

So, if it’s not about having a laser-like focus on money and doesn’t refer to window dressing, then what exactly is corporate purpose?

What it’s not may be easier to define. It’s certainly not a rigid ‘one size fits all’ approach; and perspectives often vary with role. The CEO of the world’s largest asset management company, BlackRock’s Larry Fink, for example, in his 2019 Letter to CEOs, suggested that:

“Purpose unifies management, employees, and communities. It drives ethical behavior and creates an essential check on actions that go against the best interests of stakeholders. Purpose guides culture, provides a framework for consistent decision-making, and, ultimately, helps sustain long-term financial returns for the shareholders of your company.”

In the same year, the Business Roundtable published its own perspective – a “new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation”, signed by 181 CEOs. In it they declared that companies should serve not only their shareholders, but also deliver value to their customersinvest in employeesdeal fairly with suppliers and support the communities in which they operate.

What then does all this mean, and why does it matter to SMEs? Well, with confidence in both politicians and businesses shakier than it’s been in at least half a century, defining how your business fits in is a great way to maintain the confidence of your customers, people and the places where you operate. That will do long term sustainable development no harm at all. And with SMEs often being more agile than their larger corporate counterparts, as well as contributing massively to both employment and the UK’s economy, this is clearly an area where smaller businesses can take the initiative, and drive forward positive change.

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Securing the Future of the NHS. A Missed Opportunity? Or Dodging the Issue?

Dr Walter Beckert’s research examines patient choice and competition in healthcare. He reflects on the future of the NHS and the Tory Leadership candidates’ proposals to secure it.

The NHS is an almost universally revered institution in the UK. It is built on principles of social justice and equity, and arguably it embodies the nation’s social conscience.

But as the constraints under which the UK as a society and economy operates dynamically evolve — reflecting years of austerity, Brexit, the COVID pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis –, so do our experiences with the NHS, as a healthcare provider, as a system preventing people from poverty due to ill health, and as our collective capacity to care. It is difficult to make GP appointments, patients face long waiting lists for many elective and also urgent procedures, A&E units are often overwhelmed, and the system exhibits outcomes that are middling relative to health systems of similarly developed countries. There is also recent evidence of an accelerated drive of patients toward self-funding some of their medical treatments, as a means of bypassing the constraints in the system. The system’s public funding (10.2% of GDP in 2019) lags behind the levels seen in countries like France (11.1% of GDP in 2019) and Germany (11.7% of GDP in 2019), with austerity leading to cumulative underinvestment in the NHS and social care over decades.

This raises the question of whether this system in its current form is fit for purpose, constitutes value-for-money, and how it could gainfully be adapted and improved.

One avenue of ongoing gradual change has been the marketization of the system. That process introduced competition between NHS providers and also with private providers. It also decentralized the system, devolving budgetary and organisational powers to the local level. And it introduced an element of mixed public – private funding. Research (Beckert and Kelly, Health Economics, 2021) shows that publicly funded patients may benefit from privately provided capacity, albeit often in a less than equitable manner.

Mixed systems exist elsewhere, e.g. Australia and the Netherlands. And along some metrics their outcomes tend to outperform the NHS’s outcomes. However, the pre-pandemic performance within different funding models was more varied than performance across the models. The funding model itself is not the issue. What matters is the organisation of the system and the level of funding.

The contenders for the Tory leadership — and hence the next Prime Minister – so far have barely touched the NHS crisis, notwithstanding calls for an honest assessment by the head of the NHS Confederation and others, let alone have they advanced any concrete proposals for change that go beyond opaque elimination of bureaucracy. Liz Truss’s apparent commitment to reverse the recent National Insurance rise, intended to bolster the system’s funding position, appears to even aggravate the funding constraints.

But funding is just one element of a necessary national discussion of what we do and reasonably can expect from a healthcare system.  Healthcare systems only affect around 20% of our own health: The rest is due to a wider determinant set of health, including social determinants such as the level of poverty, unemployment, stress, etc. Short-term focussed policy debates typically offer headline grabbing quick fixes. They fail to acknowledge that healthcare – like education – is a long-term investment in health, the economy, and broader societal welfare.

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Five ways to focus your growth as a small business

Dr Pamela Yeow is Assistant Dean (External Engagement) in Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics and teaches on the Help to Grow: Management Programme. She shares five tips for SMEs to accelerate their growth.

People make your business, and this is even more true for small businesses, where people are your business. In the midst of the great resignation prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than half of businesses that are reporting a worker shortage unable to meet demands (ONS, 2021), it is getting increasingly difficult to find the right employees for the right positions.

While the idea of trying to grow your business in the midst of our post-Brexit, post-lockdown, cost of living crisis might seem daunting, there are steps you can take today to start moving in the right direction. Here are five suggestions on where to begin.

1. Authentic leadership

Leadership is crucial in all businesses. Positive leadership is not just for those right at the top of the tree, but relevant to all positions at all levels. People look to leaders for direction, for strategy, and for reassurance when things are uncertain. Employees want to know that they are respected and appreciated, and also heard. Consider how you can develop clear, consistent communications to support and reassure your teams.

2. Develop partnerships and networks

Partnerships, relationships and networks are important for business growth and development. It is important to continue creating and renewing industry relationships, but have you considered developing partnerships and establishing networks in the wider community? Universities and colleges, for example, can work with businesses to develop internships or knowledge transfer partnerships.

3. Knowing your strengths

Most of us cannot be everything to everyone (we do try!). Having a clear understanding of what your business stands for is always a strength. Try asking your colleagues what they think their strengths are. Sometimes these can come as a surprise to the senior leadership team.

4. Values and purpose

Increasingly, businesses are expected to have a clear purpose and employees are voting with their feet if their values aren’t aligned with their organization. Knowing your purpose and values enables employees to proactively relate and engage with the business.

5. Flexibility and agility

As a small or medium sized business, one major advantage is your agility and flexibility. With greater accessibility to senior management within SMEs, this means that staff can share new ideas quickly and embed new suggestions even quicker. Consider how accessible your team is today. How could you communicate to staff that you’re open to new ideas?

Keen to grow your business?

The Help to Grow: Management Programme is a 12-week course that offers 50 hours of practical business leadership and strategy training, with 1:1 business mentoring, peer-learning networks in a hybrid (face-to-face and online) format. This programme is specifically for business owners and senior leaders operating in small and medium sized businesses who want to grow.

Register for the Help to Grow: Management Programme and start creating a plan for your next stage of growth!

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Celebrating our Summer of Sport: In Conversation with Professor Geoff Walters

Headshot of Geoff Walters, Executive DeanWith the Lionesses roaring to victory in the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games in full swing, summer 2022 is set to be a fantastic summer of sport. We sat down with Professor Geoff Walters, Executive Dean of the School of Business, Economics and Informatics to discuss his research and teaching in sport management and the work still to do to promote diversity and inclusion in sport at all levels.

 

Tell us how you got into researching and teaching on sport management

I initially joined Birkbeck as a researcher in the Football Governance Research Centre in 2003, which at the time was at the forefront of research into the governance of the football industry and the supporters trust movement. Birkbeck was also the first to launch an MSc in Sports Management, so it was an exciting place to come and study for my PhD, which focused on the football industry. At that time, academic research on governance in sport, and the teaching of sport management, was in its infancy and so coming to Birkbeck was a great opportunity.

Can you give us an example of how research in this area has an impact on the world of sport?

My colleague Dr Richard Tacon and I started looking at organisational governance (boards) in 2010 and realised there was not a great deal written on this at the time. We have looked specifically at the UK context, trying to understand how policy shapes board roles, primarily in National Governing Bodies of Sport in the UK. Through sector-wide reports, in-depth case studies, workshops and training, we have helped to raise the level of public debate, improve organisational practice and more recently, through our involvement with the Diversity in Sport Leadership project with UK Sport and Sport England, contributed to greater diversity and inclusion within boards across many different sports.

Sport has traditionally been a male dominated industry – what more do you think needs to be done to increase inclusive leadership in sports?

There have been significant changes in the sporting sector due to the Sports Governance Code that was introduced in 2016. This mandated minimum gender diversity requirements on the Board of any organisation funded by UK Sport or Sport England. All funded bodies also have to implement a Diversity Action Plan. These changes have accelerated inclusion within the sector, which at board level, has historically lacked diversity. There are also things that we at Birkbeck are seeking to do. This year, we are committing to a pledge with Women in Football by hosting bi-annual career events for female students interested in the football industry alongside our annual Birkbeck Women in Sport ScholarshipNevertheless, there are still some parts of the sports industry (e.g. within professional team sports) where there is a lack of representation at board level. There is also a need for more understanding of power relations within sport (and sport organisations) and how they construct gender and race. These are important issues to address so that representation is not seen as merely a box that needs ticking.

How do you think sport can make a positive influence in society today?

I think sport is dichotomous. Yes, on the one hand it can make a positive difference to people’s lives, supporting their development or having health benefits for example. However, this requires joined up Government policy and not simply the usual platitudes about the role of sport without real commitment to supporting positive change. I think this goes for sporting events also – the legacy of the London Olympics for example has not really delivered on much of what it promised in many areas such as sporting participation and creating a healthier nation. Perhaps too much is expected of sporting events, but with competitive bids requiring a strong narrative and certain nations still using sport events as a way to exercise soft power or greenwashing/sportwashing, then the positive influence of sport events will remain a divisive topic.

Any final messages to our sports people over the next few weeks?

Good luck, and I hope you can replicate the success of the England Women’s team!

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Management Consultancy and Organizational Change: Are you up for the challenge?

Each year, students on the MSc Management Consultancy and Organisational Change work directly with major clients of PA Consulting on a variety of challenging consultancy projects.

A unique aspect of Birkbeck’s MSc Management Consultancy and Organisational Change programme is that students have the option to complete the Consultancy Challenge in place of a traditional dissertation or research project.

Partnering with PA Consulting, the global innovation and transformation consultancy, students on the Consultancy Challenge work with PA’s major clients on a range of projects across an intense twelve-week period. For these students, it is an opportunity to deliver solutions to real problems that clients face, reflecting the work of management consultants, and experiencing a unique journey alongside team members who all offer different skills and knowledge.

For the 2021 academic year, students formed two teams, each tasked with solving a problem in a large, complex organisation. The first team completed a knowledge governance project for a large UK animal charity. The second team completed a project advising a regulatory organisation in the medical field on implementing hybrid working.

Dr David Gamblin, programme director and module convenor of the Consultancy Challenge, said: “It was a joy to see the students in action over the twelve-week consulting cycle, from initial scoping of the briefs and defining the problem with their clients, to the final presentation of deliverables. The students tackled two challenging projects, put learning into practice, and ultimately delivered meaningful outputs for their clients.”

Throughout the project, each student team is mentored by a consultant from PA, who provides support and guidance, as well as assurance that the work is of a standard that PA would be proud of.

The consulting cycle culminated with the student teams presenting their final analyses and recommendations, which were met with positive reactions from the clients, PA consultants, and Birkbeck supervisors. The clients highlighted the “hard work and professionalism” of the students, and they were impressed with the practical advice that was offered.

The 2022 Consultancy Challenge officially kicked-off on 25 April 2022 with students working on two new client projects. If you think you are up for the challenge in future years, have a look at our Management Consultancy and Organisational Change programme page, or contact David Gamblin to learn more.

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Changing the stories we tell about creativity

Jamie Hannon graduated with distinction in MSc Management with Business Innovation from Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics. Working for the Barbican and Culture Mile Learning during his studies, Jamie put theory into practice and interrogated practice with theory, linking the creative arts with skills in innovation to create the Fusion Futures skills and employability programme.

Photo credit: Christian Cassiel – Copyright: Museum of London

Creativity and the arts are recognised for their contribution to innovation. Yet, space for creativity is often sidelined by business and education. Even those working in arts and culture play into this narrative that creativity exists as a separate ‘nice-to-have’. This comfortable status quo has a lot to do with how we evaluate and talk about our arts and culture initiatives.

In 2020, I was lucky that my organisation was in a position to retain its workforce. It allowed me some creative space to develop a new learning programme based on the provocation ‘how can we best prepare young people for the as-yet-unknown jobs of the future’.  To really interrogate the possibilities, I drew upon my arts background and my burgeoning knowledge of innovation as part of my studies towards an MSc Management with Business Innovation at Birkbeck.

Knowledge sharing as a tactic against future challenges

Influenced by the academic discourse, a possible solution started to emerge.  Skills in knowledge sharing might be the only ones relevant when future jobs are unknown. Knowledge sharing – the donating and collecting of information that is then utilised by the receiving individual as knowledge – is considered a key behaviour within innovation-led learning organisations. This was sounding like a promising direction to take the programme in.

Of course, it made sense to me that knowledge sharing as a learning tactic could be deployed against future challenges. But would the young participants understand this? Participants likely wouldn’t articulate it in clear academic terms.  So, how were the programme outcomes going to be measured?  I had spent a lot of time on the programme and had promised its stakeholders a full and extensive evaluation. The choice of possible quantitative and qualitative methods was, for a while, disabling.

I had to stop and cut myself some slack, as they say. I had to strip back my thinking to the level of an individual taking part. In order to evaluate the programme, what did I need to know from the young students?  Were they aware that they had experienced knowledge sharing in the workshop?

Picturing the experience

My logic was this: participants might not be able to fully articulate their experience of knowledge sharing, but they would give away clues about how they understood their experience through linguistic pictures in their responses. We often use linguistic pictures to create an understanding of something.  (For example, ‘feeling down’ provokes an understanding of a person’s mood in a picture form – we imagine a person looking down or lacking energy so therefore sitting down.)  So, I decided to conduct loosely structured interviews that allowed participants the space to fully describe their experience in their natural vocabulary.

Revealing something hidden

“I was showing my creative mind”, one said.  “There was more to it”, “I saw the meaning behind their picture”, others said.  “I delved deep into my soul”.  “I could really see”.

A common linguistic picture appeared, the experience of revealing something to others or having something revealed to them. Although the young students had not used the words share, give, or take, they were describing how they were giving information about themselves to others and then receiving information from others in return.  The donating and collecting of knowledge had been experienced, and interestingly, it was at the level of identity.

The role of identity in knowledge sharing

The artist facilitators instinctively started with teamwork activities that explored identities. One artist’s exercise was to take a polaroid of how the student saw themselves, then a second of how they thought others saw them. Each picture was an agent for discussion and became an indirect and less pressurised way to share.

I realised that before sharing complex information and before utilising it as knowledge towards challenges, participants were sharing who they were with each other.  They had been supporting each other to share their authentic selves, which created a shared psychological safety within which the rest of the workshop activities could be conducted.

This was an important revelation for me. Returning to the academic discourse, I found that identity and self-concept are linked to a person’s understanding of their own knowledge and abilities and whether they feel comfortable to share; a self-confidence to offer a contribution and a humbleness to know how others can contribute.

Empowered with these findings, I can talk about this new programme and its impact on innovation. I can say that through understanding who they are and what knowledge, insights and experiences they bring to the group, participants have practised knowledge sharing. They feel open and confident to take part in collaboration and collective problem solving.

Tailoring the learning experience

For the degree, I achieved distinction and received an award of academic excellence. But it wasn’t all hard work. I enjoyed the experience because I took the advice given to me in a Birkbeck dissertation seminar. Their recommendation was to investigate a topic that was of interest to me; that I could apply to my career or other ambitions, and that I would feel proud and empowered to know more about. This advice, coupled with the course’s flexible approach to module selection meant that I tailored my learning to me and my ambitions.

At work, the story I now tell about my new learning programme, Fusion Futures, is that it is more than ‘nice-to-have’ – it’s fundamental to innovation!

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Meet The Finalists | Pioneer 1.0 Programme 2022

Meet the early-stage entrepreneurs who will be pitching live at this year’s Pitch & Awards evening, competing for Best Business Idea and Best Business Pitch.

We are excited to introduce this year’s Pioneer 1.0 finalists who have been shortlisted to pitch their business ideas live in June in front of an esteemed judging panel and invited audience.

After two turbulent years which transitioned the Pitch & Awards evening to a virtual event, we are delighted to be back in the room to celebrate the fifth year of the programme.

Over the last five years, the Pioneer 1.0 programme has supported over 500 budding entrepreneurs at Birkbeck and continues to champion ambitious students and recent graduates who have innovative ideas that will make a difference.

Since kicking off in November 2021, participants have taken part in seven monthly workshops to develop the skills and knowledge to succeed in business, learning from a range of entrepreneurs, industry experts and each other to turn their ideas into reality.

The six finalists are in with a chance of winning either the Best Business Idea or Best Business Pitch award, each worth a £1500 cash prize to support their business, along with a bespoke package of mentoring, coaching and promotion.

This year, over 100 students and recent graduates have participated in the programme and their achievements will be celebrated at the pitch and awards evening on Tuesday 14 June at BMA House in Bloomsbury.

Meet the Finalists

Portrait of Annabel Ola looking into camera.

 

Annabel Ola

  • MSc Culinary Innovation Management
  • Business: BEKIRI

BEKIRI exists to expand the boundaries of modern luxury patisserie. The fusion classic recipes and African ingredients will offer a new dimension of cultural discovery and appreciation for customers.

 

Ella Snell smiling for the camera.

 

Ella Snell

  • MA Philosophy
  • Business: Art School+

Art School+ is a service which connects early-career and underserved artists with unique paid commissions. It further aids both artists and organisations by providing bespoke training and 360 support.

 

 

 

Picture of Kacey Ibirọ̀gbà

Kacey Ibirogbà

  • Bachelor of Law
  • Business: Kọ silẹ

Kọ silẹ (koh-see-leh) is a compounded social bookmarking platform, simplified and designed with the adaptability of restoring structured balance into every aspect of our lives.

 

 

Picture of Sonja

Sonja Bacinski

  • FDSc Computing/Information Technology/Web Development
  • Business: Zolibri

Zolibri is an online platform that finds, validates and brings together the best of ethical & eco-friendly cosmetics from numerous online shops so you can find them all in one place.

 

 

Picture of Susan Christine Wachera smiling

 

Susan Christine Wachera

  • MSc Organisational Psychology
  • Business: Black Talanta

Black Talanta is democratising access to equitable high-skilled employment by pairing internships with black heritage students and recent graduates enabling them to make an informed career decision about the professional pathways that best suit them.

 

 

 

 

Picture of Wunmi

 

Wunmi Adebowale

  • MSc Coaching Psychology
  • Business: The Whole Woman Initiative

The Whole Woman Initiative is the social cause working to end domestic violence against women in Nigeria by providing psycho-social support and building a safe space community.

 

 

 

 

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The PhD experience: becoming an independent researcher

Seongil Han has recently completed his PhD in financial data analytics with FinTech in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems. He shares his Birkbeck experience.Seongil at the theatre in London.

Why did you choose Birkbeck for your PhD?

Birkbeck has an excellent reputation for research. Furthermore, the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems is one of the oldest computing departments in the UK and worldwide. Because of this long academic background as well as the excellent reputation, I chose Birkbeck to broaden my research experience for PhD.

What were some of the highlights of studying in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems?

The department provided a world-leading research lab (Birkbeck Institute for Data Analytics, BIDA) for data science with domain expertise in both theoretical and applied computer science. In addition, the research of BIDA is focused on interdisciplinary research. This environment enriched the quality of my interdisciplinary research as well as research experience.

Could you explain your PhD research for a non-expert?

My work is focused on financial data analytics using AI-based modelling within FinTech. In particular, I conducted the research with the primary objective of improving the explainable aspect as well as predictive performance of credit scoring systems, utilising big data-driven analytics and machine/deep learning techniques.

How has the PhD supported your future career?

I am currently an Analytics Manager (Data Scientist) in the AI & Big Data Analytics Team in LG Display Co. (Headquarters, South Korea). The interdisciplinary research experience based on AI-based modelling and data science for PhD broadened my academic background (MSc Financial Mathematics, BSc Mathematics, King’s College London) to the role of data scientist in the real-world, solving problems driven by digital transformational (DX) industrial environments.

What advice would you give to someone considering a PhD or just starting out on this journey?

The system of learning and researching for PhD at Birkbeck encourages a free and open exchange of views and ideas between supervisors, experts and students as well as providing students with great guidance and support. Please feel free to discuss any points about your research with your colleagues! Then you will be trained as an independent researcher.

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