An emerging field
For over 70 years the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR) has operated at the forefront of applying social science to organisational problems and the development of new theory and practice in pursuit of its charitable objectives - the betterment of working conditions for people, groups, organisations and communities. Learning and practising organisational consultancy and leadership at TIHR focused on holding a multitude of disciplines within the individual consultant/ practitioner as the resources and tools for the infinite set of possible challenges when working with organisational systems.
In recent years these disciplines have been expanding and in 2012 new faculty to the programme introduced a new design where complexity theory, organisational aesthetics and the arts became even more figural to the programme and into the education of contemporary organisational consultants. Artists began to be invited to lead workshops bringing another lens to the themes of each module. These have included multi-media poetry installations; film based interventions working with footage gathered in the programme; improvisational dance; editing and performing films from found 16mm film footage, Sam Nightingale’s work on Spectral Ecologies.
This expansion of disciplines has impacted TIHR’s own organisational development and practice. Juliet Scott, who as Business Development Manager developed in this role to include being the Institute’s first Artist-in-Residence, bringing her identity as a practising artist explicitly into her emerging identity as Business Curator and Practice Director, Arts and Organisation. At around the same time, Heather Stradling joined TIHR following re-training as a Psychologist and Psychodynamic practitioner after a career working in the applied arts sector. Recognising the snowballing of arts practice and work with and across the cultural sectors, it was agreed to develop an Arts Strategic Initiative. The aim of this was to be a container for the different approaches to the arts within TIHR and to provide space, supporting them in their growth and dissemination.
Artwork by Juliet Scott
Growing out of the archive
As Director of the TIHR’s Archive project, Juliet led the collaboration with the Wellcome Library to catalogue and make accessible the Tavistock Institute’s archive. It was officially launched at the Institute’s 70th Anniversary Festival, curated by Juliet and which attracted over 1000 visitors. There, artists from multiple disciplines contributed interventions related to the work and concerns of the Institute alongside and in collaboration with social scientists.
Juliet also presented her own work, Object Relations: A still life exhibition, inspired by materials from the Tavistock archive. Bringing her arts background, Heather and Juliet designed the arts programme as part of the festival and brokered a new relationship with East-15 Acting School’s BA Acting and Community Theatre degree programme. Third-year students delved into the archive and from this, co-created and performed a site-specific piece Shadows and Light, directed by course leader, Ainslie Masterton. As a result of this success, the following year a second piece was created, ‘The Liver in Bed Two: a case of compassionate anxiety’. This was performed within the Wellcome Library’s reading room in the year of the NHS’s 70thBirthday. An interactive performance delving into Isabel Menzies Lyth’s groundbreaking work on organisational social defences in health systems, it attracted full-capacity audiences. Through theatre, some of the Tavistock’s key theoretical concepts were communicated, highlighting both what had changed since the 1960s and 1970s but also what continue to be challenges faced by those working within the health services.
Supporting the arts sector – a transdisciplinary approach
Alongside direct commissioning of and partnerships with artists and arts organisations, TIHR also provides consultancy, coaching and evaluation and research support to the arts and cultural sector. Most recently, this has included a piece of research around collaborations for Arts Council England and training for the British Council, including for staff leading arts programming. Additionally, TIHR has frequently used creative methods within its evaluation projects, for instance using poetry and other creative methods in work with young people. Some of our work uses film and photography within project evaluations, either to help disseminate evaluation findings and/or as part of qualitative fieldwork methodology.
Arts practice has become embedded as part of the TIHR’s trans-disciplinary work, not only externally, but internally as part of staff team meetings and as a key strategic component of the organisation’s development. We are sharing our practice more widely, for instance through our 2019 Academy of Management conference contributions and continue to build our practice as an expert organisation in the integration of the arts and social sciences in robust and rigorous practice.
Professional development – Deepening Creative Practice
We are now ready to share and facilitate the learning of individuals working or wanting to work more creatively within organisations and as consultants.
Deepening Creative Practice, our experiential learning programme is now welcoming applications. Taking place over 5 seasons, the arts and social sciences will weave together to deepen participants’ understanding of their whole selves in relation to organisational leadership, consultancy and change. Led by Juliet Scott and Heather Stradling, with contributions from Tavistock colleagues and leading artists and co-curated by participants, it will support participants to increase their creative potential to explore and work with difficult and sometimes intractable problems within organisations and wider society.