Animating assets

Animating Assets was a research and learning project that explored what difference working in asset-based way made in communities and services. We were involved as part of a team brought together by the Scottish Community Development Centre and Glasgow Centre for Population Health. The project explored what being assets-based means in practice in two locations in Edinburgh and two in Glasgow. It also developed tools and frameworks to help people evaluate their practice.

As part of What Works Scotland’s series on asset-based community development, Dr Jennifer McLean, Public Health Programme Manager at the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, discusses the work further on the What Works Scotland website.

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Our role in improving health and social care

Animate partners Joette and Jo became Improvement Associates with Health Improvement Scotland last year. Here they reflect on their experiences and learning.

Health Improvement Scotland is the agency tasked with driving improvements that support the highest possible quality of care for the people of Scotland. Their Improvement Associates support local and national projects identified by HIS which help partners to achieve the nine national health and wellbeing outcomes.

The application process to become an Improvement Associate was onerous, but it really got us thinking. Not only did we have to detail our experience but we had to describe our approach to improvement, how we defined the effectiveness of our practice and what we had learned.

We are now part of a team of around 30 practitioners with various skills who are supporting health and social care integration in one way or another.  We get together every few months to hear from Health Improvement Scotland about their priorities and to share our sense of what is happening around integration across the whole which gives us an interesting oversight.

Jo is facilitating the What Matters to You Social Movement gatherings, for all those involved in person centred working and co-production, which culminate in an event for up to 250 people at the end of February. For more information go to

We are also working on a couple of projects in collaboration with Cathy Sharp. The first one is an evaluation of the Real Time/Right Time initiative which involves a few health boards in Scotland experimenting with getting and acting on feedback from patients about the care they are receiving immediately or very soon after treatment. Patients are asked directly about their care, either by a nurse on the ward or by another practitioner. We are visiting hospitals in Glasgow and Lanarkshire to find out more about how they are getting on.

The second project, which kicks off shortly, is taking us into new territory…looking at what care homes have been doing to  reduce pressure ulcers.



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Animating in Brazil: Concluding thoughts

Jo & Joette BrazilWe’re sitting in the airport having a glass of wine before getting on the plane. We said goodbye to the sisters this afternoon during a beautiful closing ritual. It is great to go home, but it is hard to leave a community we have become part of over the last 3 weeks.

New Leadership

In our last installment week we told you about how the sisters had started work on their strategic directions. Three quarters of that work had been done before they went into the election process for their new leadership team, so they had a rough idea of where they wanted to go before they decided who might lead them there. It is an unusual recruitment process. The sisters surface names themselves through a combination of prayer and discussion. All those who receive more than 5 votes get to ‘speak to their names’. Some of what we heard was sisters asking to be taken off the list – the role requires relocation and considerable international travel. It sounds glamorous but is hard, and sometimes isolating, work. After 2.5 days, a leadership team was elected through a secret ballot.

It is not an easy process; nuns are just as human as the rest of us, and it is easy for people to feel exposed or excluded. There is both anticipation and disappointment, but in the end a celebration of a team of 4 who come from 4 different countries and have 3 different first languages.

The handover ritual took place at the end of the Chapter. It was preceded by a week in which the old leadership began to step back and the new team moved into the space, gradually and in their own way.

The ritual itself symbolised the importance of the transition. It was physical as well as a mental experience including singing and dancing, and it culminated in the old leadership team putting their prayer-shawls round the shoulders of the new leadership team. It enabled the sisters both to honour and thank the old team, and to welcome the new. Nobody can deny the change has happened, as it has been made so visceral for everyone.

New structures

In religious life, strategic directions are referred to as mandates. The outgoing leadership team had a mandate to restructure the congregation, encouraging more collaboration on an international level, more decision-making at local level and ultimately a greater sense of being part of one body as opposed to being ‘siloed’ in geographical regions.

During their 6 years they have made a strong start, creating international teams and pooling finances so that they are held by and available to the whole congregation, as we described in our last blog.

The new leadership team has a mandate to develop these new structures and to strengthen a sense of responsibility and authority at all levels. There are 9 regions, each containing between 6 and 40 sisters. While each region has a leadership team, the real decision making is supposed to happen at Regional Assemblies to which all sisters are invited and which normally take place once a year. The Assemblies have a responsibility to operationalise the Chapter mandates at a regional level in a way that suits the local context. They, in turn, delegate responsibility to teams and local communities. Every 2 or 3 years Congregational Assemblies meet to take decisions about life and priorities for all sisters in the region.

Self-managing teams

In the new model, where leadership is held at many levels, the Congregation could be seen as one large self-managing team with a number of smaller self-managing teams in local areas. Leadership is dispersed across the whole system as is the aspiration in many of the organisations we are currently working with in Scotland and England.

Although this has huge potential, particularly for collaborating in the best use of resources, it also brings challenges. It makes it imperative that each sister uses the authority she is given by the Assembly to take her part in delivering on the shared purpose. In the old model everyone knew who was in charge and waited to be told what to do; now it is not always clear, and sisters need to take the initiative, and decide together on the best way forward. It requires more communication across and throughout the congregation, and ultimately greater insight into their own strengths and weaknesses.

We noticed a pattern that was familiar from other work and indeed from our own team, which was how much easier it is to think about and agree on how to act in the interests of those we serve; and how much more challenging it is to reflect on ourselves.

This is exacerbated in a group where there are such differences; of age, of nationality, appetite for change, and in priorities. Being able to truly listen to each other’s pain as well as each other’s passion was difficult at times and we struggled to support them to stay with uncertainty in the large group. As a consequence, the tension and conflict surfaced in smaller groups. It slowly became clear that their struggle was the struggle of the whole Chapter, and needed to be addressed by all, and not just a few.

Final thoughts

Spending 3 weeks working with nuns in Brazil sounded like it was going to provide a stark contrast to our normal work, and in many ways it did. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found familiar patterns – people aren’t short on commitment and big ideas, particularly when it is about what they do for others; significant diversity means that it takes a lot of time and a deeper level of listening to define our common ground and find the best way forward; effective leadership enables others to offer their leadership, thus increasing the resources available for both thinking, and doing.

It was a luxury to have had considerable time in which to accompany them in their explorations and take their first steps into the next 6 years.  We learned a lot, both about them and about ourselves, and how we might improve our practice.

We were sure to thank them.

Animating in São Paulo, Brazil

Brazil may be hosting the olympics this summer, but Animate partners Jo and Joette have travelled to São Paulo on a very different mission. They’ll be facilitating forty nuns for three weeks whilst staying in one of the city’s favelas. Here they reflect on their experiences coordinating a group that speaks four languages but that is not afraid to speak from the heart.

We are in São Paulo a city of 24 million people. We drove 1.5 hours from the airport, through a landscape of high rises, favelas and artistic graffiti, on a quiet Sunday morning, to the retreat centre where we are staying, which is a gated compound in a favela. The people feel stigmatised by the word favela preferring it to be known as a community. The trees in the garden are festooned with kites, which the local children make from plastic bags and bin liners. The retreat centre is run by the Cabrini Sisters; their foundress Madre Cabrini is the patron saint of immigrants and greeted new arrivals as they landed at the docks in New York in the early part of the twentieth century.

We are facilitating a Chapter for a international congregation of 40 nuns, a few brothers, and a handful of partners and associates. The Chapter takes place every 6 years. It reviews progress over the last 6 years, analyses the current context, sets the direction for the future and elects a leadership team with a 6-year mandate.

It’s Day 3 of 21. One of the things we are noticing is how quickly they can get to the heart of things, because they put their whole hearts in. They make more of themselves available to the work. For example, when we ask them to present back an experience creatively rather than through a PowerPoint, nobody groans, and all of them get involved. The result is a variety show, which gets us thinking as well as laughing. Because they present the issues back in a way, which engages them at every level, we continue to work with them at every level. We move beyond words very quickly.

This is important because we are working in four languages, and words are limiting. We need to work more slowly which has the advantage of giving us time to listen and reflect. We need to check back to make sure we truly understand. It makes us all really aware of the complexity of communication and the need to pay attention to both listening and making ourselves understood.

They welcome us in our role as facilitators, and expect us to use all of who we are and what we can do. It is very comforting and at the same time, it pushes us to the edge of our comfort zone.

There is a lot of love in the room, which is no surprise. But there is anxiety and fear too. Fear for the future and how it will impact on them both individually and collectively. We are used to working with anxiety and fear, but we are noticing just how important it is that it is counter balanced by the expression of love. Without that we are only bringing half of ourselves in.

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The (great!) results of Animate’s customer research

Much of our time as Animate partners is spent understanding how people outside an organisation view it, and the staff team. It only seemed right, therefore, that we should put our own work under the microscope to see what our customers really think! Listening to how people think we are doing is an essential part of our commitment to quality assurance.

Scotinform, an independent market research company, was selected to conduct interviews and survey customers online. Their independence, and vast experience of a range of sectors, meant we could be sure they would probe assertively but respectfully.

And how did we do? Well, to be honest we were blown away by the results. Nearly half of our customers responded; ¾ rated their experience as ‘excellent’ and the remainder rated it as ‘good’ – there were no negative ratings. The comments were equally supportive:

“Very customised solutions, well researched consultancy and effective delivery. Love the depth of knowledge and underpinning theory with a practical delivery approach. Calm in complexity.”

“I have always found Animate Consultants to be very professional, knowledgeable, flexible, approachable and responsive.”

Six key aspects of our work were rated by participants on a scale, where 5 = excellent and 1 = very poor:

•   Quality of work – 4.8 out of 5

•   Communication by consultants – 4.8 out of 5

•   Achievement of objectives – 4.7 out of 5

•   Quality of materials/reports provided – 4.6 out of 5

•   Value for money – 4.5 out of 5

•   Turnaround times – 4.5 out of 5

Again, there were some lovely comments:

“The satisfaction they get is from working rather than the money they make. They are motivated by the people they work with not the money.”

Ultimately, a key proof of customer satisfaction for us is a willingness to recommend. On a 0-10 scale of likelihood of recommending Animate to others we scored 9.3. 86% of respondents gave Animate a score of 9 or 10, where 10 is ‘extremely likely to recommend’.

We’re also pleased that our customers were honest about areas where we could be even better. A key area for improvement relates to developing our communication, particularly in relation to the presentation of feedback on facilitated sessions. In addition, customers suggested that for some projects it would be useful to receive enhanced reporting on progress and outcomes.

Thank you to all of our customers who took part. If you’d like to read more, an executive summary and our full report are included below. We’d also love to hear your feedback – this is not a one-off process for us – so do drop us an email or get in touch via the contact us page.

Animate Customer Survey – Executive Summary – April 2016

Animate Customer Survey – Full Report – April 2016

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