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1 February 2021

“Making with” in lockdown

Creative Aging International was started with the ideas of “making with” and “making for” at its core.

A Festival, for instance, is something that often is “made for”.  While it involves several partners or contractors CAI are the people taking the initial idea out into the world, raising the resources, driving it along.

Until that is,  we’ve built a Festival site you can walk into. Whatever happens next is “made with” –  the adventures people have at a festival, the stories that develop, what people make with the framework of a festival they are given.

Sometimes, usually when we can work local for a long time,  a festival can be “made with”. It starts with a lot of getting to know you, a lot of exploring what goes on in a place and what people want to celebrate and showcase about where and how they live. It demands that ownership is shared, decisions navigated, and education works all ways. I prefer this process and am usually working towards it because for me it’s a bigger adventure, I learn more and like being part of collaborative effort. However as we attempt to work at scale beyond the local “making for” is often a simpler starting place. People want to know what it is we’re bringing, what the ask is, how they can get involved or if its for them.

The Covid-Crises (I recognise there are several occurring at the same time) has made many people think about “making with” and “making for”. You can see creative responses at and or #thursdaystheday.

In Ireland with we are exploring both. We are definitely “making with” the creative and health partners and “making for” their targeted client groups. What is harder in lockdown is “making with” these “client groups”. Face to face enables far more effective assessment of needs and assets that a phone call. In lockdown data and feedback is usually “best available” rather than definitive.

We know that we are reaching 45,000 members through Royal Irish Academy of Music and the 35,000 members of Sing Ireland by email, we are included in ALONE’s 4,000+ calls a week, in calls make by Senior Line’s 350 callers, in the calls the Alzheimer’s Society makes to the 1100 people who currently cannot access day care, and we know for example that 23% of Alz Soc calls engage with people living with a diagnosis of dementia and the rest with their carer.  We have stats for visits to our website and social media, but given the costs of GDPR can’t currently get more nuanced on this. Dawn Chorus is a voluntary exercise and totally unfunded. So we haven’t yet found a satisfactory way to collect specific data. Maybe we can build something into the phone lines and “choirs on call” processes we’re trying to establish.

Because “making-with” is all about constant effective and accurate feedback. It’s about not imposing a facilitator or a cultural producer’s intention on the person or group that’s engaged. Obviously when we’re sending information out by post and phone or online that feedback is changed. We need to get better at it.

But in the world beyond the local most feedback isn’t face to face and most data isn’t collected that way. Where it is the time allowed is short.  An average GP consultation in the UK for instance is around 7 minutes. The data collection forms for isolation and loneliness tests run to several pages, take about a half hour to complete, and leave you wondering if you’ve made good life choices. We know that the drop off rate for an online form is about 80% a page.

All of which leaves me wondering about effective ways to gather information.

And it also leaves me wondering about the shape of the health care systems we currently work with.

If we were able to effectively ask people what they needed to feel well, particularly when they live with chronic conditions, would the systems developed look like they do?

Dawn Chorus is, in a small way, a mechanic for exploring how information focused on psycho social intervention can be disseminated. I wonder how quickly and effectively we can build a feedback loop?

If it can might we be building a scaffold that some changed behaviors might build around?

Or might we be finding limits to our own practices?

Only one way to find out.