The building blocks of transformation

01 January 2023 | Inclusive Journalism Cymru

Guest Blog

Opus Independents is a “think and do tank” working to create the conditions to resolve upstream solutions to complex system problems.

The Inclusive Journalism Cymru team were attracted by their belief that we can live in a place where everyone works to make things better for each other. For Opus, “Better” means fair, diverse, accessible and heard”. Those values align completely with the aims of Inclusive Journalism Cymru, and so we decided to work with Opus to develop our own Theory of Change and build a strategy and governance framework to help ensure that IJC is effective, sustainable and can work to create systemic change.

Here, the Opus team reflect on what that process looked and felt like.

Journeying with Inclusive Journalism Cymru

Over several months, the team at Opus have been journeying deeply and often joyously. Always in emergence and inquiry with Directors at Inclusive Journalism Cymru (IJC). We share a deep commitment to transformative justice and the need for unprecedented change, not just in the media, but more broadly in our ways of operating as people and as civilisations. 

A relationship of mutual respect and deep care has emerged in our time together, which has often been restorative for us, and for which we are deeply grateful.   

We have been trying to write a set of documents which inform proportionate responses to a complex series of challenges mobilising the IJC team. 

In essence the challenges named are these: 

  1. How can a network positively impact the experience of  people from marginalised backgrounds working in journalism in Wales? 
  2. What does protection and care look and feel like? How can power and agency for people experiencing marginalisation in newsrooms be supported and catalysed? 
  3. Furthermore, how can this work ultimately lead to a change in the way that media output itself reflects the lived experience of those most marginalised in our society?

Over the next few paragraphs and subsequent blogs, we’ll talk a little about the experience and learning that brought Opus into this work. We’ll also name and discuss some of the key outcomes, activities and theories of change that have emerged in the IJC’s approach to these challenges. 

As we write this opening blog now and reflect, we are reminded of the mixtures, compounds and complexity inherent. The necessity of holding uncertainty, complicity and of multiple truths. The urgent need for the hospicing of old systems and the imagining of new ways of being and relating. But also of the harder edged pragmatics of relational forms of organising, governance and participation in a networked, decentralised endeavour. One which operates in an environment which is often hostile to its purpose.

This quote from Adrienne Maree Brown speaks to the heart of this work well:

"...all organizing is science fiction," by which we mean that social justice work is about creating systems of justice and equity in the future, creating conditions that we have never experienced. "

Adrienne Maree Brown

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

Opus, as a worker controlled organisation working in emergent system change, is committed to partnerships that facilitate the co-creation of responses which address entangled complex problems, many of which compound and manifest the challenges targeted by the IJC. 

Over the last several years, the Opus team have been enriched with the lessons learned through establishing, supporting and weaving networks such as the UBI Lab Network  a worldwide network of citizens, researchers and activists exploring the potential of Universal Basic Income, the  Independent Media Association  a cooperative of over fifty independent media platforms,  Citizen Network Cooperative and the  Neighbourhood Democracy Movement both working on new responses to the democratic deficit and the barriers to generating power and agency faced by many citizens and communities across the world. Through all of this work we have learned that change is initiated through our relationships with one another, which means that bringing members together and in deeper dialogue more often, is a precondition for impact.  

From the outset, we valued that the founders of the IJC each had lived experiences of being marginalised in newsrooms, an aspect that we knew would astutely inform, shape and anchor our approach to developing the tools necessary for the network to have sustainable impact and in turn, influence positive change. 

Equipped with this experience, it was critical for both IJC and Opus teams to convene with rawness in relationship building to facilitate the unpacking of human-centred challenges that would enable us to collaboratively design an effective entity with care, and one that was inclusive.  We also aspired to anchor it on a purpose-built member journey which spoke to multiple layers of participation, and a consent-based decision making protocol, that could sufficiently redress power imbalance, safeguard, protect and uphold the needs of both marginalised communities in newsrooms and members of the IJC. 

Our meetings often began with generative inquiry where each of us candidly discussed why it was important for each of us to be here, and at what crossroads we found ourselves working in this space. This reinforced a people-centred approach and common ground between us, that recognises that we are all active participants and not dissociated observers. Alongside this, both members of the Opus and IJC team have been undergoing training in possibility oriented interviewing and presencing the value of our lived experiences as the seat of agency, creativity and efficacy. 

Over the course of the last few months a co-created a theory of change for the IJC has emerged, and established the network’s core aims and corresponding activities and deliverables. 

The aims were to:  

  • Build an inclusive accessible network designed to connect, support and advocate for current and aspiring journalists (and people in journalism-adjacent professions) from groups, communities or identities historically marginalised or excluded by the journalism and media industries in Wales.
  • To change the way that marginalised people are supported and included, ensuring safety and protection within the industry.
  • For the network to be as much about the future as the present, creating the conditions for a more inclusive industry.
  • To increase authentic representation and inclusion of marginalised people in all journalistic processes.
  • To redress and mitigate discrimination in the industry by framing outputs, processes and narratives diligently.

Following this work, we co-created a membership journey to  guide people into the network with care and agency.  We identified the governance protocols and support measures required for the network to operate and members to collaborate, and we created a financial model to ensure sustainability and growth into the future. We will speak more to these elements in future posts and readers of this are welcome to get in touch for more detail or a chat.  

When we think about the nature of the work that the IJC are pursuing in supporting those most marginalised in newsrooms across Wales and indeed the ways in which we have spoken about contributing to that work  in this post, it’s important to talk about and acknowledge the language we have used.  

Words are tools that help us construct a lived reality and indeed the realities we might aspire to in the future. When we speak this often strange sounding dialect of ‘holding uncertainty’, ‘cultivating emergence’, ‘embracing plurality, complicity and discomfort’ we do so with intention. For these words are the best tools we have found so far to open up how we can best be in relation with one another in this work. How we pair the need for both urgency and slowness in both transformative justice and in imagining. 

These words are often the lens through which we contain, poke and prod deeply complex and interwoven problems – and they are evolving as our own understandings do, which means they are far from perfect. They help us see one another and reconcile trauma and possibility together. They help us hope more intentionally and hold our discomforts and our differences in mutuality. They help us bring our best-selves into the co-creation of the futures we can and must imagine into being. 

If you’re reading this and you have other words or tools you are using that we could learn from then get in touch. If you’re reading this and it speaks to you, then join Inclusive Journalism Cymru and make a change where you are. 

James Lock, Tchiyiwe Chihana & Sara Hill

Opus Independents

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