Building what matters

photoA new building is being put up next to Nesta, and the main view from our open plan office is now the construction site. When I started in January the contractors were just getting started clearing the site and every day now the progress is noticeably apparent.

Every now and then you catch yourself, or notice someone else, looking out of the window at the construction site in a moment of reverie. There is something about building sites that are incredibly compelling.

When I was working with Plymouth School of Creative Arts, the Reception class on the first floor overlooked the site of the new school being built. Children were fascinated by the process, staring out of the window, then dashing off to incorporate what they had seen into their play or to draw and paint pictures of the heavy machinery and partly constructed walls.

The fascination of myself and my colleagues has a different quality though. For the children observing the process of building brings a sense of the possibilities, the potential for human construction and shaping of the environment, ideas for work in the future and with both of those; ambition.

For us it is more wistful, as one of my colleagues expressed when we both found ourselves looking out and observing the site; what it must be do work with such immediate, visible and lasting effects. There are about the same number of people working on either side of the window, the difference is it is much more straightforward to see the effect that those on the outside achieve.

I work with a very talented and productive team of people, who are doing important work across health, education, public services and the arts. Yet the occasional wistful looks out of that window show the challenge that our work often gives us in terms of understanding and appreciating the impact of what we do.

The challenge with so much work in our current society is seeing how it matters.When you can’t directly see how what you do matters then it is a challenge to see which parts matter the most and which matter the least, which could be developed and which could be reduced for the best effect.

I wonder how we might act differently, and how we might feel differently, if we could directly see what we achieve with each task we do in our work. I wonder how we might explore ways that we can do this, how we might make more visible the kind of conceptual work that so many people do now. Expressing why our work should matter is one thing, showing that is has mattered is much more of a challenge.






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