Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Reflecting on the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival 2015


By Janine John
It's been a couple of weeks now since I attended the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival, organised by IFLAS and Brathay Trust, and during that time I've been absorbing and thinking about the content of the festival. I heard and discussed so much over the course of the three days that this period of reflection will no doubt go on for some time yet! If you weren't able to get to the event itself, here are some of the things that really stood out as part of my festival experience.

The first day kicked off at lunchtime with a couple of pre-festival activities, including a debate on whether we should stop talking about sustainability altogether. Here I heard some really refreshing contributions, which set the tone for the rest of the festival. The sessions were followed by the main opening welcome with Professor Jem Bendell (IFLAS, University of Cumbria), Godfrey Owen (Brathay Trust), and Jon Alexander (New Citizenship Project and Master of Ceremonies). 
Opening the festival with Jon Alexander
The first Plenary Keynote was given by Charles Eisenstein, who as part of his speech explored the nature of leadership (considering the leader as 'the servant and holder of a story') and also what we mean by success. What defines success for an individual? Do the effects of what we do in life have to be felt widely in order for what we do to be worthwhile? This was followed by a panel discussion, with audience questions and participation encouraged, in which the role of culture in change was considered.

The panellists in deep discussion
 
The festival marquee during the opening welcome

The festival featured a number of other key speakers, and many further panel discussions, and also put aside time for an 'open space' session in which attendees could suggest their own topic areas for debate. I particularly liked the many smaller 'in conversation' sessions in which topics as diverse as agriculture, personal burnout, and the role of the Lake District in leadership and wellbeing, were explored between a subject-matter expert and interviewee. Some of the programme was dedicated to how we look after ourselves in order to make us more effective in our work, with speakers sharing insight into their own perceived weaknesses and vulnerabilities and how they attempt to deal with those.  

'In Conversation' with ├ůsa Giertz (World Bank) and Katie Carr (CDEC)
Being a research festival, there were over 40 research papers presented over a series of paper sessions throughout the programme. I was particularly intrigued by those which focused on behaviour change and psychology and, because there were several paper sessions running concurrently, it was a shame I couldn't have visited more of them. The best of the papers will shortly be considered for publication in a book on Leading Wellbeing by Taylor and Francis, and for inclusion in a special issue of the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal (SAMPJ). The abstracts, and some of the papers, are also available online on the Leading Well website.

Dispersed amongst the formal activities were the 'buzz sessions' held by Futerra. These were short explorations into subjects such as identifying purpose in your organisation, and how to create momentum for change. For those who missed the sessions, or want to reflect further on these topics, there are a number of guides produced by Futerra which are available to download from the Futerra website.
 A Futerra buzz session with Ed Gillespie

After such a full timetable of discussion, the organisers had also made time for a very wide range of reflective and high-energy activities, made possible by the beautiful surroundings at Brathay and its close proximity to the lake. I think the photos speak for themselves!

One of Brathay Trust's whaling boats on Windermere during the reflective activities

I chose a couple of workshops based on personal interests which include writing and music. During the storytelling workshop, Georgia Wingfield-Hayes explained that every leader needs a strong story to tell, and we were each given the chance to mould and share our own stories with others. I also took part in a creative writing workshop with Ian Chapman (University of Cumbria), where I was surprised to find myself reconnecting with what I enjoy most about the writing process from the creative perspective. In the drumming workshop, held in one of the yurts, musician Kevin Sharkey introduced us to group drumming, with the reminder that music is very powerful at sustaining our wellbeing. The energy amongst the group was fantastic, and lots of people came by to listen!

The group drumming workshop

Some of the most valuable experiences I took away from the festival were not just from the planned programme. I really enjoyed the opportunity to chat with such a wide range of interesting, sharing and committed individuals, and to hear about their backgrounds and opinions of the subjects being discussed. This really enriched my understanding of what I was hearing in the more formal sessions.

The atmosphere was really warm and welcoming, with enormous attention to detail from the festival organisers at IFLAS and Brathay Trust. The food (again created by Brathay) was fantastic, as was the evening entertainment.

So what's next? First of all, to stay in touch with other attendees of the festival and to receive IFLAS updates, we were invited to join the IFLAS LinkedIn group and Facebook page. There are also several IFLAS leadership programmes coming up, including the SpringSchool in 2016. Attendees will have noticed that many of the marquee sessions were being recorded, and videos from some of the key speeches are now available to viewonline. For an attendee's take on what was covered, you can also search for the #leadingwell hashtag on Twitter, which attracted a huge number of contributions throughout and after the festival.

The festival was intended as a place to obtain knowledge and inspiration, and a space in which to reflect, explore and develop on a personal level. From the many people I have spoken to who went to the event, it more than succeeded in doing both. I know that from what I have already gained by attending, both professionally and personally, the experience will stay with me for some time.

Janine is a communications consultant based in the Lake District, and has a particular interest in the communication of sustainability issues. She has been blogging for IFLAS in the lead-up to the wellbeing festival.

Photography except drumming image by No Routes Found.

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