In coming together to learn, we are greater than the sum of our parts

Dóchas and UCD Innovation Academy Creative Leadership Course – Reflections on a new way of doing things

04 Jul 2023

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." – Albert Einstein

In May 2022 Dóchas launched its new strategy, which had four strategic objectives as its pillars. Those objectives came under the following headings; Network, Transform, Influence and Lead. In the preceding year, a member of the Dóchas secretariat, Louise Finan had taken part in a Creative Leadership Course with the UCD Innovation Academy. Following the course Louise shared with her colleagues in the secretariat the positive influence the course had had on her own work and how it could be beneficial to many of our colleagues in the wider sector.

With “Lead” now embedded as a priority for Dóchas it was the perfect opportunity Dóchas CEO, Jane-Ann McKenna, to approach the UCD Innovation Academy to see if a bespoke course for Dóchas members could become a reality. A successful Training Links Grant from the Wheel meant that funding was in place for this to happen. A steering group was formed and within months the course had taken shape.

On 7th February 2023 the first online session of the Dóchas and UCD Innovation Academy’s Creativity, Innovation and Leadership Course took place online, with 32 participants from the Dóchas membership and two facilitators, Enya McHugh and Jacinta Owens. I am happy to say I was part of this group.

We were drawn from a wide variety of organisations, roles, expertise and geographical locations, but it was very clear from the outset that we were all very present and very enthusiastic. It is difficult to know if the tangible sense of positivity was in each participant as they arrived or whether it was planted by Jacinta and Eina in that opening session, but there is no doubt it was there.

We were made feel relaxed. We were encouraged to take a step back and then take a step into the virtual space and leave other matters to the side for the next four hours. We were challenged immediately to look at ourselves and how we normally act in these situations and to perhaps, act in a different way. If you normally speak up, don’t, if you normally stand back and observe, speak up!

One of the most significant and impactful techniques employed by Eina and Jacinta was the skill of letting the silence linger. I know that I personally find it difficult to allow silence to sneak in without trying in some way to kill it with conversation, but they encouraged us to not only allow it, but to embrace it. Let the silence give us all space to gather our thoughts. It was wonderful to see such rich contributions coming from so many people after they were allowed that time. There was a sense of safety, support and understanding when one chose to speak, but there was no pressure to speak.

In terms of content, the course had a mix of creative, design and leadership theory, followed by practical and engaging group activities. Whether by design or by coincidence (I suspect the former), we were always put into different groups for our activities, which meant we all got to know everyone on the course. The activities were generally followed by a period of reflection and discussion, which, as mentioned above, were a pleasure to be part of, for the enthusiasm and generosity of sharing alone.

Over the course of seven group sessions, we looked at creative thinking, design and innovation and of course creative leadership. We discussed psychological safety, learningful questioning, generative listening, design thinking and many other fascinating topics which I fear I will forget if I don’t continually return to the shared Google doc that Eina and Jacinta put together.

One of the most exciting and nerve-wracking sessions was the role play. We were given a scenario where we would play a senior person in an organisation. A group of (amazing) actors joined us for the session and brought us along this journey. More than one of my colleagues on the course commented that they nearly didn’t show up that day because they were so nervous. However, some of those very same people were asking to do more role playing by the end of the day. The sessions gave an opportunity to reflect on how we approach, often difficult, situations and how sometimes we are actually managing them better than we think. Feedback was given not just by the actors, but by our peers and it was so enriching.

We met two further times in May, once in small groups and finally as one big group, where those who wished to could share ideas or ways they would move forward from the course. On the last day I felt as though I had just experienced something very special. For me the course had come along at just the right time, when I needed some direction and a shot of creativity. I felt also that it wasn’t just good for me as a professional, but as a person. The approach and the content is rich with ways of working and living; allowing silence, giving space, leading not managing, looking a problems differently, creating the future not searching for it.  I was apprehensive that I would forget these important lessons and “go back to normal”. But so far that has not happened. If nothing else I feel I am approaching work and life with an energy I did not have, with a desire to get the best out of others and challenge myself.

I reached out to my fellow participants after we finished our last session and asked if people were happy to stay in touch as a group, the responses came in fast and were overwhelmingly “yes”. I am not quite sure how the connection will evolve, but I know that it is important that this connection remains and that it is special. I hope and will make every effort to ensure that this course happens again in the future so that, as Louise and Jane-Ann did for us, we can do for others in the international development community.

Ronan Doylechas

Head of Communications and Public Engagement, Dóchas


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