At the Well blog


Let’s talk about frustration!

The beauty of our research project Homeward is in the diversity of our team and in the participatory approach that we are implementing. Our working structure is based on co-creative workshops on themes that are defined using a cooperative and dialogical approach. But – as often happens – this entails challenges. One year after the start of Homeward, we are happy to share some of our thoughts and reflections, including uncomfortable feelings and hard-learned lessons. In this blog post, Meeri and Ilaria explore in a dialogical way what are the trials and learning opportunities in planning and implementing co-creative workshops addressing a diverse audience within a multi-backgrounds research team.

Meeri: “I feel frustrated. I’m tired of collaborating and trying to include everyone in the planning.” That’s what I wanted to say when a friend asked me how our project is going. Instead, I answered something like “It’s great and so interesting to work with this multi-background team, our meetings would provide a very fascinating research material for someone.” And while that is 100% true, I think I should also be honest and express that planning and implementing these co-creative workshops can be very tiring. My personal frustration might not be interesting here, however, I think that there is something worth exploring in the processes and collaboration that feed to the emotions such as frustration. So, let’s dig a bit on that, please.  

Ilaria: Yes, frustration. I completely relate to this. But isn’t it part of every creative process? Maybe frustration is even the core of creativity itself. A feeling that seems to be almost permanent, impossible to deal with. Yet, at the end when you find a way (your way!) around it, it is so liberating! For sure, I have felt frustrated several times during our project. For example, when we started a meeting with a clear agenda, and ended up talking about tons of different, unrelated things. But then, we engaged in writing unexpected applications or came to envision new actions for our project and beyond. Once, I went to the premises of our partner association and it was impossible for me to work, as there were many children around. That made me feel frustrated. But from that experience, I reflected on the fact that we needed childcare during our workshops to ensure the accessibility for women with young children, or more generally if they take place during school holidays, as it was the case for us last autumn. Thus, frustration can help us in learning new things and push ourselves to find solutions we did not consider before. I think we can’t escape frustration; we need to go through it and find a way out. And you, what did you learn from the frustration you felt?

Meeri: I think you are correct. Frustration and learning definitely go hand in hand, and this project has been a very good example of that. While learning seems to be something desirable, why is frustration often seen as negative? Why do we need to “defeat” frustration and “get over it”? Couldn’t we just feel the frustration and see where that leads to instead of “fixing” it? Perhaps I’m somehow mirroring this experience of frustration with continuous self-development and self-reflection discourses. You know, this kind of therapeutic way of approaching life. Anyway, you asked what did I learn from the frustration? I learned that we often work with the assumptions and interpretations that we have made in our own heads. I mean that I can’t be sure about the motivation and interest of other people if it is not discussed openly and honestly.

Ilaria: Yes, it is interesting to see how “being trained” with continuous self-development and reflectivity has an impact on our feelings and actions. Looking through ourselves and at the system and trying to figure out what can be done in a better way, starting from our own practice first.

Meeri: Another thing I have learned is that we can’t deny that we have differences in the ways of working and planning activities. Those differences are related not only to culture, but also to individual experiences, preferences and interests. Think about us, for example. We have both been working in different projects that have similarities – when you tell me how it is to be a director in a theater production, I think I can quite easily understand what you are talking about because I have also been producing events. But what about someone who doesn’t have that experience? I feel I can read you fast, and we share similar visions over things, but why do I have such a strong feeling about that? What makes us to work so well together (and now I’m again assuming you feel the same, haha😀) while with some other people this same feeling doesn’t come? Is the feeling of frustration actually related to how smooth things go or don’t go?

Ilaria: I agree that differences in the ways of working are a huge wake-up call in our project. I remember our discussion about the importance (or not) of having a one-page-program to be sent to the participants beforehand. It was something crucial for you, while I could not see the value at the time. But then, I had to recognize that having a clear schedule written down for our participants and for us gave us the opportunity to have a transparent and shared plan for our workshop activities. On the other hand, we have been creating registration forms (in three languages sometimes) for our potential participants, and it has happened that people registered but did not show up. Why is that? Why don’t people feel the commitment nor the responsibility to communicate that they cannot join anymore?  

Meeri: And gosh, isn’t it frustrating when people don’t show up!!!

Ilaria: I get you; but coming from a place where “if I don’t pay (or get paid) I don’t feel committed”, for me this is not a surprise. Here the diversity in our respective backgrounds, also related to work environments runs through our working group. I remember struggling engage with young people in some free-of-charge theatre laboratories in Italy. It was difficult to reach them while it seemed that they could not reach us. Maybe they were simply not interested in theatre? This is the dilemma with participation and engagement. In this project we have assumed that certain topics are interesting for people, and we expect that people will come to discuss those topics with us…but reality is different, right?

Meeri: What if the people who we are trying to attract are also feeling frustrated? I mean, inclusion and integration are “hot topics”, and there are many activities, initiatives and projects which are also trying to increase participation and engagement of different groups of people. What if the people who these activities are targeted are frustrated with “being invited”? Perhaps we should organise a co-creative workshop that deals with frustration, what do you think?

As the dialogue shows, there have been moments of frustration during the past year as part of the project Homeward. However, the project has also provided moments of joy, learning, inspiration and new ideas. Until now, Homeward has been organizing or co-hosting six co-creative workshops on different topics related to integration processes, such as health, representations in art and culture, and urban places.

More on Homeward here.

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