The aim of REFLECT Lab was to advance arts and health partnerships in the provision of services for children and young people in healthcare settings in the North West.
The objectives of the programme were to:
- establish a supportive framework to oversee the delivery of a pilot REFLECT Lab programme and to secure continuity of the programme
- recruit and train co-mentors from arts and health sectors (working with children) in the North West to enable cross-sectoral learning
- deliver and adapt the REFLECT Lab co-mentoring programme to Ireland and the Irish health sector and support the sustainability of the model and its mainstreaming in Arts and Health.
The REFLECT Lab programme, established by The Sage Gateshead in 2007, is a collaborative learning process for people working across a range of sectors and offers participants the space and time to reflect on what they do and why they do it. People taking part in REFLECT Lab are given the opportunity to think creatively and to reappraise their professional practice from a new perspective.
REFLECT Lab trainers from The Sage Gateshead facilitated the Irish cohort and provided mentoring to support Helium’s management role in the process.
Eleven artists and eleven healthcare workers from Sligo and Donegal who work with children and young people took part in the Irish cohort. Participants were matched by The Sage Gateshead based on their responses to a simple application form. Healthcare professionals and artists were matched based on geographic location, reasons for being interested in exploring creativity in healthcare settings for children and young people, and their motivation for learning through a co-mentoring partnership.
REFLECT Lab co-mentoring has a clearly defined structure. There were three group sessions during the life of the programme which all co-mentors attended in pairs: an initial training day, a development day, and a final sharing event. These group sessions offered insights and information to help develop co-mentoring skills and give co-mentors the opportunity to share their experiences with others. In addition to the group sessions, the co-mentors met five times for two hours at a time over the course of the year-long programme.
At the initial training day, the co-mentors met each other for the first time and began to learn about reflective practice, how to mentor another person, and to initiate an agreed area of learning (A Shared Focus). For example, one agreed area of learning between a healthcare professional and a drama worker was ‘transitions’, inspired by the transitions experienced by very young children with disabilities. A Learning Agreement was made between each co-mentoring pair, which gave them a framework on which to base their reflective meetings throughout the year.
The final sharing event was the last day of the programme, where all the co-mentors met as a group. It was a chance to reflect on learning and to share and celebrate experiences with other co-mentors and the REFLECT Lab facilitators. The co-mentoring pairs each brought props or visualisations of their conversations to the group and most pairs chose to do a presentation of their learning. Some of the co-mentors chose to frame their presentations through an artistic medium, such as theatre, installation, or song.
Train the Trainer programme
Six participants from arts organisations took part in a training programme to enable them to become REFLECT Lab facilitators in the future and to enable Helium to roll out the programme again without need for trainers from The Sage Gateshead. This group received three additional training days alongside the training and development days that the co-mentors received. They also took part in a co-mentoring process with each other. The training was facilitated by The Sage Gateshead and consisted of an understanding of the content of the REFLECT Lab programme and training in facilitation techniques to lead a REFLECT Lab cohort and to support reflective practice.
HSE West supported an evaluation of the Irish REFLECT Lab cohort, an executive summary of which was made publicly available in April 2013.
The evaluation followed the methodology of the UK REFLECT Lab evaluation (Peter Renshaw, 2008) and made additions to it. It was conducted mainly by conversations with participants and stakeholders, through semi-structured interviews at key stages of the project and through a questionnaire which was administered at the end of the project. The evaluation was supported by a case study and some personal reflections from participants.
REFLECT Lab provided a unique opportunity to develop cross-sectoral professional learning, to build shared understanding of arts and health contexts and to connect the skills and vision of two diverse sectors in benefiting artistic practice and the quality of the healthcare context for children. The programme was described by one healthcare professional as a ‘Google moment in the HSE’.
Outcomes from the HSE evaluation include:
- Both artists and healthcare professionals (HCPs) have developed creative methods of dialogue and engagement with children and young people.
- 72% of HCP questionnaire respondents said it had enhanced their creative and professional learning. For example, one healthcare professional learned about the processes in making children’s theatre. As a result, she commented that she was more confident and had ideas on how to approach her work differently, ‘to be more creative in (her) sessions’.
- The need for Arts and Health programmes was reinforced for HCPs together with a realisation of how they currently use the arts in their work. One healthcare professional commented that ‘it’s about remembering what we already do that is art within practice’ while another had gained a better understanding of the ‘role arts has in health of children’. One project stakeholder provided funding for a new project as a consequence of her staff’s development.
- Both artists and HCPs have broadened their visions of arts practice with children and young people in healthcare contexts and have explored how they might work together in the future. During the final sharing day, one of the co-mentoring pairs presented and demonstrated ideas for a multi-sensory story-pack they had developed. Another co-mentoring pair is developing an arts and health project on the theme of transitions to help children with their extra needs during this time.
- The programme has enhanced the network for artists and HCPs which impacts on the HSE as an organisation regarding increased awareness of arts in health leading to new creative perspectives.
- 6 trainers have been trained in facilitating REFLECT Lab programmes. Two trainers are developing a new programme with early years in the South.
For the artists, one of the key outcomes of the evaluation was that they had increased knowledge and understanding of healthcare contexts for children and young people. They identified increased knowledge in their final interview as follows:
- function of Health Service
- health in pre-schools
- healthcare professionals are already creative
- understanding of work in early intervention service
- knowledge of early years development
One artist said she learned ‘how she could work with a therapist and have drama guided by the healthcare professional.’ Another said REFLECT Lab enabled her to develop arts for children with disabilities for the first time.
A number of REFLECT Lab activities have been planned beyond the pilot programme. For example, in autumn 2012, Helium offered a bursary to artists and healthcare professionals who took part in REFLECT Lab. The bursary was awarded to Margot Jones, Theatre Practitioner, and Winifred McNulty, Senior Speech and Language Therapist (SLT), who will collaborate on a series of drama and speech and language therapy workshops for children with expressive/receptive speech and language delay. This pilot project will contribute to the development of arts and health practice for children within healthcare services in County Donegal.
Documentation and Dissemination
The outcomes of REFLECT Lab were documented through an evaluation process by Teresa Cawley, HSE West Regional Training and Development Officer (Child Health).
The executive summary is available to view online via artsandhealth.ie and Helium. The evaluation will be submitted to the funding bodies (the Arts Council and Sligo County Council Arts Office) and all project participants and stakeholders.
This REFLECT Lab cohort was led by Helium under the Arts Council of Ireland Local Partnership Scheme with Sligo County Council Arts Service, Donegal County Council Arts Office, HSE West (Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal), Letterkenny General Hospital, and Sligo General Hospital. REFLECT Lab is a model of cross-sector co-mentoring devised and delivered by The Sage Gateshead, UK.