Phase 1- Overview

Research Question

How can the philosophies and practices of clowning be applied in the business environment to address organisational and individual stagnation?

Research Sub-questions
a. What are the key barriers to innovation, creativity and change in group decision making
b. What aspects of clowning can be employed to address these features?
c. What workshop activities can be created can be created to practice these clowning activities?
d. Can clowning practices overcome the barriers to innovation, creativity and change associated with group decision-making?

Plan of Work

This project is conceived of in two phases. The first stage, described here establishes the academic rationale for the idea and delivers, in consultation with stakeholders, a workshop for Modern Jesters in the organisations. The second stage, for future development, is concerned with the and scaling up of this programme. It develops and contributes to academic research in the field and expands the scope of a Modern Jester network to a series of individual, national networks.

The current project will look to theory and practice to identify organisational practices which act as barriers to effective decision making. This will be achieved through the development of a Modern Jester workshop of clowning techniques and practices, selected and adapted to specifically address aspects of group behaviour which lead to organisational stagnation, groupthink and other barriers to creativity, innovation and change.

Project Consultative Group
An international consultative group will be established, to shape and guide the trajectory of study. It will include 6-8 members, including professionals in business and public sector bodies, academics, clowns and clown trainers. The group will meet approximately every 2 months, at key points in the study, via an online platform, with interim meetings with individual members as required. The group will be central to exploring intellectual ideas, as well as testing and refining those ideas in practice, in the contexts in which they work.

Work Package 1 – Mapping Key Concepts
Conduct two rapid literature reviews – one to identify core clowning principles and practices and the second on groupthink and organisational stagnation – and explore potential interrelationships.
Undertake two rounds of electronic searches on major bibliographic databases, including Web of Science, ERIC, Scopus, Business Source (EBSCO) and the British Education Index. The search will include peer-reviewed academic work (empirical and theoretical), grey literature (reports and supporting documents) books and edited collections. Searches will be complemented by handsearching references and additional searches through Google Scholar.

• The first round will identify clowning practices and traditions to give a sense of clowning in the modern era. Systematic query entries related to clowning, jesters and fools will be used to reflect the range of conceptualisations of the role of jester or clown within the academic literature and collect information on existing practices on the use of clowning historically and in modern contexts, outside of the traditional forms of popular entertainment.

• The second will focus on organisational processes particularly associated with groupthink and organisational stagnation, exploring barriers to effective transformation within commercial and public sector organisations
The findings of the reviews will be presented in the form of a thematic analysis of the selected literature on clowning and on business processes. They will be further explored, challenged and refined in a project consultative group meeting. The meeting will focus on exploring the emerging issues, suggesting areas for further investigation and mapping the potential interrelated issues at the intersection of clowning practices and business process.

Work Package 2 – Testing and Adapting Clowning Practices This part of the project is concerned with the development of adapted clowning techniques to meet the needs of commercial and public sector organisations.
It will focus on three interrelated issues:
• Identification of workshop target audience and organisational focus.
• Development of design principles and framework for Modern Jester workshop.
• Development, testing and refinement of Modern Jester principles and activities for commercial and public sector organisations
This will be carried out over 6 months, working closely with clowns and clown trainers to develop the workshop practices and activities, informed by regular meetings with the project consultative group.
The first stage of this will be the identification of the functions of commercial and public sector organisations which could be supported or augmented by training or workshops for members of staff or stakeholders, in the use of clowning ideas and methods. Suggested areas include; organisational management, change management, communication, innovation and product development.
This work package will be informed by the results of Work Package 1 and enriched by the project consultative group and field research with commercial and public sector organisations and business trainers, using qualitative research methods such as, interviews or focus group meetings. Field research will be carried out with representatives from 8-10 commercial and public sector organisations, developing and exploring organisational themes identified in Work Package 1 and introducing ideas of the Modern Jester both as a research process and to develop potential partners for future workshop trials.

This background information will enable the development of Modern Jester workshop frameworks of the identified organisational functions, including scenarios, bite-size exercises, guidelines and content relevant to the selected organisational processes.

Work Package 3 – Pilot phase
This work package is focused on refining the structure and content of the Modern Jester workshop and developing a final workshop, along with supporting materials and documentation ready for finalisation in Work Package 4.
This pilot phase of workshop design will employ a fast-feedback approach to informing the project and improving the effectiveness, facility and validity of clowning methods in organisational contexts. This will entail the organisation and delivery of prototype Modern Jester workshops following the principles guidelines developed in WP2, amongst the consultative group and other partners where available. Feedback and evaluation will be through 6 mini-workshops, questionnaires and interviews with participants, and training professionals if present. Videographic and photographic documentation will be recorded to support development.

Work Package 4 – Design and delivery of final workshops for training in commercial and public sector organisations
This stage of the project is concerned with the development of the final Modern Jester workshop product for use by consultative partners and other trainers and training organisations. It will be based upon clowning principles and philosophies, adapted to the needs of commercial and public sector organisations. This will result in the design of the final Modern Jester workshops and underlying methods. This phase will involve the finalisation of the framework for the workshops, including scenarios, exercises and ethical guidelines. The training framework will be enriched by digital content (e.g. video) to support delivery. The final outcome will be a workshop delivered to consultative partners and invited guests from public sector and commercial organisations, including trainers, HR staff and business support organisations.

Work Package 5 – Dissemination
The aim of the dissemination strand of the project is to establish the academic and commercial validity of the research and practice. This will be through a variety of activities designed to disseminate information about the project and results. It will raise awareness of the practical applications of clowning methods and their application to commercial and public sector organisational processes. Activities will include the presentation of practices through web-based and social media, publication of academic research papers and conference presentations. Target groups will be training organisations and HR departments, business associations and business support organisations. The final workshop presentation will be associated with the promotion of a special issue within and academic journal such as the International Journal of Management and Applied Research.