Sophie Duncan, NCCPE Deputy Director, reflects on her encounter with an unusual public engagement activity at the Wellcome Collection.
I am always looking for interesting ways to engage the public, and therefore am an avid volunteer for new experiences. So recently, between meetings at Wellcome, I heard an announcement about a public social dream workshop.
Sat in a circle, a group of strangers were invited to join the dream matrix. The guidelines were simple, we chose to share our recent night dreams, not for interpretation, but as a prompt for finding associations and links to what it means to be human. We were invited to reflect on what the dreams made us think about society, and our connections with it. There were rules. No psychoanalysis of other participants; no personal interpretations; no right or wrong associations; the matrix would run for an hour, and then there would be 15 minutes to feedback on the experience. The sharing would be written into a blog and shared online by one of the recorders.
Sharing and reflecting
So we began. Dreams are deeply personal, and have the potential of being really revealing. However people around the room began to tell their dream stories. The first dream was described, and there was silence. I personally wanted to thank the person for being brave enough to share their dream – but I held back. I am too facilitative by nature, and I was curious to see what would unfold without my intervention.
Another person shared a dream, and then one by one people began to make associations. We discussed loss; confronting the inevitability of death; the challenges of recent political events on the world stage; the refugee crisis; identity; change. People engaged intellectually, politically, emotionally. They offered their insights generously and respectfully, suspending judgement. We laughed, we were moved, and we discovered the power of dreams to open up discussions about things that matter, with a group of people whose names we did not know, and whom we were unlikely to see again.
Then it stopped, and we reflected on what the experience was like. We talked about the discomfort and vulnerability of sharing your dreams; the oddness of being in a closed circle, but in a public space where others wandered around the bookshelves of the library the event was in; we talked about the accidental nature of meeting people with shared life experiences; and the power of dreams to unlock conversations that we would not have thought to initiate.
Then we all left. The recorders remaining to tell the story of the encounter.
This experience changed me. It was so interesting to reflect on how engaging the encounter was. But also about what would have happened had the group of people behaved in a less generous way. It felt as though the potential ethical issues were not held by anyone, and that there were potential dangers to opening such a frank conversation with so much at stake. However the group seemed to look after this – being responsible for one another.
This was a really thoughtful experience, which has left me with lots of questions about the nature of the engagement, and the possibility of dreams to provide the stimulus to talk about things that matter.
I invite you to share your own experiences of engagement that you have encountered, and how it has stimulated your thinking, feeling and doing. However I end as I began, reflecting on dreams – and wondering ‘could they be another route to impact?’