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Why I like projects

May 20, 2011

It’s often struck me that when people in adult education talk about something of which they’re particularly proud, it’s usually a ‘project’. By project I mean a specifically focused piece of work, usually time limited and planned and funded separately from the ‘mainstream’. What is it about project work that makes it special?

  • A project provides the opportunity to do something a bit out of the ordinary in terms of beneficiary group, and subject matter 
  •  The bidding and planning methodology usually focus on needs and outcomes as opposed to the mainstream drivers of volume, retention and success rates, and Ofsted standards. I realise project methodologies vary but I have in mind here those like the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching Communities where the focus is on the impact upon individuals and communities.
  •  There is usually extra money and often new people brought in as well as the chance to work with additional partner organisations

For the organisation there is a welcome element of risk, competition and innovation; rather than the ‘same old, same old’. Projects offer the chance of some additional resources in exchange for investment and risk taking. Even the short-term nature of project funding can have pluses; it forces a look at exit strategies: accepting that some things haven’t worked out, some can continue in other ways and others provide a source of refreshment for the mainstream.

Of course it’s not all one way. Voluntary organisations that depend wholly upon project funding find it too unstable and smaller ones are unable to establish an effective infrastructure to support project bidding and management. Organisations really need a mix of core and project funding in order to operate effectively. My reason for writing this is to ask whether we oughtn’t to be re-drawing the boundaries between mainstream and projects and include elements of project methodology in our mainstream activities. The potential benefits in this would include:

  •  The encouragement of bottom-up innovation acknowledging that top-down curriculum development has limited impact in adult education. Effective and well supported peer group collaboration can of course help provide sharing of good practice and ‘scaling up’.
  • A methodology that starts from assessment of need and proceeds to evidence of outcomes is more relevant to the current policy environment in two ways. Firstly it suits outcome based funding and secondly it fits with the notion of localism. Such an approach would provide consistency of method with the flexibility (indeed the necessity) to tailor educational activities to the needs of particular community. It could also address a range of outcomes, such as personal development and community action as opposed to standardised outputs such as retention and pass rates.

So to end with two questions:

  1. Can project methodology be used for curriculum planning within an organisation such as the WEA? This could involve taking a chunk of provision and planning it as a project with a set of outcomes arising from community needs and a budget including both core funding and that from other pots? This, it seems to me would refresh curriculum development and encourage us to look more thoroughly at learner needs and how we met them, rather than the organisation’s needs.
  2. Secondly, given that BIS is currently reviewing the way Informal Adult Community Learning (IACL) funds are allocated, should we not argue that funding includes a ‘project stream’ as well as other allocations. Again this seems a suitable way to encourage a localised, innovative and multi-faceted within an accountable framework.

What do you think?


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  1. Mary Hunter permalink

    How I agree! I hope that this blog will be read, discussed and acted upon.The implications for a new,dynamic,”bottom-up” structure for(quote from Pete’s blog)”tailoring ativities to the needs of a particular community”-e. Localisation at its best, could be exciting and fruitful.
    “Re-drawing the boundaries between mainstream and projects to include elements of the methodology( of the project aspect) in our mainstream activities” is surely a possibility?
    So the answer to both questions is a resounding YES.

  2. Jol Miskin permalink

    Interesting points Pete and most certainly worthy of consideration across the Association. As you know we are currently starting to discuss the nature of our health curriculum and your points most definitely connect to that discussion. My view is that our health curriculum has become very hazy! By that I mean it includes various topics/subjects which can only very loosely be described as being about health and health related issues. So using a project methodology, as you suggest, may well help us to really work this one through. What do we want to do, with whom and why? What are our goals and time scales? What should a WEA health curriculum look like? How is it distinctive? Yes this is useful……….keep it coming!

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