About replication: Speech Bubbles by London Bubble Theatre

So you are thinking about replication! Why?

Get on with doing the next exciting creative participatory project, make sure people have a great time and hopefully have a great time yourself. Art for art’s sake! Every great project requires you to commit creativity, emotional labour and your skills and expertise in listening and supporting collaborative groups of people. Isn’t that a hard enough task for you?


Replicating a project is going to add a whole other level of hard and it’s not all going to be fun. Firstly you are going to have to make a case for doing more of the same thing, and that is not always popular in our field. That’s going to involve doing some serious thinking about what difference doing this project makes, and why that difference is important; to the participants, to society and to creative practitioners. I would also suggest that the drive to replicate will come because you think the project is doing something really well and you think that it would make that same difference even if it wasn’t you that was doing it. That’s going to need evidence, it’s not going to be enough for you to say ‘this thing is great’ or even ‘listen to these people who did our thing and think it’s great’. You are going to need some objective measures of success, and also you will need to do some hard thinking about the differences you don’t make and then even more thinking about how that learning could lead to improvements. To do that well you are going to need to engage with researchers, evaluators, academics and maybe even economists. Before you can even open up the dialogue you will need to find a shared language, because trust me there will be some very confusing conversations! You will also need to make some judgements about what kind of research practice best fits with your project and what approaches you are comfortable or uncomfortable with. As a sector we have become quite comfortable with Action Research and we are experts at Creative Evaluations but what about more quantitative approaches?  For instance would you be happy with a Randomised Control Trial (RCT)? If you do an RCT then a group of potential participants may well be excluded from taking part, this will raise essential ethical questions and whilst RCT’s are not universally popular it might be just what is needed to build the evidence for your project.

You will have to work out precisely what the project is, by that I mean what defines your project as itself! The researchers should be able to help you with that, but that’s going to be a bit weird, having other people describing what you do, and you are going to have to be very open because it won’t necessarily be exactly what you thought you were doing. To make that even more complicated you are going to find a way to communicate that succinctly to other people without stifling the essential creative spark that led to it being developed in the first place. Also other people are going to be doing your ‘thing’ and they are going to do it ‘their’ way, and then you are going to need to assess how much of ‘their’ way is helping to improve matters and how much of ‘their’ way means that it is just something else and not your thing at all.


Speech Bubble workshops at Elm Wood School – 18Jun19

So let’s assume you have done all that:  You have evidence that your thing makes the difference that you say it does, and that it makes that difference even if it isn’t you that is leading it. You have defined it and can clearly express what it is to other people; an observer to the project could identify the thing as itself.  It’s not going to get easier yet because the next question is how are you going to replicate? What model or strategy will be the best fit? The choices before you are mostly about degrees of control, and this raises questions about quality assurance, branding and copyright. Is the best way of spreading the benefits of your thing by writing a book or a manual so that anybody can pick it up and do it? This can be very effective, look at Forum Theatre!  It happens all over the place; it gets adapted and used for many different communities by a diverse range of practitioners and companies.  It could be said that the downside is that there is no quality control, and certainly in my experience there is a wide range of practice used for many different purposes that is labelled as Forum Theatre, much of that practice is transformative for individuals and communities but some of it is extremely questionable. Maybe your thing is better replicated by having a little more control? Perhaps you could set up a training course and then give people who have completed that training a badge, a certificate or maybe a license to say that they have your blessing to do your thing. That is going to require a clear brand and copyright because otherwise you couldn’t protect it, but gives you a degree of control. The other end of this spectrum is one where you maintain a lot of control, perhaps following a Social Franchise model with a quality assurance scheme that allows the originator to check in on exactly how the project is being delivered. The hard thing here is that the more control that you have in the replication model the more work there is going to be needed to supervise, maintain and support the growth.

So go on drop this fantasy idea and get on with the next thing!

At London Bubble we stumbled upon Social Franchising as the model to replicate our Speech Bubbles programme. There’s plenty written about Speech Bubbles elsewhere but for new readers it is a drama intervention for children aged 5-7 years who have a communication need.  We started the programme ten years ago with in eight South London Schools, in the 2018-19 academic year we reached sixty five schools from Kent to Oldham. This was delivered by eight theatre partners and later this year they will be joined by partner number nine.  Our partners are as successful at delivering Speech Bubbles as London Bubble is, we know this because we have a unified assessment structure that allows us to compare the teacher reported differences for all children taking part. The relationships we hold with our theatre partners is the key to the success. We seek out partners who share our values and ethos and have a desire to develop creative practice which supports and nurtures children’s communication. Beyond that each of those partners understands the culture of their geographical area; they know how to engage their schools, who might be the opinion shapers and where local pockets of funding might be. This growth journey has not been a linear upward path, there have been bumps along the way, not every partner is still with us and indeed we got very close to bringing some partners on and it hasn’t worked out. This journey has also required a huge amount of learning about quite niche matters and we have taken advice and support from franchise consultants, from children’s communication specialists, from experts in child development and from specialists in social entrepreneurship. So the last thing that I am going to say to try and put you off – if you don’t like taking advice then this is going to be a painful process and perhaps you really should drop the idea and get on with the next thing.

In a relatively short period of time we have been able to increase the reach of Speech Bubbles from 160 children per week to over 1200! So if you have the project that makes a significant social difference, if people value that difference and if other people could do it as well as you then go on REPLICATE!

Blog by Adam Annand,

Associate Director, London Bubble Theatre


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