How do you determine ‘success’?

A friend asked me today, “How do you determine the success of the project?” The answer it turned out was a lot longer and a lot more interesting than you might at first expect.

We were talking about the pilot project I am undertaking to test the idea which will underpin the entire programme of the Sail Britain Coastline Project on whatever scale, and the fundamental question behind it – how do people respond to place? What is the value of that on a personal and a community level? And how does that work in practice?

The pilot project is being run primarily to test the idea and the approach, but it’s outcome is also something which will allow us to demonstrate the value of the idea and the possibilities of the individual responses and provide us with a point of reference when applying for key funding. If we produce a beautiful body of work – writing, paintings, photographs, a soundscape – which serves through its inevitable variety born from personal approaches to collectively develop a unique portrait of a place, it would seem that we have ‘succeeded’. If this is enough to attract funding, even better.

But that, I think, is only half the picture. I hope in addition that it will provide a glimpse of the less obvious part of the process – the story which lies beneath the end result and the really interesting part. How do people respond to a place and what sets their response apart from that of the person sitting next to them? How also might they be influenced by the different views of their fellow travellers given the situation and the experience of building a close-knit team through sailing? Does the natural view of one’s background change as a result and does collaboration develop?

I am very loath to prescribe how a group might approach these issues. The beauty of the idea is that it is very free – we cannot know how individuals will respond to place and the outcome will almost certainly be unexpected. It may be a collection of individual responses to the same piece of coastline, or collaborations based on human relationships may develop and bear fruit.

Success is often seen in terms of value – what is the value of the outcome? We are used to experiencing places or issues through the window of one individual; a journalist, an author, a photographer or researcher. This can hardly be called a representative view. It is certainly not scientific! When the individual experiences of a group of people are combined to paint a portrait of a place, we inevitably end up with a richer result which may dig deeper into it’s identity. This richness is what I am aiming for and if it is achieved, I think we will have succeeded.

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