We’re building transparency, starting with a pay review to be published in January 2017.
We’re launching community socials, chances to meet and hang out starting 25th November 2016.
I’m opening out my diary monthly, come chat, have coffee and tell me whats’ up.
We’ve launched a feedback form, tell us what’s on your mind - anonymous or not.
We’re holding a BIG FAT EVENT, on 22nd February 2017 filled with strategy, performances & stories.
If you don’t know the story by now, Beatfreeks the movement and the company, was seeded in a little coffee shop on Colmore Row called Urban Coffee on 7th February 2013. Around 40 people gathered to share tales of love, politics, breakfast cereals and identity. It was magical. From there we’ve grown pretty quickly to who we are today; a youth engagement agency developing people, ideas and spaces through creativity working firmly in Birmingham and expanding our little arms across international seas -- in fact, all the way over to Barbados, where Luci Hammans runs Beatfreeks Barbados.
The nature of business, social media and storytelling has meant that people have mostly seen the good bits. The awards we’ve picked up, the media coverage, the big client names and the incredible young people who have gone on to do amazing things for themselves.
We’re an extremely reflective team, I swear by our bi-monthly team days (fuelled by sweets, post-it notes and games) where we open with a reflective session on what we could do better. But these team days are private, which means that no one knows that we do them. We need to be better at sharing as we go along, to be bolder in our failures and to not carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Over the last 3 months we’ve been conducting research into our community & what we’re doing well but most importantly -- to determine how we could improve, how we could better break down barriers for young people to get involved and most crucially where our ‘blind spots’ are. The insight we gained from the 100 responses, as well as the extra focus groups, personal conversations and emails/messages/texts we’ve received, will be released (anonymously) next month on our website but I wanted to share a few of our learnings and critically a few things we’ll be addressing over the coming months:
What we learnt was the best thing that young people get from Beatfreeks is a network of other like-minded creatives to collaborate with. We have incredible stories of how people have met their business partners, their artistic collaborators, their best friends, and even their fiancees through Beatfreeks. People want more of this. More opportunities to meet and mingle without direct intervention. More empowered spaces for people to take things into their own hands.
We also learnt that the more we make people feel that they belong (feel they are a part of the community) the more difficult it becomes for other people to get involved. In short, our brand can be a little strong for people. We need to be better and giving lighter touch interventions for people before they commit to getting involved or start to feel a part of the community.
What we’re doing about it:
a) We’re launching Beatfreeks Socials (a snazzier name to come). A space every 3 months or so to mingle, collaborate, debate and more. We’ll provide the space, the food and the support but the rest is guided and decided by you – just how it should be.
People are much more comfortable to give good feedback rather than criticism. We’re stacked full of amazing testimonials, quotes, stories and messages that have helped positively reinforce our ways of working. But what about those stories that slip under the radar? The ones that aren’t so shiny. We desperately need those too.
We also learnt a lot about our research skills – some of our questions started from the assumption that we’re doing well and just need help to get better. Did we close off a space for any alternative story?
Additionally, we learnt that people involved in Beatfreeks at the start were used to having immediate access to all members of the team, and especially me to be at all events and answer all questions. As we’ve grown into a team, and into multiple business (Beatfreeks Arts, Beatfreeks Consulting and Doink), naturally time has got more valuable. However, where I know I’d take a call at pretty much any time of night if there was a problem, not everyone knew how or where to reach us or me with issues.
What we’ve done:
a) The questionnaire. This will be an annual research effort which we will publish the results of, along with the actions we’ll take to improve and build on our strengths.
b) Feedback form. I’ve built (with my own non-techie fingers!) an anonymous feedback form on our website. This is a space to submit compliments and complaints, at any time, from anywhere, in any way you feel comfortable. They will be dealt with quickly, sensitively and with compassion.
c) Coffee mornings. I’m opening my diary up monthly. I’ll leave a few slots during the day and a few after work. This is a chance for young people, our associates and our clients to have time to speak to me about projects, ideas, concerns or just to enjoy a drink together.
We’ve grown quickly as people, as a company and as a movement. This has meant that at points people don’t know how we work, what we work on, and why we work in certain ways. We’ve struggled to keep telling the stories of our projects along with our organisational development. This has meant people have felt out of the loop or confused. It’s been a challenge to take the thousands of people we’ve worked with on this journey with us, which at time has meant our closest associates, our community (and sometimes even the team) have found it hard to keep up with the pace. We’ve worked with a bunch of people, from young work experience students, to full time paid members of staff, to experienced artists and facilitators to young professionals just starting their freelance journey. We’ve worked hard to share out as many opportunities as possible, whilst building a solid staff team. That’s been hard at times and sometimes we’ve simply tried to do too much – split 1 opportunity into 2 or given work out to freelancers where there hasn’t been the time or capacity to support, and we should have kept it in house.
What we’ve done:
a) Transparency. We’re working on publishing our pay rates for freelancers. Where before we’ve worked in a bespoke approach, which has been beneficial at times, but other times, we’ve found it challenging to price things consistently. We’ll be creating set rates and making them open. Equally we’ll be sharing our pay ratio and our plans for pay rises and growth. Transparency will become a mindset, a value and a core part of our philosophy. We’re kicking off with a pay review here.
b) We’re hosting an open event on 22nd February at Birmingham Hippodrome over lunch to share and update on our plans over the next 3 years. We’ll be sharing our impact to date, how we work and how we add value to young people and partners, our learnings and how we want to move forward. This is an invitation to join us on the next part of the journey and hold us to account. The event will be open to sign up to in January 2017 for free.
c) Our Annual Report will cover June 2015 – December 2016 and will be released before Christmas this year. We’ll then be releasing an annual report, to include our research results and our performance to date annually at Christmas - to be consistently updated against our plans. See, transparency in action!
Ideas and Inspiration
We support lots of young people into co-creator positions. Whether that’s officially, like on our Routes2Roots project or our Youth Steering Committee, or unofficially like The Social Exchange where we call out for ideas and inspiration.
We’ve learnt that our unofficial co-creation needs to be facilitated in a way that all people involved get value from the experience. We want people to see their ideas going into action and be accredited for their contribution.
We also have realised that when young people are ready to move on from Beatfreeks - we need to help them exit in a way that they can build their own identities. We established Powered By to help them build their own businesses. But what about as artists and freelancers and citizens?
What we’ve done:
a) We’ve removed the brand from Powered By Beatfreeks and added much more value to the project by bringing in Impact Hub Birmingham and UnLtd as partners, rebranding to Powered By Brum. Young people do not need to credit Beatfreeks. They are encouraged to take the mentoring, cash and space and make their projects absolutely soar. You can see some of the existing projects here and express your interest in participating in the 2017 cohort by dropping an email to Tony.
b) We’re working on a co-created agreement for our co-creators (a bit meta, right) on what they expect and what we expect to protect their and our rights within projects. We feel this approach will help people to feel better supported and clear.
c) We’re going to make a bigger fuss about people. We’ve introduced Freek of the Week on Instagram and on our website which shouts about incredible people in the community doing ace things. We’ll include co-creators on our website, in our storytelling and the evaluation and legacy plans to a project. We want people to feel valued.
d) We want to add to the spirit of open collaboration by being clear about what’s a BF branded project, what’s co-commissioned (started by us and taken on by a young person) and what we can open source for the benefit of the wider world. We’re working on an open area of the website where we’ll publish resources, event plans and brands that will be shared under creative commons licence for anyone to use. This will take time, but is part of our long term commitment to helping everyone to flourish.
We’re a bit loud. We’re a bit loud, a bit hyper, a bit messy and a bit brash. Oh, and relentlessly optimistic. For some people, that’s the dream. For others it’s intimidating, it’s draining or maybe even disingenuous. We’ve worked hard to cultivate a positive, proactive mindset (read our Philosofreek), but at times - it shuts people out.
What we’ve done:
a) We’re adding a pre-event disclaimer, so that new people who turn up to events feel safe and welcomed into our spaces. We hope it will then encourage people to feel comfortable within the community to help make it a positive experience for new people involved.
b) We’re working on new events, new online spaces and new projects which will allow an array of people to get involved. Something quieter maybe, or something more digital, or something with specialist staff to help with additional needs. We’re open to hearing your ideas too so let us know if there’s something we can do to make you, or a friend, more supported to get involved.
We’re a young company with big ambitions to change the world. But we recognise that we can’t do that without you. Feedback is the biggest gift you can offer anyone so thank you to every single person who has sent a message, mentioned something, or sat us down to share thoughts. It has been taken on board and it is hugely appreciated. We’re ready. We’re listening. Let’s make 2017 the best yet.