Developing the SPDN

Over the last year or so we’ve been thinking a lot about how best to further develop the SPDN to ensure it remains a vibrant and meaningful grassroots movement for UK social pedagogy. Our thinking has been influenced by a variety of considerations:

  • Views of SPDN members: Based on feedback we’ve had from participants at SPDN events, we have some insights into what makes the SPDN special and what participants value about the events. What we’ve been hearing regularly is that the SPDN offers a forum to re-energise and connect with like-minded people, that it stimulates participants’ interests in specific aspects of social pedagogy and provides the space to share their ideas and practice experience. There are likely to be many more aspects, and we’re eager to ensure that the development of the SPDN is guided by its members’ views.
  • Resource implications: We’ve previously not shared too much detail about how the SPDN is resourced and how we’ve managed to keep it a free event. There are three aspects to this: We rely on host organisations who are willing to offer a venue and refreshments for what’s quite often a pretty large crowd. We benefit from the good-will of individuals who agree to run workshops or present without any financial gain – none of the excellent keynote speakers we’ve had over the years has received any payment. And, of course, we as organisers invest a lot of our time and money into co-ordinating and facilitating the event without any external funding. We do it because we love the SPDN and because we are all devoted to developing social pedagogy in the UK. But resources are not endless, and so it’s important to ensure that we take a sustainable approach to the resources we use.
  • Role of the SPDN: Now that social pedagogy is more firmly established, with its own set of standards, a professional association and a broad range of vocational and academic qualifications from Level 3 all the way up to Masters level, it’s important to re-think the role of the SPDN and how it can best nurture and fit with these fantastic developments. All of them play a vital part in the social pedagogy landscape and rely on our collective support. They have already brought new initiative, for example an events calendar of social pedagogy conferences, webinars, workshops, lectures and other activities that offer richer, much more diverse learning opportunities around social pedagogy than ever before. We want to make sure that the SPDN’s place within that landscape makes sense and that there is synergy between what the SPDN offers and others’ contributions.

In determining how we can best develop the SPDN with these considerations in mind we’re keen to follow a co-production process. We obviously want the SPDN to remain of value to you, so we’ve given a lot of thought to how we can best achieve this. The following slide outlines how we think this may work:

We’d therefore like to share our thoughts on the desired outcome and hear what you think, so that we can identify a shared outcome for the SPDN. To share your views, help us work out what the options could be and then make an informed choice, you can either join one of our Zoom calls over the next few months, email us or come to one of the next SPDN events, where you’ll get an opportunity to voice your perspective.


Desired outcomes:

  • To offer an immersive social pedagogical experience: The SPDN seeks to offer a flavour of social pedagogy and let participants experience this with head, heart and hands. It’s social pedagogical in both content and method, and this is central to enabling participants to understand social pedagogy.
  • To be grassroots-led: We started the SPDN as a grassroots movement, where participants could actively shape social pedagogy in the UK, where we could jointly explore multiple perspectives on what social pedagogy is, could or should be. We want the SPDN to be celebrating the diversity that a grassroots movement has to offer – to let a thousand flowers bloom – and to ensure that everyone is recognised as an expert in their own right. What counts is the collective expertise, and therefore what matters most is how we can best draw out everyone’s expertise.
  • To demonstrate the potential of participatory structures: The SPDN aims to create opportunities where every person feels included, engaged and encouraged to share their ideas. This requires specific facilitation methods, such as Liberating Structures, a range of microstructures designed to creatively engage all participants. We want the SPDN to be a place where participants experience the benefits of such methods and become more familiar with them, so that they can use similar microstructures in their own practice.
  • To energise and connect participants to each other and to social pedagogy: A movement is only as strong and vibrant as the connections between the people who are part of it and the energy they bring to it. We’ve been fortunate that the SPDN has an amazingly passionate and thoughtful membership, and we want to ensure that they remain energised and feel connected to like-minded people and to the ways in which social pedagogy can help us nurture change, promote social justice and strengthen relationships between people.
  • To offer insights into how social pedagogy is understood and practiced in the UK, an illustration of its dynamic and evolving character: One of the most fascinating aspects of the SPDN has been that being a part of it is like having a finger on the pulse of social pedagogy in the UK. It has offered regular opportunities to find out what social pedagogy looks and feels like in different practice contexts and different organisations – the questions it raises, the ideas it sparks, the solutions it helps create, the barriers it encounters. We think this aspect is crucial, and we therefore want the SPDN to continue to be an important forum in which we explore and co-construct what we mean by ‘social pedagogy’.
  • To create space for the conversations that are important to participants: We want the SPDN to continue to be a forum where participants can explore the themes that matter to them. This ensures that conversations are more meaningful and that everyone has greater opportunities to take responsibility for their own learning.
  • To encourage action and reflection: The SPDN aims to be action-orientated and to enable participants to reflect both individually and with others in order to initiate change.
  • To be lean – easy to organise and easy to host: Over the years, the SPDN has become a fully-fledged conference in many aspects, even though we’ve avoided calling it a conference. Its events have become increasingly bigger both in terms of the number of participants, which is now quite regularly anywhere between 140 and 200, and in its scale. Having an evening and day seminar with a range of keynote presenters, workshop facilitators and other activities requires a substantial amount of co-ordination and liaison within the organising team, with the host organisations and everyone else involved in the event. As much as these are signs of the SPDN’s success, we don’t want the SPDN to become a victim of its own success by becoming too resource-intensive to organise and host. And for the reasons outlined above, we think that the SPDN would benefit from being a lot leaner, from focussing on creating space for dialogue, relationship-building and exchange of ideas that matter to the people involved – whoever they might be and whatever their ideas may be.
  • To remain free: There are two key reasons why we’ve been committed to keeping the SPDN free. On a pragmatic level, financial transactions create complexities such as who gets how much and why – and it’s not unlikely that the extra work associated with all of this ends up costing more than the revenue created. More importantly though, the involvement of money changes people’s engagement. This is not unique to the SPDN by any means, but the SPDN has greatly benefitted from the generosity of many people over the years – organisations who have hosted events free of charge, individuals who have travelled in their own time and at their own costs to contribute to events, helped prepare, organise, facilitate, clear up, etc. Where no money is involved, these acts of generosity are far more likely to occur and the arrangement far more reciprocal at a human level: Participants contribute not with their £££ but their ideas, they’re not passive consumers but active collaborators. We therefore want to keep future SPDN events free of charge too.

We look forward to finding out what your desired outcomes for the SPDN are. Please feel free to share these by emailing us.