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2021: situating pandemic professional practice as a CEO

Like everyone else, I found last year very tough indeed, even with several key advantages: I have years of experience in my role; I had weathered other crisis before this one and I knew how to manage some of what 2020 threw at us; I had successfully led the transition to us working online a few years ago and we were thus able to continue our work with less disruption than many others. I am proud of what I achieved last year, and what I was able to contribute to the continued success of the organisation, to the well being of our staff and to the efforts of our Members.

As I head back to my desk in 2021, I feel like I am starting a new job and I have blogged about looking ahead here and also in this post. I wrote about how being the CEO of a small, independent charity, the leading professional body for Learning Technology and an organisation who used to rely on face to face events for 50% of its annual turnover is a very different ballgame in this new context.

I feel it is important to re-examine the context my professional practice as a leader, as someone working in Learning Technology, as the CEO of a small, independent charity, as a feminist and as a human being in order to be mindful of why my voice and my work have value and relevance.

To find inspiration in what I can achieve and where I am making a difference even as global events continue to unfold.

Remix 'n' Match by @visualthinkery is licenced under CC-BY-SA.
Remix ‘n’ Match by @visualthinkery is licenced under CC-BY-SA.

Situating my professional practice

I recently read a very elegant and eloquent book How to Make Art at the End of the World (Loveless 2019) and I was struck by how powerful an introduction the author opened with. Not only did that first chapter provide a clear and convincing argument, but it very intentionally situated the professional practice and perspective of the author within a wider context.

With everything that is going on in the world, I feel this kind of situating is becoming ever more important, and I would like to reflect on some of the key points Natalie Loveless and explore how they relate to my approach to leadership. As an aside, as far as I can see, this is an excellent read beyond the introduction, so if powerfully theoretical discourse on artistic research and academic practice is your thing, I would strongly recommend this book 🙂

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (23)

Acknowledging fierce, feminist, decolonial colleagues

In the acknowledgements Loveless mentions how much her work depends on and is inspired by colleagues in her university and whilst I work in a much small organisation, I have built up a strong network of ‘fierce, feminist, decolonial colleagues’. It takes extra energy to be all of those things in the challenging times that we live in and enduring this pandemic has certainly made it even more important to stay principled in professional practice. Finding time to address these issues through volunteering or activity in networks has been nearly impossible, so instead I have and will continue to use my sphere of influence to make a difference in whatever small ways I can: donating free conference places or speaker fees, promoting voices that would otherwise find it hard to find an audience and highlighting inequality and the actions we can take to address them everywhere I go.

Acknowledging my context

In one of the paragraphs in the introduction, Loveless reflects on how her “arguments and examples sometimes fail to fully account for the ways in which similar debates have been taken up… [by] voice and texts from other cultural, geographic, or institutional locations” going on to say that she recognises that by choosing one perspective, informed by her context and training, results in another perspective not being told. “All I can hope is that what is missing does not overshadow what is present, and that the claims at the heart of this book come across with respect and care” (p. 13-14).

Over the past year I have worked at educating myself about issues such as how to promote gender equality, fight digital poverty and racism in Learning Technology, and that has made be ever more aware of how many blind spots I have. I want to get better at acknowledging my own context, the relative privilege that shapes my view of the world and my identity.

Being ALT’s CEO gives me the opportunity to give a platform to others, but it also requires me to represent the views and voices of the community I represent. Part of my job is being visible, to have a public profile, to be on stage and to have a voice. And I very much relate to Loveless’s aim to get her message across with respect and care and an awareness of my own context.

Working in… compromised times

Since working in a leadership role, things have certainly changed in the world and writing this in lockdown in a country in which I, as a European, am now more formally classed as an immigrant and required to have proof that I am allowed to access medical care or work makes this even more palpable.

“There is no longer any question that we are living in compromised times, within which the fantasy of an uncompromised self is isolationist, privileged and dangerous (Shotwell 2016). Global ecological and economic collapse are discussed with alarming regularity in the newspapers and newsfeeds that surround us” (p.16). All this has a direct impact on my professional practice.

Part of my job as CEO is to manage risk, and this certainly has become more ‘red’ as various crisis hit us.

My responsibility is to enable the organisation to fulfil its strategic mission, to achieve its aims – and also to ensure that we contribute to the public good.

To make a positive difference to Learning Technology professionals and the work that they do, in very compromised times.