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Jon Pratty

"I'm so pleased to get on to Sync South East - it's a chance to rub shoulders with some really interesting and inspiring people. It's going to be a bumpy ride, I'm quite sure, but I'll be doing my best to ask questions of myself that will make me work hard to find the answers. It's always cool to take on new challenges, and I'm hoping Sync South East will lead me somewhere new."

I'm a digital publisher and journalist energised by opportunities to build sustainable relationships and lasting partnerships that help people and organisations find creative, cultural voices online.

We're all mostly blocked from within, and by each other, as organisations and as individuals; in the arts we try to please funders by taking time professing to care about 'users' and 'audiences' , and yet we care little about our own entitlement to have voices, views and tools to get our own messages out.

I'd like to spend time working on ways to extend our own entitlement to cultural expression - and my own experience of disability issues is a key experiential driver in this work

Jon Pratty and Colin Hambrook at a Sync South East meeting

Jon's Journey

A few months down the line and we’re motoring along really fast; at least that what the Sync South East Individuals programme feels like to me. The elements that make up the programme have become quite distinct, and work in different ways for me.

Firstly, I really enjoy the seminars and meetings we have. Secondly, the coaching has galvanised me into making concrete changes to many parts of my life and work, and the benefits are clear to me. Thirdly, my leadership aspirations now have some backup in terms of theory, foundations that build confidence, and I’m putting into practice new lessons learnt on the programme.

Seminars or socialising?

I think we sometimes forget the simple needs we have to socialise, and how many of us don’t get the chance for all sorts of reasons. So meeting up now and again has been a chance to catch up, to put faces to names, and to begin to understand how other people experience the same issues as myself.

OK, so what’s that got to do with leadership? We’re not getting together just to socialise, surely? Well, no, not just that, but it’s a key ice-breaker for the more weighty matters that follow at each session.

Jon Pratty deep on conversation at a Sync South East meeting

Coaching and change

Sync coaching? It’s been something really big for me. I’ve just been getting some therapy, anyway, so I was in the mode and mood for internal thought and external dialogue about that.

I found the coaching took me further on from where I was going on my own, more internal, journey. My coaching challenged me to consider some aspects of the way I habitually do things professionally, and about how that might move on if I am able to achieve change.

Sounds vague? Well, no. I gained confidence in coaching to cut down my voluntary committee and trustee work, which was taking over my life and reducing my earning power, and diffusing my focus on key tasks.

It’s been a big thing to do; I’ve been on some of these committees for six or seven years, but we all have to move on and there’s always new people waiting to have a go in your wake; why not let them have a go, I thought.

Benefits of change

It’s been great to have some room to manoeuvre. The key win for me – as I see it now – is that I’ve just started to think about what other changes can now take place. My Sync coaching dialogue has allowed me to look round the corner, as it were, to see what awaits. And now I’m looking, there are even more corners to explore too.

Jon Pratty as part of a group discussion at a Sync South East meeting

So what about leading and leadership?

As part of a group, I’ve been able to think about how I project my leadership values into the social/professional space that is Sync. It’s key to realise that we need to be contextually aware of how we sit in the group mix of personalities and egos.

I don’t think leadership is always about being at the front of the group making the most noise, or putting your hand up to answer questions the most. There are much more subtle ways to imprint your leadership signature. Trying to help others in a purely functional way, or injecting some humour, or adding a positive point when there’s some stasis in the discussion seems important to me.

I’m learning that leadership begins with myself. Leading others to work efficiently, stay healthy, communicate well, evaluate success and be supportive starts off with me doing those things for myself, as an example.

It’s the real thing

Beyond that, at Disability Arts Online, we’re currently working through a tough programme of organisational development. I’m writing funding applications and tackling management challenges; I need to meet deadlines; support staff to work well; improve our office systems. Lots to do.

In leadership terms our challenge is interesting; we’re moving from being a virtual organisation to a real one, based in a newly set up office. The most basic of facilities were – to start with – absent. We didn’t even have a waste bin, never mind a computer, or a printer, or a in-tray for our post.

Setting up a real office has been fun, and a good way to pull people together and begin to give them a sense of identity, and a cultural voice.

Jon Pratty deep on conversation with Jo Verrent at a Sync South East meeting

Into the future - public sector entrepreneurship?

As an entrepreneur, this is what keeps me awake at night: we’re now heading towards a new government which will undoubtedly, and understandably, have different cultural targets and concerns. As creators and leaders we need to be able to adapt our ideas and expectations to fit into the new political and cultural landscape. We don't need to see this as a bad time for culture; and we won't progress through this new landscape if we adopt a negative posture about it.

I'm very keen on public-sector, public-service culture. So what's that? It's culture that isn't always about the bottom line, about immediate profit or mass consumption. There are more subtle ways to demonstrate value for the public purse than producing TV programmes like Strictly Come Dancing or by televising the Lottery draw. It's key to remember that public service culture and broadcasting (in the BBC tradition of Lord Reith) should be politically neutral, something I think we've forgotten since Labour's election win in 1997.

At Disability Arts Online, if we train people to get jobs who weren't able to work before, then we're empowering them. If we improve the quality of reporting of disability issues in the mass media we've done a great job. If we give distinctive people with (sometimes) interesting and surprising views a platform, then we're assisting digital inclusion. These aren't party political values, they're human rights.

And this is what we're going to do about it...

If we effectively spotlight the brilliant work of our Deaf and Disabled artists of all kinds we're opening up channels to big new general audiences online, and have the chance to generate income as a result. To get this started at dao, we're soon going to be taking advertising on the site. We've also begun generating income from consultancy activity, assisting others to publish accessible culture online. In the new year, we're looking to set up new networks of writers to generate content sustainably, and to spot and nurture a new generation of art writers from within our own community of Deaf and Disabled people.