Anita and I have had the privilege of spending the last ten days with staff from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo. Commissioned by the British Council’s Cultural Skills Unit HVM designed two strategic planning mentoring workshops, the first for Ministry of Antiquities Senior Management, and the second for managers of historic and archaeological sites and museums from around Egypt.
On the flight back we were handed a copy of the Egyptian Gazette with the headline, ‘Dialogue irons out issues between partners’ which got us thinking. Wasn’t this exactly what participants had been telling us during the mentoring sessions? That dialogue and communication were going to be key to their future success? Indeed one of the participants wrote down, 'Let's communicate with each other' as his take away from the session, which was great to see, particularly given that some participants met for the first time on day 1 of the mentoring programme.
Our days in Cairo were spent in productive reflection on ways of planning for the future of the truly extraordinary collections and sites under the care of the teams balanced with thinking through the real challenges in managing them in the context of the seismic political, economic and societal shifts in recent years in Egypt. Whether we were discussing the need for effective human and financial resourcing; the value of community engagement in improving the interaction between historic sites and the people who live and work in their vicinity; creating effective organisational structures; or considering how to piece these elements together in a sustainable strategic plan - dialogue was seen as central.
In the first set of mentoring sessions HVM facilitated participants’ discussions on how to shape a strategic plan tailored to their situation. It was clearly a relief to everyone to be given the space to take a step back, breathe deeply and apply new thinking away from their highly pressured to do lists. And yes, to have a dialogue with colleagues who, because of those pressures, do not get many opportunities to work together on strategic planning.
In the second mentoring programme we again used exercises to support learning and inspire new thinking. We also modeled action learning as a tool for peer learning, for sharing across departments, for finding practical actions which would work back at people’s desks and for establishing a network of people who can now use dialogue to, ‘iron out issues between partners’.
The ten days Anita and I spent in Cairo have left me in absolute awe of the antiquities this exceptional group of people care for and make accessible to the world. Working with them in intensive mentoring sessions has also given me a strong belief that dialogue will help them to navigate complexity, enable all stakeholder voices to be heard, share learning and achieve a better understanding of the contexts in which they all work. And that this is as true of communications with colleagues who work just down the corridor as it is of interactions between communities locally and around around the globe.
Many thanks to all the participants who threw themselves whole-heartedly in to this process and made it an extremely enjoyable and memorable visit for HVM Directors. I'm quite sure we learnt as much as anyone from the fresh perspective working with participants brought us.