An exercise to ‘break the ice’ in Sweden

This is a simple but very layered and deep exercise involving a person centred model building approach to evaluation using alternative assessment techniques. In advance U.K. had invited each partner to bring along with them an object of their choice – an identical object for each partner.


U.K. artist Rachel Donaldson created some unique handmade bags and we gave one to each partner. I appreciated that they were all similar but different in colour and pattern. We laid them on the floor. I then invited everyone to make a circle around this, an equitable and practical arrangement which enables us to see and hear each other well and puts us all in equal status. Each partner then arranged their objects onto the bags.


We exchanged objects in an almost ritualistic ceremony, our bags now contained 5 identical international items. I invited a volunteer, in their own time and taking as much time as they needed, to choose an object. I invited the volunteer to investigate their object using all of their five senses and then apply imaginative thinking about what it made them recall. I then asked each person to share this with us before passing the object on to someone of their choice, whom they did not know, to begin to get to know names. This person could then use this object or swap it. I carefully managed the process to ensure all were comfortable and took a turn, intervening only when someone appeared to need support.


We imagined many different things and began opening up to each other and our learning journey together, discovering each other as diverse human beings with much to learn from and to teach each other.


Humans use many different forms of communication every day without realising, particularly in a multilingual, non-verbal or diverse group with differing needs. This exercise draws on these ‘total communication’ skills and more actively puts them into play. Headway Arts often works with people who struggle to communicate due to disability. I use my vocal tone, reassuring body language, gesture and positive energies to encourage contribution and an expressive opening up.


If we struggle to express for whatever reason, creating a safe space with a high level of focus helps individuals to offer up ideas in a group setting. It is important to build and help maintain this high focus and supportive environment. In this case the person describing the object is taking their turn to control communication, express themselves at a comfortable pace, while others are encouraged to actively listen. It gives an opportunity to express our culture and to sample each other’s culture authentically.


The exercise quickly establishes a model and conventions around what is expected of us all during the workshop e.g. actively listening to/ including each person, not interrupting, offering respect and tolerance. It gives the group time to see each other, break the ice and settle.


We imaginatively describe and discuss the objects, what we think about them, what they make us think of. It helps to lift barriers by finding out a little about each other, helping each other to relax and begin communication generally. If carefully facilitated it builds trust by creating a safe means of communication creative in an equitable way (giving each person as much support as they require) taking the focus off the person onto the object, yet still sharing of ourselves. When comfortable in the circle we begin to open up further and to share more freely. When people feel creative freedom, expression and positive reception this feeds confidence and further creativity and moves us to reflect and freely evaluate.


Using a qualitative approach: How did you do? How much did you participate? How did you feel? Did you offer ideas to others? Do you think you listened actively? What can you learn from this? This was not shared at this stage with others in the group, (I prefer to build to these critical skills gradually as the group become more familiar) but written down for personal reflection (enablers can help with this) to begin to establish the process of reflective practice and inform future sessions. For example, this session gave me information to design the 5 Evaluation Questions for the next mobility.

In the Bag with workshop lead Allie Walton-Robson, Creative Director, Headway Arts

The Bag Workshop in Action