The VOICES Project had several outputs including the published papers forming the theoretical framework of the project, the storyteller and respondent presentations made at conferences and workshops, and the final edited collection.
At each of the thematic workshops and again at the book editing workshop storytellers and respondents presented an excerpt from their contribution. For example, the seminar on consent to sex and relationships featured a mix of personal stories and legal and policy responses, with presentations from two of the storyteller and respondent pairs. At the final workshop, all pairs had the opportunity to share their experiences of the project and provide previews of their book chapters. Attendees were encouraged to contribute their views by drawing or writing on an art wall or recording a message in a sound booth. The VOICES project has recorded and made available all the presentations from the public day of each of the workshops.
The VOICES project concluded with the launch of the edited collection entitled “Global Perspectives on Legal Capacity Reform: Our Voices, Our Stories.” To coincide with the book launch, the project team organised a final two day Activism and Influencing Policy Workshop with the pairs and some invited guests, to bring the project’s findings to a wider audience, and more specifically, to take steps towards the kinds of reforms envisaged by the project participants.
After the book editing workshop all of the project participants were given a concept note which summarised the project team and pairs ideas for the remainder of the project including the book launch. In this document pairs were asked if they would be willing to meet with a policymaker to discuss their chapter, what policymaker they would like to discuss their chapter with and if they could think of an object connected with or representing their chapter for the exhibition. The concept note also asked participants who should be invited to the book launch and if there was anything else they would like the project to do prior to the book launch.
In the concept note the project team asked participants if they would be comfortable working with a policymaker and if so, which policymakers they wanted to invite to the activism and influencing policy workshop. Policymakers would be invited to read the chapter before attending the workshop and meeting the authors to discuss its content. Guidelines were provided with regard the type of policymakers the team hoped to invite. The project team wished to invite individuals that were in a position of leadership and who could influence policy. The project team also specified that they wanted to invite policymakers who were open to or could be open to the concept of Article 12 of the CRPD, but who may not have a detailed knowledge of the article or the legal and social barriers that exist in its implementation. The aim was to teach these policymakers about Article 12 and to inform them of the importance of implementing it in their practice. This was an essential part of the project as the project did not want to only engage with people who knew of and were already advocating its implementation, they also wanted to engage with policymakers and influencers who may not have much prior experience but could effect change in the implementation of policy. However, some policymakers and influencers that were invited to attend had central roles regarding implementation of Article 12 of the CRPD in their jurisdictions.
The project team also made an effort, wherever possible, to invite policymakers and influencers from the same countries as the storytellers so that they could discuss specific laws, policies and practices from their stories and the need for reform. It was also hoped that the pairs and policymakers could work together in the future after the workshop regarding legal reform and respect for legal capacity in the policy area discussed during the workshop.
As discussed above the project team asked each pair if there was any particular policymaker or influencer, they would like to discuss their chapter with. The team then invited the policymakers and influencers chosen by the pairs insofar as possible. When a policymaker or influencer was unavailable the team would ask the pair for another suggestion and also researched and suggested other potential invitees.
The policymakers and influencers chosen to participate in the project were from a diverse range of professions that impact on policy, including journalists, judges, police officers, academics, activists and members of civil society and human rights monitoring bodies. They also came from many different types of policy backgrounds such as aviation and transport, adult guardianship, banking and consumer protection, education, and legal aid.
Unfortunately, not all of the policymakers and influencers invited were available to participate in the final VOICES workshop. Those who were unavailable were asked if they would still be interested in reading the chapter and writing a short article or recording a statement with their reflections and the need for reform which would be published on the website.
The first day of the workshop consisted of presentations and discussions about:
- The ground rules for the workshop
- Policymakers that would be attending the next day
- Building a grassroots movement to advocate for reform
- Self-care for activists
The storytellers and respondents discussed and agreed once again on the ground rules for the workshop, which were available in easy-to-read. The storytellers and respondents were then given time to discuss the work they had done since the last workshop and the work they would like to do after the VOICES project had ended.
During the next session of the workshop the project team provided information about all the policymakers that would be participating in the workshop the following day. The presentation provided information about each of the policymakers including their names, their professional background and their photographs.
Following the presentation about the policymakers, the storytellers and the respondents discussed the potential common concerns of the policymakers and influencers. They considered potential barriers to reform that policymakers may raise and discussed how best to respond to comments about barriers or information they could provide to rebut such obstacles to reform. Pairs considered what information they would most like policymakers to take away from the conversation and how they would communicate these points.
The first day of the workshop also provided space for the storytellers and respondents to discuss and learn about building a movement from individuals who had participated in or founded similar human rights movements previously. This session of the workshop provided information for storytellers and respondents who hoped to build a movement in their own countries when the VOICES project finished.
The first day of the final workshop concluded with a session on self-care for activists. To support this aspect of the workshop the project team recruited a facilitator with experience of self-care workshops for activists using arts-based methods. The facilitator then designed exercises to enable storytellers and respondents to identify those they could turn to for support after the VOICES project ended if issues arose for them related to their participation in the project – particularly the publication of material in the book. Participants also reflected on their aspirations arising from the project during this session.
On the second day of the workshop the storytellers and respondents were joined by the policymakers and influencers for a ‘Meet the Authors event. Each policymaker was given their pairs chapter of the edited collection prior to the workshop, so they were familiar with its background and content. The workshop began with the pairs sitting with their policymaker or influencer to discuss the chapter and the need for reform and any potential barriers or questions that arose.
During the second session of the workshop the entire group discussed the barriers and challenges to reform and identified potential solutions. This was followed by the third and final session of the day, which focused on feedback and reflection. This was an important part of the day, and invited policymakers to take personal responsibility for one small change they could make in policy or practice. Through focusing on one achievable action the policymakers could take to implement Article 12 genuine, achievable solutions were identified.
The edited collection entitled, ‘Global Perspectives on Legal Capacity Reform: Our Voices Our Stories’ was one of the primary outputs of the VOICES project. The edited collection is comprised of fourteen co-authored chapters by the storytellers and respondents from the project as well as a context setting pieces for each of the four thematic areas of the project by the editors. The edited collection was published by Routledge as part of its Research in Human Rights Law series and launched on the 24th of October 2018 by Rosaleen McDonagh, a playwright and disability activist. The book launch took place in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, where the VOICES exhibition was located.
In addition to the conferences, workshops, and book, the VOICES project has led to a variety of opportunities for participants, including blogs, conferences, consulting positions, and participation in other legal capacity related projects. Some pairs have expressed a desire to continue to work together, or to write about their experience working together.
A key consideration in a project of this nature is the impact participation will have on participants, particularly the personal lives of the storytellers. Storytellers shared stories of an intimate nature, often involving those close to them. There is a possibility that sharing could lead to negative consequences in their personal lives and relationships. Sharing intensely personal stories can also have long-term emotional consequences, particularly for those who shared traumatic experiences in presentations during workshops and conferences. For these reasons, the project team made self-care for participants a priority throughout the project, to mitigate the possible negative impact of sharing these experiences publicly. The signing of each other’s’ books at the book launch also seemed to provide meaningful closure for many of the project participants.
The website contained all the information about the project from its overall structure, timeline, recruitment and events. The website’s news feed operated as the project’s blog which contained a collection of articles about the project and supported decision-making. The website also hosted videos of the storytellers and respondents presenting at workshops.
The website enabled the project to have a strong societal impact by providing information and essential resources to the public. The project gave the public access to many of its documents such as:
- Information packs about the project in easy-to-read and plain language
- Application forms to participate in the project as storytellers and respondents
- Ground rules for the project
- Pairing guidelines for the project
- Expression of interest forms for the project
- The working papers for the theoretical framework
The VOICES project also had a Twitter account. Similarly, the Twitter account ensured that the project could engage with and impact society. The twitter account played an important role in communicating with policymakers, other organisations and individuals about the VOICES project. The twitter account was a valuable method of disseminating information about the project to the public, particularly as the project team live tweeted the public sessions of all events to make them accessible to a global audience.
Throughout the project the project team was keen to ensure that the stories and recommendations of participants in the project were heard by individuals who could influence law and policy. To ensure that policymakers and influencers heard the stories and recommendations, specific policymakers and influencers were invited to attend and were given chairing roles at events. The project team hopes that by engaging with these influencers, they encouraged the creation of law, policy, and practices that reflect the experiences of people with disabilities, and ensure that everyone’s legal capacity is recognised and respected.
The VOICES project held an exhibition in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission from the 22nd to the 24th November. The exhibition consisted of posters containing a photograph of the pair, the title of their chapter and a quote from their chapter. The posters were accompanied by a meaningful object from each story, chosen by the participants. In keeping with the collaborative ethos of the project the team worked with the pairs to design the posters and choose the quotes and objects. Where pairs were uncertain which object or quote, they would like to be included and the team offered suggestions. The photographs, quotes and objects were a powerful method of showing people how the denial of legal capacity can affect an individual’s life and allowed the public to engage with the project in an accessible way.
The edited collection was ultimately published as an academic book. The decision to publish the edited collection as an academic book was made for a number of reasons, including that the project team believed there was a need for individuals’ stories and experiences of the law in practice to become a larger part of the narrative in academia surrounding legal capacity and law reform. The team has made efforts to ensure that the outputs of the VOICES project are accessible, acknowledging that academic literature is not accessible to everyone. This was one of the main reasons that there wasn’t a single “end product,” but rather multiple outputs.
Discovery pens were available to make the exhibition accessible to blind and visually impaired people or those with limited literacy. The discovery pens provided an audiovisual description of every element of the exhibition and wayfinding information.
|Think beyond the lifetime of the project when it comes to storyteller and respondent relationships. Consider establishing parameters and reasonable expectations for the relationships after the project comes to an end. |
Invite policymakers and influencers that have leadership roles and can effect policy change to participate. Most of the policymakers and influencers invited to events did attend, including experienced policymakers and members of the judiciary. Even if the policymakers or influencers invited cannot attend the event themselves, they may recommend someone else to participate who can play a key role in law and policy reform or participate in another project event.
|When developing a project which involves the telling of personal and often traumatic stories, make sure that the project team is conscious of self-care throughout.|