Street Wisdom with Local Authorities

Street Wisdom with Local Authorities

I’ve been trying out some alternative ways of helping Local Authorities connect with and explore the communities and the places they work with and in and I’ve been using Street Wisdom as one of the creative tools to “…give participants the skills to access the ‘invisible university’ that’s all around them and find fresh answers to personal or work-related questions – with profound results”

Imagine taking some time…Imagine taking some time to wander, to notice, to be. Imagine taking some time to wander and to notice and to be and to ask questions…important questions…questions that matter to you, to work…questions that have been troubling you, questions you need some answers to. And then imagine that as you wander your question is challenged, explored, delved into, more questions are raised, more insight gained, more knowledge found. Imagine that some new ideas also appear, some suggestions, some answers, some inspiration. Imagine that these ideas and answers start to coalesce and form, some fresh thinking emerges, some new insight, a way forward is found, a next step, a deeper conviction, a way through the fog, some renewed energy.

Imagine what that wander would feel like!

Why the streets?
Because they are many and varied. They are free to use. They are where we spend an increasing amount of our metropolitan lives. And they are a rich source of untapped wisdom. It turns out, you don’t need an exotic getaway to find inspiration. It’s right outside your door. And you won’t burn a tonne of fossil fuel getting there.”

In our fast paced, complex and reactive world we don’t really have the time to have a wander, to notice what is around us, to be. But if we are to navigate this complexity then exactly the thing we need to take is the time to think, to notice, to reflect.

How does it work?

It’s very simple

Tune Up. Quest. Share.

First, you tune up your senses so you can pick up much more information from the urban environment that you would normally.
Then you’re off on a journey by yourself – your street quest – where you ask a question and see what answers present themselves.
Finally, you gather together again to share what happened wonder at how magical an ordinary street can become when you’re really aware of those hidden messages, chance meetings and unexpected discoveries.

And there is solid evidence behind taking this time to think. The New Economic Foundation has identified five evidence based ways to wellbeing

  • Connect
  • Be Active
  • Take Notice
  • Keep Learning
  • Give

But you knew all that already, what is less well known is the fact that walking makes you measurably more creative. The research of Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz from Stanford University demonstrated that walking outside boosts creative ideation in real time.

“Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity”

This is just the sort of experience, inspiration and impact that Street Wisdom has. It is the art of purposeful wandering, allowing the street to be our university to aid our learning and to inspire our thinking. Street Wisdom can help us with our well being, it can helps us to connect with our environment, to be active, to notice and learn from what is around us and it can help us to be more creative, what’s not to like?

“In just three hours of walking and wandering, participants have resolved problems that have dogged them for years, found new business ideas, changed careers, discovered new directions, and learned how to deal differently with living, learning and loving.”

What is it like in practice?

At the start of their wellbeing week Oldham Council started on a Street Wisdom journey with a group of explorers meeting outside Oldham Gallery for their first Street Wisdom experience and here is one participant’s story, Dan Caborn is an Organisational Development Consultant with Oldham Council and this is his experience in his words .

“Although familiar with using similar mindfulness and coaching approaches, I turned up on a beautifully sunny morning looking forward to the full emersion Oldham Town Centre and Street Wisdom could offer.

Following a series of 10 minute wanderings contemplating a number of questions designed to heighten our senses (What do you notice? What patterns and meanings emerge from what you see? What happens when you slow right down & notice the minute? What do you appreciate when you see the beauty in everything) I was ready to tackle my ‘quest’ and ask the street to provide some guidance to help me answer my ‘question’!

In contemplative mood, I set off and after a little time refining my original question I found myself using what I saw, felt and interpreted from the landscape & people around me to ask myself further questions to advance my train of thought. Here are a selection of many moments I experienced …

  • On seeing a ‘One Way’ sign, I realised that I’d been caught in tunnel thinking and a new question popped into my head ‘Is there only one way? How else could I tackle this problem?’
  • On seeing a masonry stone in the wall of an old bank with an interesting pattern that reminded me of a brain, another question emerged ‘Are we just appealing to people’s intellect? How can we provide more immersive experiences to help people feel the change we are seeking to make?’
  • On seeing the patterns in a cobbled street, my train of thought moved onto the tensions between conformity and individuality often experienced in corporate environments and the impact that has on my approach with stakeholders
  • On noticing a single ladybird carved into just one of 100 or so base stones of some iron railings it made me realise that the small, unexpected but beautifully designed things matter to the overall effect.
  • Finally, on taking time to contemplate a particularly pleasant vista on the steps of the Holy Cross Church, a series of metaphors emerged for my ‘problem’. With the war memorial in the foreground (all change journeys start with the recognition of loss), a new road being laid behind it (the path is not always clear and sometimes you have to build it with others), the proximity of two substantial buildings dissecting myview of the destination (spending time to look between the gaps gives you a glimpse of future possibilities)

one waycobblesladybirdpatternsthe way forward

Individually, these sound like quotes from 1001 Business or self-help books but at the time they had real resonance and meaning to my train of thought and that for me is the key to Street Wisdom. The discussion when the group returned to our rendezvous point was quite striking in that we had all had some great & meaningful experiences as well as covering a serious number of miles between us, not to mention the sunburn!

Did Street Wisdom solve my ‘problem’ and transform the business? Well no, nor was it likely to given the nature of the ‘problem’ I chose to consider but it did give me a renewed energy, positivity to try again, a couple of anchors to draw on when I feel struck again.

Not everyone will get Street Wisdom’, or feel comfortable doing it but that’s okay – horses for courses – but if you do find yourself under a red umbrella with a group of slightly apprehensive looking people, my advice to you is:

  • Switch off from day to day distractions (emails, phone calls and social medial alerts etc.)
  • Switch on you sense of adventure and be open to possibilities
  • Allow yourself the luxury of spending a significant amount of time ‘single-tasking’
  • Be prepared to connect with your chosen location in a very different way – not as a means of travelling from one place to another – but seeing it as a destination itself

The further down the rabbit hole you allow yourself to go, the more you will get out of it.”

Thanks to Dan for his great reflections. Oldham Council are planning 7 more sessions in the early autumn.

If you are interested in how Street Wisdom can help you, your team or organisation you can find out more by contacting me (your local Street Wizard) on twitter @kevwyke or email or on the phone +44 (0) 7944513977. Or you can get in touch with the Street Wisdom team at

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