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Animated Edition - Autumn 2006
How useful is the framework?
Sue Davies, Dance Services Manager, Swindon Dance
After reading the very ambitious and confident vision laid out in the Foundation for Community Dance's strategy document, my very first thought was that this was a real sign that community dance practice has come of age. Having been around for much of the infancy and childhood of community dance, when dance practice was being pioneered in all kinds of communities, the vision and potential benefit of the Professional Framework is that it can help us now become a mature profession, able to articulate its place in the wider world, particularly outside of dance.

My second thought was that I had to work hard to keep a grasp of the breadth of the Framework's benefits. It certainly was new territory to see the process of professional standards applied to community dance. Using my Swindon Dance artists' adviser hat on to help keep focussed, I reread parts following through different perspectives - the dance graduate finding their way through freelance employment with very little professional resources through to the highly experienced mature community dance practitioner with relatively no way to express that maturity to others.

A real benefit would be for the entry level practitioner who would be able to see how to navigate their way through the community dance profession, including ways to acquire the skills and knowledge needed and the standards to achieve. For the mature artist at last there might be a way of expressing their competence through the generic and specialised competencies for Practitioner Membership. At last they would have a way to demonstrate their experience to employers, funders and participants. Instead of the vague qualification 'I've been doing community dance for a long time' with a list of roles on the CV.

I can see real advantages in the Framework's propositions for establishing professional standards and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for the diverse constituency of practitioners we now have. However, part of my finding it hard to read the Framework, is a reflection of the enormous cultural shift (described as embedding) it will entail. At the core Practitioner Membership standards process will be a daunting prospect for some whilst others will lap it up (probably those used to self-evaluation and appraisal in organisations).

We need to allow ourselves the time to explain the benefits of the Framework to the diverse range of practitioners. We need to see this process of embedding the Framework into the culture of community dance as a long term one of five years or so rather than two to three years. If pushed through too quickly we are in danger of creating a bureaucracy that does not address the spread of the profession both in terms of the skills but also the range and contexts for the work. Practitioner Membership might become too exclusive due to misunderstanding. Therefore, the process of membership and compliance (by peers) will need to be piloted extensively with a wide range of practitioners. Will there be enough time for rigorous testing and refining before the launch in November 2007?

In terms of motivating different kinds of practitioners to join there would be real benefit in increasing types of membership. A staging post in membership levels would reflect better the progression of careers. More 'practitioner levels' could add to the relevance of membership for entry level through to mature practitioners. Besides the general, or affiliate level, for individuals, students, organisations, non-practitioners, a Foundation level membership through to the Practitioner Members who have their experience assessed through to Professional Assessment Competencies (PAC) after say five years. Eventually this could lead onto Practitioner Fellows for those with over 10 years assessed experience, the seniors of the profession. There are many precedents for this in other professional bodies that could be used for comparison (e.g. Chartered Institutes).

From the point of view of a strategic dance organisation, CPD provider, and dance employer, Swindon Dance has already gone a long way into developing the skills, standards, appraisal and evaluation of education and access work over the last 25 years. The investment has been considerable so it would welcome an opportunity to share this responsibility with others to help create the future workforce. Also the development of Professional Standards would provide a useful benchmark for our own standards.

The Professional Development Framework with the CPD Map, CPD Providers Forum, standardised evaluation systems for CPD all have benefits for planning and evaluating Swindon Dance's professional development work and its impact regionally and nationally. In terms of our role as adviser (IAG) there will still be a need to help individuals (face to face) understand where they are in the CPD map, it is rarely enough to provide a paper/electronic trail alone. If anything the diversity of CPD in the last five years has increased people's need for one to one advice as they often can feel overwhelmed by the choices.

Thinking ahead to five years time when the Framework is in place and operating, I would hope that there would be a clear way into a career in community dance, more visible champions of the field, a strategic approach to CPD provision, and the Foundation for Community Dance having the significant resources needed to manage its roles as advocate, lobbyist, and professional body representing a growing and experienced membership.

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Animated: Autumn 2006