The Fluctuating Flow

The research is concerned with understanding the facilitator's actions that lead to maintaining participatory flow. 23 consecutive minutes of the video footage have been analysed to gain a detailed insight into the research question.

One of the outcomes of this research is the understanding that flow fluctuates. According to the graph, four typical scenarios have been identified. These are:

-Simple balance of flow

-Extreme balance of flow: high skills or high challenge

-Rupture of flow

-Repair of flow

From the analysis, it can be seen when maintaining flow, the facilitator either raises the level of skills or the level of challenge. They both support maintenance of the balance of flow. However, on occasions, flow may rupture. As discussed previously, this can also be observed on the graph, as can the re-balancing of flow following repair of the rupture.

Simple balance of flow

Episode 7 is an example of simple balance of flow. Everything is working in harmony. A new participant arrives with a positive attitude and receives a task that makes him feel special. Student 7 (St7) has fulfilled the conditions required to use the big chisels independently, whilst no other participant has reached this privileged status. St7 is trusted with using the large carving chisel, which is considered to be high risk. Meanwhile, the principal walks through the tent in a leisurely way. The facilitator sets a challenging task to St7; however, she eliminates any anxiousness that receiving the task may generate. Not only does she offer to demonstrate the techniques, but also offers St7 the possibility of repudiating the task if it proves to be too difficult, saying "I'll show you how to do it... and I'd like you to maybe this to try. If it's too hard we can move on again". She also expressly states that the participant is not on his own with the task, but the responsibility is shared by saying "we can...". The participant follows the facilitator with interest to prepare the task.

This episode is about task allocation and therefore it is mainly concerned with setting challenge, whilst in comparison a small amount of teaching of skills takes place. However, the level of the challenge is moderate, which places this episode within the range of simple balance of flow.

Extreme balance of flow: high skills or high challange

In Episodes 31-32, the facilitator maintains the balance of flow by raising the level of challenge in an extreme way. It is necessary, because the participant is dangerously independent with his newly acquired carving skills and the facilitator tries to direct his over-confident energies in a constructive way to benefit the project.

Participant St12 had been engaged with carving a pattern that was not part of the design the group had created, and his action was destroying a carving made by someone else. The facilitator has tolerated his alternative project until it was interfering with another participant's work. As it has become invasive, the facilitator now has to intervene.

The participant behaves in a non-compliant and challenging way. He breaks the main health and safety rule of not walking around with a chisel in hand. This foremost rule was introduced at the very beginning of the project and has been enforced regularly since, with the aim to prevent injuries by accidental cutting or stabbing. St12 decides to ignore this safety procedure and re-stations himself at the other end of the tree trunk. The facilitator tries to stop him by reminding him of this primary rule. When it fails, she follows him to the carving place, explaining that his efforts would be futile there, because that end of the tree trunk will be buried underground, "it goes in the ground, so you are not going to see anything of that". St12 becomes puzzled and then becomes distracted by the arrival of his peers. When the facilitator asks his opinion of a 'star' pattern at the other station, he looks toward it and puts his chisel down on the ground. The facilitator picks his chisel up, "I take this one" and with determined steps, goes to the 'star' pattern at the other station. She re-enforces the appointment, saying, "this one" and puts the chisel next to the carving place. After some hesitation, St12 accepts the new appointment, but on his own term. He moves round the tree trunk to carve the pattern from the opposite side of the recommended carving position. The facilitator decides to ignore this and when she moves away from the station, she encourages him once more, "let's start, it needs to be carved".

The facilitator uses extreme challenges, such raised voiced command "please do not walk around with the chisel you (need to) put it down" and direct confrontational body position, when explaining the end of the tree trunk he is carving will be buried in the ground. She also appoints a new task to the participant. By these actions, the facilitator maintains the balance of flow by raising the level of challenge in an extreme way in a problematic situation.

Rupture of flow

Episode 34 is an example of rupture of flow. The facilitator drops both teaching of skills and setting challenges and the participatory flow becomes disrupted. Three returning participants approach the facilitator with various intentions at the same time. The first participant, St6 is asking for a mallet using a demanding voice. The second participant, St11 breaks the primary safety rules by carrying a chisel in his hand. The third one, St13 has an alternative agenda that is unrelated to the project. The facilitator sensing their approach, turns around to face them. First, she asks for the patience of the first participant, "just a moment", then she challenges the second participant carrying the chisel, "why are you walking around with a chisel?". St11 abruptly drops the chisel on the ground that the facilitator picks up at once, verbally re-enforcing the primary safety rule, "as far as I know I said we put the chisels down on the ground". Meanwhile, St6 makes an unsuccessful attempt to help himself to a mallet from the facilitator's hand. The facilitator ignores this and proceeds to continue with the preparations she had begun before being interrupted by the three returning participants. However, St13 still has an agenda related to the student-initiated fire building game running parallel with the woodcarving project. He is trying to acquire fire lighting equipment in a rather persuasive way.

All the three participants' behaviour present challenges that distract the facilitator from maintaining balanced flow. She deals with these behavioural issues instead of focusing on teaching skills or setting project-related challenges. This causes tension and a temporary drop in the energy of the project that one may recognise as a rupture of flow.

Repair of flow

Episode 35 is an example of repair of flow. After the rupture of flow in the previous episode, the facilitator attempts to reinstate the balance of flow. She does this by trying to encourage the impatient participants to set a positive example, which is compliant behaviour. The facilitator agrees to St11's request to give him a chisel, however, she does not act on it at once. She goes to the carving place holding onto the tools, aiming to hand them over only after the participant adopts the correct carving position on the ground and after she has identified a carving task for him. However, the participants are impatient. St13 picks up a leaving participant's tool at Carving Station 2, whilst St11 repeatedly asks for a chisel. The facilitator struggles to identify carving tasks under such pressure. Nonetheless, she wants to be sure that the participant is able to concentrate, so she asks him to confirm the place where he plans to carve, "where are you going to do (it)?". St11 points to a carving place, however before he could proceed to carve, two participants need to be reminded not to sit on the tree trunk. It is a vulnerable position to sit on the same surface that others are carving. Eventually, after completing all negotiations, St11 can join the carvers and St6 can have his turn to receive tools too. When all participants are engaged in a creative way, the balance of flow is restored once more.

In this episode, despite the difficulties, the facilitator is mainly engaged with setting new tasks and challenges that were necessary for the restoration and maintenance of flow after the temporary rupture.

Graph of Fluctuating Flow

The above examples of episodes illustrate the alternating pattern of teaching skills and setting challenges that underly the successful maintenance of the balanced participatory flow. This pattern can be visually described by The Graph of the Fluctuating Flow.