Who we are > Protean Inquiry Network

We have chosen the symbolic name of Proteus and its derivatives for our group for a number of reasons and associations:

Our focus is the leadership of partnerships, especially complex multi-sector partnerships where people come together from many, often small, organisations from the public, voluntary, community and business sectors. The Protea flower is in fact made up of many smaller flowers. Together these little flowers complete a stunning display but the beauty of this depends upon every little flower having its place and being seen. The life of the Protea also depends upon the production of seed within each smaller flower head – a need to for leaders within a partnership to also lead outside the partnership and within their own constituencies.

Our approach is also multi-faceted, utilising many developmental skills and experiences. We understand the need for the leaders of local level partnerships to develop and deploy multiple mind sets as individuals and as part of the leadership. This requires us to facilitate the contribution from the many differing skills and experiences that partnership members bring and reminds us of the reawakening and recognition of 'protean' skills in the Renaissance when leaders recognised the value of all disciplines and their interconnections.

Proteus also has emotional connotations for us:
  • Proteus was a Greek sea god – referred to as one of the 'old ones' by Homer. Though he was seen as wise he made it difficult for people to get answers to their questions. He had an ability to shape shift and assume a wide range of forms and people had to find and catch him before he would respond.  We see this as a good metaphor for the process involved in learning about leadership in partnership: the answers to key questions cannot simply be provided by an expert but reside in the questioner's own experience and knowing. The role of the protean  'expert' here is rather to provoke and support this process of inquiry by creating appropriate challenges, contexts, and processes for exploration and mutual meaning making
  • The Proteus story has survived in mythology and flowered again in the Renaissance and has continued right through to today (being referenced most recently in e.g. Thomas the Tank Engine and Harry Potter!) One reason for this survival is because his symbolic gifts are those of facilitation and co-creation and not ownership of knowledge or the wielding of power. Our partnership is similarly based upon an intention and abilities to liberate the inherent knowhow and skills of those we work with through helping make visible the world of asumptions, myths, and other mysteries that challenge the evolution of close working capabilities
  • The Protea reminds us of Keith’s African roots and how this flower survives in often unfavourable conditions, making the transition to many other parts of the world by adapting and evolving. The example of community level partnership work in South Africa also provides inspiration and ideas for work in the UK, especially in diverse communities or those with disadvantaged citizens.