Ketso: the hands-on toolkit for creative engagement

Written by Joanne Tippett, the Founder of Ketso.

What have felt and leaves got to do with research and teaching?

I came to Manchester to do my PhD in 2000, and am now a lecturer in Planning, in the School of Environment and Development. I have been able to launch a social enterprise out of my research into community planning and ecological design, called Ketso. Ketso is a colourful, hands-on toolkit for creative engagement. It enables people with differing levels of confidence and ability to engage with each other and share ideas. I am writing this blog to introduce the toolkit to PGR students at Manchester, as you may find it useful in your research, tutoring and teaching.

Back where it all started: South Africa 2010.

Ketso was initially developed in my work in community development in Lesotho, Southern Africa. I found that women didn’t tend to speak in mixed gender groups, and needed a way to make sure all views were on the table for discussion. This prompted the development of a hands-on way to develop and share ideas, which became Ketso. The word ‘ketso’ means ‘action’ in Lesotho.

Ketso was refined and further tested during my Ph.D. and postdoctoral research, working with community members to develop plans for the future of their neighbourhoods and landscapes.

At Moston Vale in Manchester, I used Ketso to help the local community develop a landscape plan.  This former landfill site was subsequently transformed into a country park with £1.7 million funding. The launch of Ketso as a spin-off in 2009 has enabled more sectors to benefit from this innovative approach, including regeneration, enterprise development, health and wellbeing, social inclusion, skills training, teaching and community involvement.

Several PGR students have used Ketso in their research, as a way to engage with research participants and as a data gathering tool. This has been in PhDs looking at topics as varied as street trees in the UK, action learning in local government in South Africa, feminist music festivals and water management in Peru. You can find out more about using Ketso in research here.

I have also been using Ketso in my teaching at all levels, from inducting first year undergraduates, to group supervision of Masters dissertations, to helping my PhD students plan their PhDs. Several GTAs have found using Ketso a valuable aid to their teaching. The following quote is from a GTA in the School of Environment and Development (SED).

 “Using Ketso in the Settlement Project module facilitated my work as a GTA… Seeing information laid out and organised within the Ketso framework allowed me to quickly grasp the overall picture and the students’ learning needs. As a result I was able to assist them much more effectively than if I had had to start by asking, “How are you getting on?”   Ketso itself is very easy to use; with minimal instruction, I was able to assist the students with any questions they had about how to proceed.” (Janice Astbury).

A new GTA on the Settlement Project course during the 2010/11 academic year was making the transition from teaching small group seminars (typically 10 – 12 students) to co-managing a large class. With a background in architecture and heritage, but no prior experience in master planning (the subject of the class), Ketso enabled this GTA to make connections with the class and play an active role in helping to shape the contours of the group discussions. Having a focal point around the individual felt workspaces meant that questions and comments came naturally. The process was mutually beneficial. Students learned from the particular skills the GTA brought in paying sensitive attention to existing heritage. Yet the GTA also learned from students, particularly their approach to solving problems. Reflecting on the class afterwards, she wrote:

“Having attended Dr. Tippett’s research presentations and considered her journal articles on the RoundView and participatory planning, I could observe the real changes in thinking processes at first hand. The students took charge and embraced a positive approach to problem solving rather than simply focusing on the negatives. Before the end of the studio using Ketso to develop a project plan for the group, most groups had easily worked out a task load for each member and were arranging to keep each other up-dated using social network media, which I found impressive. I did not feel pressurised at all and had confidence that the students would reach a successful conclusion” (Dr. Angela Connelly).

Ketso is in use in more and more Schools now in the University. You can rent or buy kits. There are also a few kits that PGR students can borrow for use in the Researcher Development @ the Faculty of Humanities.

If you want to know more, there are introductory videos (including videos about Ketso in teaching and in research), examples and case studies and all sorts of resources for planning and running workshops on the Ketso website.

You may also want to check out the news and events page to see if there is a workshop coming up in the near future that you can attend.

I am on maternity leave from March 2012 to early 2013, but you can direct queries to (or ask your School if they have access to a kit that you can use!).