Score ❶ The Runaround Exercise

Written by Samantha Hookway, Danielle Heath, Xavier Gorgol, with contributions by Nonto Tshabalala, Emmanuelle Nsunda, Sylvain Souklaye

  • institutional body
  • entering institutions
  • scores
  • pedagogy
  • group work support
  • methods

What it is

The Runaround Exercise is a call and response interaction1 using prompts to get participants to reflect. The focus is to expose the institution’s “runaround” i.e.: How does the institution get you moving while attempting to get a task sorted?

Why it is

We devised the Runaround Exercise while exploring how we might use an interaction to focus on the assumptions and expectations around the art institution’s different actors (e.g., caretaker, administrator, technician, programme leader, student). The intent was to create an understanding of the art institution as a collective body and increase mutual understanding and empathy for the different actors.

As well as revealing the rational and the emotional values of each participant’s relationship to an institution, it can function as a method of reflection that makes tangible and visible one’s relationship to and position within the institution when entering and moving around.

This exercise also aspires to consider typical relationships found within an institution such as those that carry heavy power dynamics and/or potential conflicts. It could also be used as a source of data collection – as evidence to address and create needed institutional change.

How it works

Facilitators enact the “call” through prompt questions and participants respond. All this is done orally. The roles of the facilitator and/or the participant can be taken up by students and staff alike.

Focus and prompts

We focused on the runaround when entering institution buildings, but other possible subjects might be how the institution gets you moving

  1. when making a complaint
  2. when getting a form signed
  3. when getting paid

Our prompts were as follows:


This exercise can be done in a small or a larger group. We recommend having a team of two facilitators – one to prompt, one to keep time – for every five or six participants.

Whoever the facilitators are, they are responsible for leading the exercise and setting the pace. The exercise can span a variety of bodies typical to any institution, e.g. newcomers, seasoned veterans etc.

It was originally designed as an online engagement2, but can be run with everyone in a room.

Preparing the participants

Preparing the facilitators

Caption: Screenshot of testing the Runaround Exercise.

The image shows three video conferencing windows displaying three individual workshop participants. The two facilitators are both wearing red and all three participants have the cameras aimed just below their eyes.


What we learned: Practical tips to take elsewhere

Background, Influences

This exercise’s development was influenced by the work of Sara Ahmed. In the article “‘You end up doing the document rather than doing the doing’: Diversity, race equality and the politics of documentation” (2007), Ahmed postulates that when diversity and equality become measures of institutional performance, as the UK Race Relations Amendment Act demands, the mere creation of documents expressing a commitment to race equality becomes a central part of equality work. Then, rather than assuming that such documents do what they say, Ahmed (2007, 593) suggests we need to follow them around because they become power objects that can be either taken up or ignored:

How documents are written also affects how they might be taken up. If the document becomes the responsibility of an individual within the organization, then that organization can authorize the document (can sign it) and refuse responsibility for the document at the same time.

In other words, Ahmed has been inquiring into how documents function in all modes, including, for example, being idle, championed or procedural, and building formats of critique and/or institutional feel-good moments. Ahmed (2007, 607) concluded

We must be critical. But we must also consider how such documents circulate, how they move around, how they get stuck. Following documents around begins with uncertainty about what these documents will do. They might, at certain points, even cause trouble.

The act of following documents around – or bodies carrying documents – is very much the core of why we explored and developed this pedagogical exercise. Ahmed points to how this object, the document inside an institution, is created, co-written, disseminated and even mandated at times. We were curious whether we could build a tool for both students and staff (but mostly students) moving through and enacting this “runaround”.

We were also interested in pinpointing the runaround in many aspects of institutional life and including both the mundane tasks, e.g., administrative situations, and moments where power dynamics were at play. We also aimed in the design of the exercise to be able to embrace non-rationalized and emotional responses.


  1. “Call and Response” is an interaction between a speaker and a listener whereas a “call” is spoken out by the speaker and the listener responds to this call with verbal cues. The “response” creates emphasis and community and punctuates the actions of the “call”. See "Call and Response" for more detail alongside the dictionary definition

  2. This exercise could easily be adapted to create an in-person version. That said, in our original testing, it seemed that participating online potentially allowed the participants to enter a more introspective – or emotional/personal – space because rather than being physically in the building one could imagine it. However, we would still like to test in practice the effects of an in-person version (including the effects of smell, sounds, sight, and movement)