ENABLES: arts-based and embodied leadership development

The ENABLES (European Arts-Based Development of Distributed Leadership and Innovation in Schools) project aims to strengthen collaborative leadership of innovation in schools by developing and disseminating innovative methods of arts-based and embodied collaborative leadership development.

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The University of Hertfordshire co-ordinates the project.

The partners comprise:

  • University of Hertfordshire (UK) (co-ordinating institution)
  • University of Jyväskylä (Finland)
  • Institute of Lifelong Learning and Culture «VITAE» (Latvia)
  • University of Innsbruck (Austria)
  • Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iași (Romania).

Follow the project on Twitter @ENABLES_UH

What we are doing

The two strands of the project that we are currently (Spring 2020) working on are:

  • Knowledge Platform (Output 2)
  • Action Research Trials (Output 3)

The Knowledge Platform is a state-of-the-art systematic review of existing research literature on arts-based and embodied learning approaches to leadership development and how they can meet the global needs and challenges of distributed leadership development in schools. The review provides a knowledge foundation – a platform – for the project and an opportunity to share knowledge and understanding amongst the partners of arts-based and embodied methods. It makes an innovative contribution to the field of leadership development for use by practitioners, policy actors and researchers. It also gives further depth and context to the Action Research Trials being conducted by each partner.

The Action Research Trials – ARTs – are practical workshops and activities being conducted with a range of school-based leaders (including student leaders) to apply, test and evaluate innovative arts-based and embodied learning approaches to developing distributed leadership in schools. The ARTs will be safe, creative, collaborative spaces where constraints of hierarchy are minimised and agency, reflexivity and formation of personal and collaborative intentions by participants are facilitated. Learning will become visible as participants make tacit knowledge explicit, explore its applicability to other contexts and transform the knowledge into a shared resource. Approaches being systematically trialled include:

  • Visual arts, such as photography, painting and drawing
  • Drama & theatre-based activities, enabling creative problem-solving
  • Embodied leadership development using vignettes, narrative and design-thinking approaches
  • Literary art: creative writing and expression
  • Embodied leadership development using 2-dimensional arts such as collage

Arts-based and Embodied Methods of Leadership Development: Report of a Literature Review

What do we know about the impact of arts-based and embodied (ABE) approaches to leadership development? This literature review examined 50 publications which reported research into the use of ABE methods of leadership development and offered knowledge concerning whether and how such methods contribute to leadership development. It is one of five complementary reviews contributing to the ENABLES project and was conducted by the University of Hertfordshire (UK) ENABLES team.

Our analysis of the reviewed publications suggests that the processes involved in using ABE methods can be understood in terms of three aspects: features of the activity, what is activated by the activity and the constructions of leadership underpinning and reflected in the sessions using ABE methods. A diverse range of leadership constructions were apparent, from notions of the heroic leader through to a more holistic understanding of leadership as a complex, emotional, relational, embodied concept. Data on outcomes are limited, with 10 publications offering evidence that ABE methods had some impact on leadership development. Most apparent is research evidence that ABE methods helped participants by enhancing their relational sensitivity and increasing their ability to cope with unfamiliar circumstances and complexity. Six of these 10 publications offered evidence of consequent changes in practice. For example, there were indications that, following participation in ABE leadership development sessions, some leaders can find increased capacity to cope with stress and to notice and pay attention to factors important in relating to others, such as the value of seeing oneself in a team and avoiding blaming others. A critical perspective is missing from most studies into ABE methods of leadership development – concerning issues of power and inequalities and the effects of social positioning according to factors such as gender, ethnicity and social class. Implications identified through the review include (a) the potential to make more use of ABE methods to increase capabilities (such as relational sensitivity), appreciation of leadership as an emergent, relational process and self-awareness in the context of leadership, and thereby enhance the ability to take an active part in distributed leadership; and (b) the need for more research on the impact of ABE methods, including subsequent changes in leadership practice.

Download the ENABLES Literary Review Report (PDF - 1.91 Mb)


The ENABLES project is a 2-year project which started in November 2019 and will run to October 2021. We held our first Transnational Partners Meeting (TPM1) in December 2019, where important relationships were strengthened and key decisions were made regarding the project outputs. The photos give a flavour of how interactive, insightful and inspiring that meeting was! We are due to meet again in the autumn of 2020.


ENABLES (European Arts-Based Development of Distributed Leadership and Innovation in Schools) is funded by a European Union Erasmus+ grant (project reference number 2019-1-UK01-KA201-061963). It is a Key Action 2 Strategic Partnership for the Field of Education supporting Innovation.