Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Explaining 'Important For' with a camping hat

This is the first of a series of occasional articles that share some of the stories I personally use to train the concepts in Person Centred Thinking.

You don’t have to use these stories yourself, in fact I’d prefer you to find your own stories. I’m sharing these stories because they work for me. If you can work out WHY they work,then you’ll be able to come up with stories that work better for you.
The ideas of 'important to' and 'important for' and the skill of seeking a way to find a balance between them that makes sense in the person's life is right at the heart of person centred thinking, so finding a way to explain them that sticks in people's minds is important for a trainer.

When I’m explaining the concept of “important for” it’s easy to say “Important for means all those things that keep us and others, healthy, safe and acceptable within the community.” And that it’s usually other people who are good at spotting what’s important for us. (Which is why self advocates from ‘People Planning Together’ use the gesture of a wagging finger to sum up what ‘important for means to them).
I think telling a story around important for helps  people understand it better than just at this abstract level. I also think telling stories from your own experience works best. So I tell the story of my camping hat:

When I go camping, I love to wear my camping hat. It makes me look like a proper veteran camper. It keeps my head warm and dry when it rains. It keeps me in the shade when it’s sunny. My camping hat is therefore brilliant at keeping me healthy and safe, and is just excellent to wear on a campsite. I really love it!

When I get home, I want to carry on wearing my camping hat. I’ve got used to it. I like how it feels to wear it. But my wife Lorraine tells me “there’s no way you’re going out that front door wearing THAT!” In regular life, it’s important for me NOT to wear a camping hat. It makes me look outlandish and a bit unkempt. My neighbours would talk about me behind my back. My boss at work would not be happy about the impression I’m making to others. The person I care most about would feel unhappy (and Lorraine is very important TO me!)

I thought this was a great story to explain ‘important for’, I told it recently to Julie Malette, and with the expertise she’s built up over years of excellent training she immediately pointed out a way I could turn a good training story into a great training story: BRING IN THE  HAT! Then people would understand just why Lorraine dislikes that hat so much. They would remember how daft I looked wearing that hat in the context of a training. The story would stick in their minds.
So I’m going to have to find a new hat. My old camping hat mysteriously disappeared one day.

Lorraine denies all knowledge…

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Ontario Gathering 2013

Here are some details of the Ontario gathering of the Learning Community for Person Centred Practices:
For the full sized flyer, click here: Ontario Gathering TLCPCP

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Portland Gathering 2013 Thursday: Connecting with the Community

Ideas about inclusion and community living
World Café Graphic

 Thursday's session of the Portland Gathering of The Learning community focussed on connecting with and building communities.

Michael Steinbruck challenging delegates to think
deeply about how they enable people to connect
We know this is a key problem for many people, with the rise of loneliness and social isolation affecting more and more people.

We discussed how Beth Mount is suggesting that the focus of our work needs to shift more toward community connecting, and Michael Steinbruck asked us to ponder the tools and strategies we've used that work to connect people.

Many strategies were discussed. The reality that the most simple approaches were the best: really being intentional about introducing and connecting people, in person, then allowing people to connect rather than getting in the way.

Tools like "from presence to contribution" and "what happens here" that help us think about how to support people to do more than just 'be present' in community settings, but actually participate, connect and contribute were discussed, and in my feedback I suggested looking into the '5 Ways to Wellbeing' (Staying Active, Connecting, Keep Learning, Taking Notice and Giving) as something that applies universally to how we can be in the community.

What was widely recognised as the most deeply instructive session of the morning was led by 'CJ' Webb of OTAC (Oregon Technical Assistance Corporation), the organisation that organised and hosted the Portland Gathering so brilliantly.

She gave us a very simple exercise: each table was given one or two words, with the instruction to go out into the community and find out about those words, without using the internet at all. The catch being we only had 30 minutes to do it in!

Our group had the words "Council Crest". Being a Brit, I assumed that this meant some kind of coat of arms that belonged to the local city council, so I began to study the parking meters and drain covers to try and find some insight, with no luck. My colleagues however found that a much more successful strategy was simply to stop passing people in the street and ask them what it meant to them.

We soon discovered it was a beautiful part of Portland, a mainly residential area overlooking the city with the most amazing view, and a very popular park. We found out detailed instructions of how to get there, and that it was also one of the best places in Portland to go to 'make out'.

Another groups found out the meanings of 'Stumptown', (Portland was originally surrounded by the stumps of trees, cut down to provide the wood to build it)

The group that was sent out to find out the meaning of 'Peach Melba' not only found out the story of it's invention, but sourced the ingredients in the community and made some from scratch to share in the session, all within the 30 minute deadline.

Another group had been busy seeking the meaning of the words 'Red Robin'. A homeless person became so intrigued by what they were doing that he went out of his way to help them. One of them told him "We walked past 4 homeless people before we talked to you". She felt this was deeply instructive about who we include and exclude from our concepts of 'community' when she shared this story with the rest of the Gathering.

The group that went out looking for the meaning of the word 'weird' was told "In Portland we think being normal is weird".

Kristi Patton's group found Mill Ends Park, the world's smallest park, which consists of one single small tree and a couple of rocks.

In the feedback about what they had learned about how we might contribute to community people said things like:

  • "We can be knowledgeable about our own communities so we can be brokers of information to our communities"
  • "Take the journey and risk learning something new, slow down and be more observant"
  • "Being present, helping others feel welcome and comfortable"
  • "Take time to plan, walk and look at what you've never seen before by walking"
  • "The community is a cornucopia of free opportunities" "Find out what is important to the community"
  • Laura Buckner tweeted "Don't forget people have virtual communities...FB, linkedIn, twitter etc....more connections!"

Overall, I found that over the 3 days I had had wonderful welcoming friendship from all the people at the gathering. At first I'd been noticing all the differences between Britain and the USA, but by the end I was realising there were far more similarities, that we share very much the same challenges and opportunities.

I realised that in our learning community, we've an international family of people who are speaking the same language of inclusion, connection and focus on what's important to the person.

I'll go home having learned a tremendous amount, with a load of questions to think about and a stomachful of inspiration. I can't wait to get back next year!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Portland Gathering 2013: Wednesday: Keeping the Fidelity of Person Centred Practices

Michael Smull talking on the history of
 Person Centred Thinking and Practices
The theme of Wednesday's session of the Portland Gathering was to discuss how to keep true to the core values of person centred practices.

Shae Dotson and Sherry Anderson began the day, exploring the role of planning in enabling people to live better lives. Shae quoted Antoine de St Exupery: "A goal without a plan is just a wish"

Michael Smull gave a comprehensive account of the history of the Learning Community for Person Centred Practices.

5 common dreams: all from us!
He explored the problem of trying to discover what a person's dreams might be when that person had spent an institutionalised life with no opportunity to develop dreams beyond "to get the hell out of here". Back in the 1980s Michael and his colleagues had been talking to people who had remained 'stuck' in institutions because the information that accompanied them focussed on the most negative and embarrassing aspects of their history, often going back 20 or 30 years.
"These were people who if you read what the assessments said about them you would not want anywhere near you, but if you met them and spent time with them, you knew they were cool"

"The people we talked to came up with 5 common dreams, and we realised that these dreams didn't belong to these people, they were really our dreams for them. They were watching our faces very closely, and trying to help us by telling us what they thought we wanted to hear. We realised that dreams come from experience - from opportunities to get a little taste of something and say "I'd like more of that", so we started to realise that before you get a dream, you need to get a life, so we were grappling with the question "How are we going to figure out how people want to live if they don't have dreams?"

The questions and approaches they developed to answer this question began to form the basis of Essential Lifestyle Planning around 88-89. Michael shared that one parent had told him "PATH got my daughter her apartment. ELP got my daughter her life in that apartment", showing how the two approaches complemented each other.

Michael recounted how implementing ELP however was not plain sailing, and had several 'false starts', including many states trying to implement ELP without any training for those who would put plans into practice, imagining that plans could be 'self-implementing'.

He also discussed the difficulty of finding ways to teach ELP beyond simply demonstrating it and expecting people to copy. Here the work of Bill Allen, who introduced a whole range of teaching exercises and new tools that we now refer to as the 'discovery tools' was crucial.

By 2001 however they began to realise that there was still a major problem with implementation: In reality only a pretty small percentage of people needed to know how to write an ELP, but 100% of people needed to know how to implement a plan - how to make sure that what we learn is important to a person is present in their lives.

This led to the development of what we now call 'Person Centred Thinking', ELP was 'deconstructed', being broken into smaller and simpler skills that people could build into their everyday work, and processes like Person Centred Reviews.

Shea Dotson scribing
Alongside this it became obvious that it was absolutely necessary to involve families in planning, Mary Lou Bourne holding the first families planning together sessions with Shelley Dumas, and Sue Cullen developing approaches to enable people that use services to write their own plans.

The practices have spread out to other areas, including schools, older people, mental health services, and many other groups of people and internationally to the UK with Helen Sanderson, Canada, Australia, Europe and now India.

World Café Question
As these processes, tools, skills and learning have been developed, all intellectual property rights have been given to the Learning Community for Person Centred Practices, a not for profit organisation, and lots of people are generously feeding their learning and resources into this pool of practice knowledge, such as Helen Sanderson who is collecting examples of great one page profiles and Nancy Mills who has built a website. "Our vision for the TLCPCP is to build a worldwide hub to share learning" said Michael "This would be easier if we had staff, but we don't".

Michael said that we need to be clear that Person Centred Thinking is "Not THE answer, but part of the answer". "We're still wrestling with how to move from "Power over" to "Power with" and how we form the partnerships necessary to achieve this".

The day went on to use World Café to think about the role of planning in enabling choice and control in people's lives, in the knowledge that the future is likely to be as challenging and full of change and new learning as the past.

We moved from table to table discussing these questions with new sets of people. There was a lot of discussion around the tendency for organisations and states to find ways to dilute or pervert the essence of planning. In the feedback the loudest round of applause went to the delegate who said "The role of planning is whatever it needs to be as defined by the person receiving supports"

The next section of the day was spent in a variety of breakout sessions. I went to the 'People Planning Together' session and was blown away by the quality of a curriculum that is enabling learning disabled people and other self advocates to become trainers in person centred thinking in their own right. Some of the discussion here was around what was required of a trainer, and ways of overcoming issues of communication, such as people who don't use words to speak.

One new thing I learned was the signs for 'important to' (hands clasped close to the heart) and 'important for' ( a wagging finger).  Eddie asked us to make collages representing what was important to us, leading to a rich discussion over what worked and doesn't work in training from the experience of trainers, and the experience of learners.

From my point of view, the importance of the day's theme was given acute counterpoint when I read about the treatment of the son of this BBC blogger who was unlawfully detained in a care unit:

"One of the unit's ideas was that he should have a person-centred plan. He had to create a wish list, and came up with six things:

  • Live at home with Dad
  • Go on holiday to Somerset
  • Have Christmas presents at home
  • See Toy Story 3 at the cinema
  • Have breakfast in the bacon shop
  • Go swimming at Hampton open-air pool

All six wishes were refused because they were not considered to be in his best interests. To me, that's not a person-centred plan, that's a system-centred plan."

Every example of this kind of perversion of person centred practice generates cynicism and pessimism. One key role of the Learning Community for Person Centred Practices is to ensure that a community of practice exists that is strong enough to ensure that this kind of lip-service to PCP is never considered to be a true representation of the practice, and that the trainers and mentors accredited by the TLCPCP never allow their work to be perverted in this way.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Portland Gathering 2013. Tuesday: Decision Making, Risk and Conflict

I'm currently attending the Portland Gathering in Oregon. The gathering began on Monday, but I spent this day travelling, arriving pretty late Monday evening so I can tell you what happened on Tuesday.

The theme of Tuesday was focussed around supporting people to make decisions. Leigh Ann Kingsbury began the day, talking with Mary Beth Lepkowsky about the issues involved in helping people to make their own decisions, and about involving people in big decisions about their services, teams and organisations.

Leigh Ann pointed out that while we imagine that our decision making is logical, rational and sequential, in reality we often make impulsive and emotional decisions. Mary Beth continued the theme, saying that "Decision making is not always a clean process, but it can be a thoughtful process", the key question, where people lack capacity to make a particular decision and therefore need someone to make it on their behalf being "Does this decision align with what we know about that person's core values for their life?".

Bob Sattler asked the question "We often tell people 'It's your choice', but is it really?" He shared a tool that looks at the things that are important to us, ranks them using a score of exactly how important they are, and then also rank how present they are in our lives.

Julie Malette presented a brilliant summary of the person centred approach to risk, pointing out that everyone has the right to make risky and bad decisions, and using practical examples to help people explore some of the tools in the person centred risk process.

Mary Beth and Leigh Ann explored issues and pitfalls of co-productive decision making, sharing tools that help identify who should be involved in particular decisions, and what role they could play in those decisions, concluding "We've learned that the more inclusive we are in any process, the better the outcome".

In the afternoon I presented on person centred approaches to conflict, asking questions about what it is that means the difference between a positive conflict that leads to progress and change, and negative conflict that leads to harm to one or both parties in that conflict.

People particularly liked Helen Smith's volcano' tool that asks people to think about issues and situations that put them into particular 'zones'; the comfort zone, the stretch zone and the danger zone, and if there are particular methods or techniques that help them get back from their danger zone into one of the safer zones.

Wednesday's session starts in an hour or so, so I'll do my best to let you know the key items we discussed tomorrow.

Watch this space!

(Photo of me thanks to Douglas Tennant)