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Better Networks for Better Lives Project update: the uses of a small project in agency transformation

February 27, 2012

One of our many realizations is that inviting folks we support to a meeting where we talk "at" or even "to" them can be quite stressful and not fun given their histories. The World Cafe model, on the other hand, allows for small group interaction and problems solving through the use of the experts in the room. Our World Cafe sessions for the Better Networks folks were so popular that they wanted to bring all their friends! Now that's a commendation for a meeting method!

About a year ago our agency, Spectrum, began a project that came out of our strategic planning sessions.  Out those sessions – eleven of them with more than a hundred different stakeholders came this goal, #2 of 5:

2. Shifting to a more person-directed approach to service Spectrum Society will continue to shift its focus from agency directed to person directed services, with 40% of persons served directing their own services by 2013 in partnership with their support network.

We decided a good way to accomplish this would be to begin with a small number of folks who wanted to help us problem-solve as they worked towards their own goals of directing their supports, and work towards three things: finding out what was stopping people from directing their services, creating models and stories of success, supporting a small group of people to go viral throughout the agency and support a culture shift.

Of the dozen participants, about half  already had actively engaged networks, or drove their own supports, which made our job one of documenting what is working (and refining what works less well). The other half of the individuals had requested a change in service, and support to help them become more person-driven.

We gave this project priority for the next year, because we know that it’s a world where everything can get in the way of the most important things – everyone wants something and they all think it’s the next necessary thing; our commitment was to make listening to and supporting the self-direction (with their networks) of our supports the *most* important thing.  We heard many things, such as this:

I need to take time to think through decisions. I need people to slow down. I am hard of hearing in one ear, so I prefer people to speak on my good side. I don’t like it when people finish my sentences. I like people to be calm and not pressure me.  When I need to, I have people in my life who can help me be more clearly understood and you can talk to me about calling them in: my brother, my ex-teacher from high school and one of my staff all know what I am trying to say.   For some of them it took years, others understood me right away.   I want my champions to be heard.   

About six months into it we realized this was slower, deeper work and while it was going really well, we extended Better Networks Part 1 to June (18 months) to make sure we got a fuller picture of our progress.   We also began thinking about Better Networks Part 2.

Accomplishing this kind of a small project is a great way for an agency to figure out what it is doing well and what it would like to do better, and for fostering change.   It’s perhaps a bigger topic that the idea that one can change a whole system overnight is difficult or impossible, but there’s a lot of research that suggests if we can demonstrate better ways people will join in and build on those successes.   We’ve been really excited by the feedback from the participants and their supporters, and the changes that people have already made.   They have taught us a lot, about the uses of language and assumptions and how if we jump in too soon we deprive them of their ability to be more independent and do things the way they want them done.   One thing we realized, yet again, is that if we don’t communicate clearly people will fill in the gaps with things that we didn’t intend.

In Better Networks Part 1 we learned a lot about how people’s networks work, and how their supports both paid and unpaid can contribute to their autonomy and interdependence in the support of the gifts they bring to others.   In Better Networks Part 2 I think we’ll be learning about the implications for our leadership structures and some new ways of generating good questions and good conversations that matter.

The Better Networks For Better Lives Project has been led by Susan Stanfield and Aaron Johannes, but active leadership has been passed on to Ray Hunter and Jim Reynolds.   Shelley Nessman will have a demonstrable role in Better Networks Part 2.   Our project will be written up for publication by 2014 but if you have questions, feel free to call, email or post below.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2012 3:58 pm

    Very interesting. I would love to hear more.

  2. June 16, 2012 4:26 am

    Reblogged this on 101 Ways to Make Friends and commented:

    Interesting – the category “collaboration” has rises the top of the pile for reader interest – this is great as we LOVE partnerships. Today we worked with partners from BACI, PosAbilities, the Family Support Institute, B. C. Association for Community Living, B.C. Self Advocacy Foundation, B.C. People First, the Esatta Co-op and the B.C.A.C.L. Caucus. What a great day!

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