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Final Report for the Better Networks Project

June 30, 2013

The concept of Spectrum’s division, Spectrum Consulting.  Collaborative: Research, Learning, Press, is that our drive to “imagine better” will use situations in real life within our organization as testing grounds, and that the learning in these situations will in turn be used to make our whole organization better, and that we will share what we’ve learned on a wider scale as part of a larger North American conversation on best practices.

We’ve now used the idea of “small projects” as a successful a way to foster learning, growth and development half a dozen times.  One of the projects central to this has been the Better Networks project.  Susan’s written a great report on what we did, and what we accomplished and how it has affected our agency.   You can download a copy here (it’s the second link down right now).

Here is an excerpt from the report:


We approached this project as an opportunity to learn from each other, and learn together. From the beginning, the focal people and their supporters participated equally in all of the planning meetings and gatherings. Our assumption was that we all bring knowledge and life experiences to the table, and we all have something to contribute.

At our first meeting, we got everyone to list three gifts they brought to the project, to get people to begin to recognize and talk about their gifts – the idea being that if we’re helping others to discover their gifts and be more intentional about what they bring to a relationship, we need to practice this ourselves. People found it difficult to talk about their own gifts, either because it felt like bragging or because they sincerely didn’t see the gifts in themselves that might be more evident to others. Somebody would say something like, “I’m good at balancing the petty cash,” and the person next to them would say, “yes, that’s something you’re good at, but you have a gift for making people feel comfortable in any situation,” or “hospitality is your gift – you always make people feel welcome.” So there were a couple of lessons here: first, that people might be hesitant to say what they’re good at or what their gifts are, and second, that others who know the person well can be a kind of champion for the person, an ally who can help the person put their best foot forward, and help others to see the person’s gifts.

One of the approaches we’ve been learning about and finding quite powerful is the world cafe, which is built on the idea of conversational leadership, where the process of moving from one conversation to another generates learning and action. In our first world cafe, early in the project, we posed two questions that the Better Networks group spent a full day exploring through a world cafe process: what makes for a good life, and what gets in the way of a good life? We then harvested the ideas that came out of the series of conversations, and decided on actions that we’d focus on collectively and individually based on the priorities identified as a group. A summary of the ideas that came out of this initial discussion is presented below.

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Learning from others who are passionate about networks and self determination has been a huge part of our journey here at Spectrum. One of our great allies and teachers through this process has been Pat Fratangelo, Executive Director of Onondaga Community Living
(OCL) in Syracuse, New York. OCL was started around the same time as Spectrum, and like us, started with agency-operated, 24/7 staffed homes. About 20 years ago, OCL began to shift to more personalized options, taking a “one person at a time” approach, that is, starting with those who wanted something different and building personalized supports in partnership with networks of family and friends. These few examples inspired others, and over time almost all of the people they serve now live in homes of their own and are directing their own supports. In a follow-up project to the initial Better Networks demonstration project, we furthered our partnership with OCL, connecting a group of our leaders with OCL’s leadership team to learn from each other, share ideas and problem-solve together through monthly teleconference calls, skype and email.

While much of the learning focused on those directly involved with the project, it was a priority for us to share our learning and engage everyone at Spectrum in this important conversation. Aaron kept people informed of the group’s progress via our monthly e-newsletter and through the graphic recording of our discussions, which were posted at the Spectrum office and online. We hosted a number of events that were open to everyone, and some targeted training with our leadership team, including a panel presentation by some of the Better Network participants.

Through our affiliation with TASH International, and our work with Dr. Michael Kendrick, we connected with others across North America and abroad who were having similar conversations with their constituents:

  •   We visited Pat Fratangelo and her team in Syracuse, New York, and later had one of OCL’s leaders come to Vancouver and work with us for a month as part of a leadership exchange;
  •   We hosted two days with Mary Kealy, an internationally respected leader from County Clare, Ireland, who has worked to transform a large traditional agency there to provide individualized, person-centred supports;
  •   We visited Lyle and Mary Romer and their team at Total Living Concept (TLC) in Kent Washington, where we had the great pleasure of taking part in a strategic planning session with their team, facilitated by John O’Brien and Connie Lyle-O’Brien;
  •   We hosted a day of conversation with Janet Klees, from the Deohaeko Support Network in Ontario, who talked about supporting a family-governed approach outside of the traditional service system;
  •   We did panel presentations on the Better Networks project at several conferences, including BCACL (now Inclusion BC) and the annual TASH conference in Atlanta (2011) and Long Beach (2012)

A highlight every year for us has been having David Pitonyak spend a week doing a combination of consulting, presentations and interactive days with our teams. One of these days last fall focused on the Better Networks group but also included some other key
people in our agency. In addition to these sessions, we also hosted training events with other leaders in our field who have expertise in person-centred supports and transforming agency- directed services to more personalized options. Norman Kunc and Emma Van Der Klift spent a day with our leadership team talking about agency transformation and the intrinsic problems of human service bureaucracies; they also spent a day with the Better Networks group taking part in a second world cafe where we explored some of the barriers to building networks and supporting people’s self-determination.

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Concurrent to this project, we made some changes to our organizational leadership, most notably with the addition of a new position, the Associate Director of Better Networks. Ray Hunter had a leadership role in this project and served a liaison role between the Better Networks project and our other teams at Spectrum. Ray met with several groups of staff, families and individuals during the course of the project, and assisted with various transitions people made to different types of housing or different support arrangements. As the project went on, more people began calling and inviting Ray to attend their team meetings or to meet with a family member who was curious to know more. This has continued, even now that the project has ended, and is precisely what we were hoping would happen – that stories of people making positive changes and building their networks would begin to spread, inspiring others to join the conversation.

Read the whole report by downloading it from this link!  

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 1, 2013 11:06 am

    A very exciting thing. I will follow developments. Patty in Ontario

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