Listening, and curiosity

It is often said that we have two ears and one tongue and we should listen and speak proportionately.

I believe that how the individuals who make up an organisation choose to listen, and how each person then responds to what he or she hears, are true tests of the strength of an organisation’s character.

Well, one of the values that makes up Discovery’s character is Integrity. Another is Courage. Personally, I have needed both in listening non-defensively to the work that I am going to put in front of you today. And I am going to ask you to do likewise: to listen with curiosity to the findings, to consider what this means for you in terms of the support we should all expect and can influence.

In 2017 I commissioned the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) to perform a quality review of Discovery’s services, framed against what good care and support looks like nationally. NDTi is nationally respected and wholly independent of Discovery, Dimensions and Somerset County Council.

At the same time, we were preparing a comprehensive opinion survey amongst the people we support, their families and our colleagues, as well as an in-depth survey about the health of the people we support. In the context of widespread fears around the Day Services change work, and with some staff fearful for their jobs, I was expecting a bashing. It duly came.

However, alongside it came some really powerful endorsements of our direction of travel. These survey results have already been shared; if you haven’t yet read them, you can do so here. The insights are already helping set our organisational priorities.

In this blog, I want to concentrate on the insights provided by NDTi. Their findings spanned the entirety of the support we provide and in future blogs I’ll go into specific topics in more depth. For now, the big picture:

The big picture is that we need to stop thinking that support provided in Somerset has been envied by the rest of the country. It is not, and almost certainly it never has been. Yes, there have been some good successes but not envied. Certainly not envied in the ambitions and expectations we have of the people we support, or in our application of the personalisation agenda, where NDTi found that in Somerset we are well adrift of national best practice. Why? Well ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there an office in the home of person we support?
  • Do you know of someone who has been discouraged from seeking employment for fear of losing benefits or their Day Centre placement?
  • Do you know of anyone we support who is more often connected to a community of people with similar disabilities rather than a community of people with similar interests?
  • Do you think that Choice and Control means it’s ok for the person we support to choose to sit in front of the telly all day?
  • Have you ever heard a family member of someone we support being described as difficult or a bit of a pain?

Do any of these ring true? If so, then let’s be clear: that support is outdated and the support being delivered is probably not in the best interests of the person being supported. Be honest, if you have seen this, have you ever not challenged it?

There’s no blame here. Collectively, our existing attitudes and approaches to supporting people are the product of the ‘system’ around us. When supporting people in the past I too have been guilty of some of this. And of course there are many exceptions to this collective picture.

All of our aims have to be to find ways to make things better, to never be complacent and to use this moment as an opportunity to release potential and make positive change, to take our care and support up to and even beyond national standards. The changes you’ll have witnessed to recruitment, colleague induction and training, new roles and structures and many other processes are all being made with this in mind. And there’s much more to come.

But no-one can change a culture alone.

I need you to be open minded to the idea that the people we support can be supported differently, and better. I want you to be curious about what best practice could look like in light of the NDTi report. To use your full potential and influence to challenge what needs to change. I need you to always be truly ambitious and determined on behalf of the people we support.

Is that you? I hope so. Because only by working together, acting on the insights provided by NDTi and the various surveys, can we really help the people we support get more from life.