Guest Blog: Artistic License

Danielle Kelly, a researcher at Yunus Centre on the MRC funded Common Health project recently attended an Iriss workshop I ran at the Scottish Co-Production Network Event – Co-production: Making it Happen.

During this workshop, I took participants through a series of design tools and activities that I’d developed as part of Iriss’s Hospital to Home project. These tools were specifically designed to support a co-design process in which a range of people come together to tackle service problems.

Partly inspired by this workshop, Danielle wrote a post for the Common Health Researchers blog. Please read this below.

Last week’s blog looked at the relationship between art and social enterprise, and what particularly stood out to me was the idea that art can facilitate community expression.

As academic researchers we may strive to collect information from communities that can be objectified and rationalised, using mediums like interviews, focus groups, or perhaps even a bit of participant observation. The community talks to us, we write it down, then we display this in fancy reports or papers for peer reviewed journals in our quest for institutional credibility. However, the combined effort of using big long words and academic jargon can serve to isolate the very population we may be looking at, and they may be left feeling underrepresented by our own bias. This leaves us asking how we can fully represent communities through our outputs, and who is this for? This is a conversation that keeps springing up between Yunus Centre staff, most recently at the Unusual Suspects Festival and our CommonHealth Knowledge Exchange event.

The CommonHealth projects Growth at the Edge and Age Unlimited will both be applying participatory research approaches (design thinking and action research) to measure the effects that social enterprises can have on health and wellbeing. This will allow the research to be guided by the individuals and communities that we will be working with. In using such approaches we hope to potentially encourage creative thinking and the collection of data and documentation using non-conventional visual models, such as drawing, mapping, photography, and maybe even sculpting things out of plasticine, who knows?! Yet this will be ultimately up to the communities themselves to explore the most appropriate ways to express themselves and communicate with the research team. Of course we will be using interviews and focus groups to provide further data, but one of the most important things is to find ways to incorporate the visual outputs from the community members themselves into our findings.

Some social enterprises in the Highlands of Islands of Scotland, like ATLAS Arts in Skye, exist to allow community members to create art pieces that represent their landscape, histories and traditions. These visual art projects are used as a form of individual expression, and represent a persons’ subjective understanding of their culture and the world around them. Therefore in researching the people within such social enterprises, surely we need to utilise the visual artwork they have produced as ways of understanding their culture and context.

This got me thinking about how we can possibly analyse and disseminate the visual data we may collect. Ethnographers have faced this problem for decades of how to understand and aesthetically interpret tangible documents and art pieces to understand the culture from which they emerged. Visual anthropologists use methods of collecting cultural artefacts such as photographs, films, artwork and sculptures and then allow individuals from that particular society to both describe them and place them within history. This may still be viewed as pretty niche in academia, yet we could learn a few lessons from this approach on a wider level.

In terms of dissemination, it may be questionable whether visual arts have a place in academic conferences, perhaps displayed as ‘pretty posters’ alongside theoretical case studies and novel ground-breaking policy contributions? But this could just serve to further isolate research participants from their outputs. Or should we encourage community members to organise their own events that display the visual arts they produced within research projects, with academics in attendance? Hopefully our own CommonHealth Knowledge Exchange events will encompass this viewpoint going forward.

In terms of my own participatory study and the use of action research, my view is very much that we must work with communities not on them, so in fully engaging with individuals their problems become our problems. This goes all the way to research outputs; my papers become our papers, in the same way their art becomes our art.

Thanks, Fiona

Steps to Success

Recently Gayle and I, alongside Eilaine from Hot Chocolate Trust, ran a workshop at the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care (SIRCC) “Steps to Success” conference in Glasgow to explore “preserving and promoting positive relationships”. This was off the back of IRISS’s Relationships Matter project and the same workshop I ran at the Parenting in Scotland Conference earlier this year.

Personal Stories

It was wonderful to attend an event that embraced the importance of personal stories wholeheartedly, with young people reflecting and sharing their personal experiences with the delegates in the most beautifully, heart wrenching way – I’m not sure there was a dry eye in the room. I have so much respect for the young people for sharing their stories with everyone – it’s difficult to share your life story with anyone, let alone a room full of strangers.   Wonderful!

Recognition of the importance of sharing and highlighting personal stories appears to be growing at events I’ve been attending lately. Scottish Care; Parenting Across Scotland and The Co-Prodction Network (and now SIRCC) are just a few organisations that have made this the primary focus of their events and it’s wonderful to see. Long may it continue! (as long as it continues to be done in a person-centred and non-exploitary manner!)

Preserving and Promoting Positive Relationships

Our workshop was in the afternoon of the first day of the conference.

We started by inviting delegates to list what they hoped to get from the session. 

Through this key themes of interest emerged:

  • Learn/Understand
  • Give Young People an Understanding
  • Hear from Young People
  • Talk About Relationships
  • See Evidence of the Impact of Positive Relationships
  • Raise Awareness of the Importance of Positive Relationships
  • Hear Some New Ideas

This allowed us to capture people’s expectations and to reflect on these throughout the session. We hope this helped to shape a session that had something for everyone!

Following an introduction to IRISS and the Relationships Matter Project, we showed delegates a video created with a young person at Hot Chocolate Trust. In this video the young person reflects on how Hot Chocolate supported them by demonstrating positive loving relationships.

We then invited the delegates to reflect on this video by asking them to respond to three questions: 1. how the video made them feel; 2. Listen to what the video is saying; and 3. Think about how the video makes them react.

During this process the group worked in pairs to reflect and discuss how the video made them feel and react.

We then invited discussion through the wider group so that learning and experiences could be shared.

Following this we invited them to return to their pairs and think about love. Where was it shown in the video? How does love translate in a professional context? and What is their “pledge for love” in 2015.

This allowed the group to think about how love (and loving relationships) can take many forms and, importantly, that you don’t need to say ‘I love you’ to let someone know how you feel.

We captured the discussion on activity cards on which delegates wrote their responses including their pledges to make love their big focus for 2015.

Some of these ‘pledges’ are detailed below:

To treat people as I wish to be treated myself!

Tell the people that I love, that I love them!

It’s ok to show, demonstrate and tell young people that you love them!

Free hugs!

When the going gets tough be there no matter what!

Encourage my team to be confident in their actions/showing love!

Think about your own ‘pledges’ to make love the big focus for 2015 and share them with us on twitter @irissorg #RelationshipsMatter.

Thanks, Fiona

Care at Home and Housing Support Conference

On Friday last week I was pleased to present our Hospital to Home project at Scottish Care’s Care at Home and Housing Support Conference.

The conference, entitled ‘My Home, My Rights, My Care’, focused on how we can deliver person-centred care through partnership working in an ever changing sector and work force.

The event was attended by over 200 delegates. There were only a handful of speakers (detailed below), meaning that delegates could take time to move round the stands on display from a range of organisations – including IRISS where we were able to share resources from our Fit for the Future project – network and ask questions. I much prefer events like this rather than ones that shoehorn too much into their programmes with no time for reflection!

 

The event had a strong focus on personalisation and working with people. I was pleased to hear ‘listening‘; ‘partnership‘; ‘working together‘ and ‘person-centred‘ repeated as common themes throughout the day.

Jamie Hepburn, MSP for Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, set the tone for the event when he said

“better outcomes for older people relies on listening and partnership working with older people and their careers”

Followed by Ranald Muir, Scottish Care, stating

“Personalised care will require people having the right to control their care package”

It was also really refreshing that Scottish Care had invited Agnes Houston, a woman with early onset dementia, to present her personal story including details of where her care had failed her. This was an inspiring presentation and so valuable to have insight from people with lived experience. Well done Agnes and Scottish Care!

Most inspiring of all was the fact that the word ‘love‘ came up so many times in the presentations throughout the day and the importance of care providers showing love. This relates to other work we are involved in and it is encouraging that the importance of love, compassion and care is spreading across the sector at various events.

In the afternoon I was joined by three other presenters to talk about our work under the theme of “Getting it Right for the Whole Person: Partnership and Personalisation in Practice”.

I was inspired to hear about a project in Dundee – Meal Makers “a free, local neighbourhood, food-sharing project that connects people who like to cook and are happy to share an extra portion of a delicious home cooked meal, with older neighbours living close by who could really benefit from a hot cooked meal.” The highlight of this presentation for me was listening to the personal stories of the people involved in this project and how it has supported them. I hope to hear more about this project spreading in Tayside in coming months!

I also really enjoyed the presentation from Tracy Steel at Care watch about the “Social Media Revolution” and the importance of us understanding how this will change our care delivery in the future.

Tracy encouraged the care providers in the audience to spread the word about the care and support they offer by tweeting about the ‘little things’ they do for the people within their care so that people can hear about these and help spread the word for the care sector. After all, it’s the little things that add up to big things that make a difference for the people they care for and their families and carers!

The day ended with a panel discussion about ‘the right to fair pay and conditions’. This focused on zero hour contracts and whether they were acceptable or not. The general consensus being that they should only be used if chosen by the worker and not fostered by the local authority.

Over all I found this event extremely valuable and enjoyable. It is encouraging to see such importance and value being placed on lived experience and personal stories and I hope to see this as a continuous theme within future events I attend.

Thanks, Fiona

The Emporium of Dangerous Ideas

The Emporium of Dangerous Ideas is a future-orientated festival that aims to re-establish the importance of dangerous ideas as agents of change – to shift the axis of what is possible! The 2015 Emporium will take place all over Scotland from 9th to 19th June.

Further details of the events are available here:

http://www.collegedevelopmentnetwork.ac.uk/fodi/festival-of-dangerous-ideas

 

It’s Time to Walk the Talk – Making Co-Production the Way Scotland Works

Yesterday I attended the 4th National Co-Production Conference in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall. I was joined by colluegues at IRISS and Hot Chocolate (who are involved in IRISS’s Relationships Matter project).

This event was hosted by the Scottish Co-Production Network:

The Scottish Co-production Networkis free and open to anyone who is interested in co-production in Scotland. As a member of the network, you will be invited to learning events, network meetings and be able to take part in discussions and information sharing on the website. In order to ensure the network is effective in developing practice around co-production in Scotland, members are encouraged to contribute to the network by sharing their learning and experience through the online discussions, attending meetings and sharing useful information and case studies.

If you would like to join the network you can sign up here – it’s free and only requires basic information.

Across Scotland people and communities are continuing to work with local services to achieve positive change through co-production. This event sought to bring it all together, allowing delegates to learn from each other and plan for the future.

It was an energetic and inspiring event with evident passion for change from the people in the room.

Welcome

The day started with a welcome from Catriona Ness (co-chair of the network) who set the scene for the day by discussing the importance of involving people who use services if we are to make positive changes in Scotland!

This was followed by discussion from Fiona Lees (Chief Executive East Ayrshire Council) about positive examples of how co-production approaches are working locally with great outcomes.

There was a buzz in the room and everyone was clearly excited about the possibilities as they went to their first workshop.

Workshop 1 – What Can Scotland Learn From International Approaches to Co-Production: What to do and What to Avoid? – Governance International

The first workshop I attended was facilitated by Tony Bovaird of Governance International.

In this session we were split into 8 groups to explore key questions around co-production and share learning amongst our groups.

Some of the topics we explored, and may be useful for you to consider in your own work,  were:

  • Do we have more power as a group to collaborate and co-produce? Is this due to more confidence when working as a group?
  • Which of the “four Co’s” [co-comission; co-design; co-deliver; and co-assess] are strongest in our areas?
  • Is the focus of co-production right? How can we get the best feedback on citizen priorities?
  • What tools have you used to successfully co-design in your area? How have you found the right people for co-design?

Discussion in our group focused on a need to move from just co-designing to also co-assess and involve people who use services throughout our work as equal partners – not just in one of the four “co” phases.

Facilitated Debate

Following this session we had a facilitated discussion from Gerry Power (Deputy Director, JIT) about the frustrations we all face when working together on co-production projects.

Common themes included: fear; money; time; only working with those who are already ‘converted’ to the idea of co-production; not being able to engage the “unusual suspects”; undervaluing people’s skills and expertise.

Lunch

Following this session, it was time for lunch were I was pleased to catch up with a number of people who had been involved in IRISS’s Plan P, Hospital to Home and Experience Labs projects. It is encouraging to see they are all continuing to embrace co-production!!

Comedy

After lunch we were in for a treat with a hilarious session from Gillian Grant from Universal Comedy. It was brilliant, clever and funny! It was a pleasant surprise to be at an event that values this kind of input in their program! It was certainly well received by the delegates!Workshop 2 – From Patchwork to Supportive Net; Developing a Future pathway for Respite and Short Break Provision in Dundee

For my second workshop I wanted to learn from the work in Dundee by Animate who were discussing their evaluation of Dundee Carers Centre’s decision to provide short breaks/respite for adult carers in Dundee.

This was brilliant discussion about Dundee Careers Centre embracing the voice of their carers in deciding what ‘respite’ meant to them. We heard from one young woman whose ‘respite’ was a pair of waking boots that she can now use whenever the person she cares for is being cared for by someone else. She spoke with passion of the difference this had made for her as she can keep benefiting from them in a way that a standard one day trip wouldn’t have allowed.

We spent the second half of the session discussing all the people involved in co-designing a service of our choice. With my suggestion, the table I was at chose to explore the pathway from hospital to home for an unplanned admission.

It was really useful to map all the people involved in the pathway and how the pathway would change if one person was removed – i.e. a carer, or district nurse for example. I found this process really thought provoking and useful and would definitely use it again with others.

Final Plenary

The day concluded with an overview from Dr Margaret Whoriskey (Director, JIT) and Sir Peter Housden (Permanent Secretary to Scottish Government). They spoke about the discussions and sessions from the day with hope for co-production in Scotland and the Network as a whole.

Catriona Ness concluded the day with reference to Mother Teresa and the notion that, by all working on our own co-production projects, together we can make a difference in Scotland for the people who use and provide services.

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.

Mother Teresa

Thanks, Fiona (@fkmunro)

**You can read the Co-Production Network’s Case Study about our Hospital to Home Project on their website**

Co-Production Case Study

In April 2015 The Scottish Co-production Network* published a series of case studies about projects in Scotland that were demonstrating how a co-production approach can take different forms to improve outcomes for people in Scotland.

*The Scottish Co-production Network is a voluntary network of people who are interested in co-production and its practice with the aim of improving outcomes for individuals and communities in Scotland. We want to ensure that members of this network have as much ownership as possible of this site, and so we ask that you agree to the following terms of use to ensure that the site remains a useful and productive space for the exchange of practice, learning, ideas and debate.

One of these case studies was about IRISS’s Hospital to Home project and can be found on their website.

Thanks, Fiona

It’s Time to Walk the Talk – Making Co-Production the Way Scotland Works

Yesterday I attended the 4th National Co-Production Conference in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall. I was joined by colleagues at IRISS and Hot Chocolate (who are involved in IRISS’s Relationships Matter project).

This event was hosted by the Scottish Co-Production Network:

The Scottish Co-production Networkis free and open to anyone who is interested in co-production in Scotland. As a member of the network, you will be invited to learning events, network meetings and be able to take part in discussions and information sharing on the website. In order to ensure the network is effective in developing practice around co-production in Scotland, members are encouraged to contribute to the network by sharing their learning and experience through the online discussions, attending meetings and sharing useful information and case studies.

If you would like to join the network you can sign up here – it’s free and only requires basic information.

Across Scotland people and communities are continuing to work with local services to achieve positive change through co-production. This event sought to bring it all together, allowing delegates to learn from each other and plan for the future.

It was an energetic and inspiring event with evident passion for change from the people in the room.

Welcome

The day started with a welcome from Catriona Ness (co-chair of the network) who set the scene for the day by discussing the importance of involving people who use services if we are to make positive changes in Scotland!

This was followed by discussion from Fiona Lees (Chief Executive East Ayrshire Council) about positive examples of how co-production approaches are working locally with great outcomes.

There was a buzz in the room and everyone was clearly excited about the possibilities as they went to their first workshop.

Workshop 1 – What Can Scotland Learn From International Approaches to Co-Production: What to do and What to Avoid? – Governance International

 

The first workshop I attended was facilitated by Tony Bovaird of Governance International.

In this session we were split into 8 groups to explore key questions around co-production and share learning amongst our groups.

Some of the topics we explored, and may be useful for you to consider in your own work,  were:

  • Do we have more power as a group to collaborate and co-produce? Is this due to more confidence when working as a group?
  • Which of the “four Co’s” [co-commission; co-design; co-deliver; and co-assess] are strongest in our areas?
  • Is the focus of co-production right? How can we get the best feedback on citizen priorities?
  • What tools have you used to successfully co-design in your area? How have you found the right people for co-design?

Discussion in our group focused on a need to move from just co-designing to also co-assess and involve people who use services throughout our work as equal partners – not just in one of the four “co” phases.

Facilitated Debate

Following this session we had a facilitated discussion from Gerry Power (Deputy Director, JIT) about the frustrations we all face when working together on co-production projects.

Common themes included: fear; money; time; only working with those who are already ‘converted’ to the idea of co-production; not being able to engage the “unusual suspects”; undervaluing people’s skills and expertise.

Lunch

Following this session, it was time for lunch were I was pleased to catch up with a number of people who had been involved in IRISS’s Plan P, Hospital to Home and Experience Labs projects. It is encouraging to see they are all continuing to embrace co-production!!

Comedy

After lunch we were in for a treat with a hilarious session from Gillian Grant from Universal Comedy. It was brilliant, clever and funny! It was a pleasant surprise to be at an event that values this kind of input in their program! It was certainly well received by the delegates!Workshop 2 – From Patchwork to Supportive Net; Developing a Future pathway for Respite and Short Break Provision in Dundee

For my second workshop I wanted to learn from the work in Dundee by Animate who were discussing their evaluation of Dundee Carers Centre’s decision to provide short breaks/respite for adult carers in Dundee.

This was brilliant discussion about Dundee Careers Centre embracing the voice of their carers in deciding what ‘respite’ meant to them. We heard from one young woman whose ‘respite’ was a pair of waking boots that she can now use whenever the person she cares for is being cared for by someone else. She spoke with passion of the difference this had made for her as she can keep benefiting from them in a way that a standard one day trip wouldn’t have allowed.

We spent the second half of the session discussing all the people involved in co-designing a service of our choice. With my suggestion, the table I was at chose to explore the pathway from hospital to home for an unplanned admission.

It was really useful to map all the people involved in the pathway and how the pathway would change if one person was removed – i.e. a carer, or district nurse for example. I found this process really thought provoking and useful and would definitely use it again with others.

Pilotlight

During the afternoon two of my colleagues at IRISS, Kate Dowling and Judith Midgley also presented a workshop about their project Pilotlight.

Pilotlight set out to lead thinking on designing better supports for people across Scotland. Pilotlight co-designed four pathways to self-directed support focusing on mental health, risk, self-employment and young people in transition. The co-design teams involved people who access support, unpaid carers, local authorities and support providers. Together they tested and refined a model for successful power sharing, produced tools and resources and developed solutions for the implementation of self-directed support.
Judith and Kate have created a digital resource to share their learning, resources and tools. In the workshop they introduced participants to this digital resource, focusing on the co-design methods and tools. They also facilitated some activities to let participants test out some of the tools and critically evaluate their use in practice.

Final Plenary

The day concluded with an overview from Dr Margaret Whoriskey (Director, JIT) and Sir Peter Housden (Permanent Secretary to Scottish Government). They spoke about the discussions and sessions from the day with hope for co-production in Scotland and the Network as a whole.

Catriona Ness summarised the day with reference to Mother Teresa and the notion that, by all working on our own co-production projects, together we can make a difference in Scotland for the people who use and provide services.

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.

Mother Teresa

Thanks, Fiona (@fkmunro)

**You can read the Co-Production Network’s Case Study about our Hospital to Home Project on their website**

Guest Blog: Using Meditation to Support Professional Empathy and Compassion

The following is a guest blog post written by Joelle McCallum. Joelle met Fiona Munro at the recent Parenting Across Scotland “Creating Loving Relationships” Conference.

Joelle is currently a social worker with NSPCC, delivering parenting support using a strengths-based model, called video interaction guidance. She has worked within counselling and social care roles for several years, in recent years as a statutory social worker within busy teams Glasgow and East Renfrewshire. Outwith work, Joelle teaches meditation and methods to reduce stress, to adults and children at Kadampa Meditation Centre Glasgow. 78 Hutcheson st, Glasgow

If you have any questions for Joelle you can reach her via email: Joelle.McCallum@nspcc.org.uk

———–

Our NSPCC annual conference for staff and volunteers at the end of last year was entitled ‘In Our Shoes’. As part of the Improving Parenting, Improving Practice (IPIP) team, which offers parenting and relationship support to families where there are concerns about neglect, we wanted to help our colleagues working in other parts of the organisation to reflect upon how it feels to be a child experiencing neglect.

We came up with the idea of an experiential presentation. Colleagues were asked to close their eyes and were guided through a visualisation of a typical morning from the perspective of a six year old child living in a physically and emotionally neglectful environment. And, as I volunteer teaching meditation outside work, I took on the task of preparing and delivering the visualisation.

I had never delivered a meditation like this, but I had experienced being guided in a meditation in which we were guided in imagining life as a pig, the purpose being to develop our understanding of, and compassion for, the suffering of animals. I had found this very moving, so I thought I would follow a similarly rich, very descriptive style, using things that I had witnessed working as a statutory social worker to inform the vivid picture that we wanted participants to experience.

“…Your tummy is rumbling and you can hear Amy still crying in the bedroom. Christopher has stopped crying so you put him on the floor and hurry looking for some breakfast so that Amy will be quiet. You find some coco pops and pour a bowl for you each, pour in some milk and carry it through to her cot. Milk spills on the floor as you walk through; you are trying to be careful but it’s all sloshy. You put the bowl down on the mattress for Amy and she stops crying and starts feeding herself the cereal with her hands.”

The visualisation lasted ten minutes. At the conference the room was incredibly silent, and the experience was clearly emotional for some. It seemed more powerful than I had imagined it would be, and there was a deep atmosphere of sadness and respect for the lived experience of some children afterwards. We asked participants to write on post-its how they felt: isolated, lonely, sad, upset, were common responses. Thankfully then we were able to show the wonderful work being done within the IPIP service to support children and families in these circumstances, so as to get the hope back!!

Following the conference, I was asked to go along with our service manager, Lucy Morton, to deliver child protection training to experienced police officers who were recruited to the newly formed National Child Abuse Investigation Unit. They will be involved in complex cases of child abuse of all kinds, such as baby deaths and child sexual exploitation. Lucy suggested it would be beneficial to use the visualisation in this context, helping to keep the child’s experience at the heart of investigations and sensitive practice. The approach again appeared to be genuinely moving, with participants feeding back that the experience had been a highlight. I was asked to deliver the input again to a second round of cohorts to the new unit and received feedback that the experience was helpful, one officer commenting ‘for us that was ten minutes, but we need to remember this is daily life for some children.’

For me, meditation is so much more than the current explosion of the concept of mindfulness – while I very much welcome that it has become so popular and that many people benefit – in my view mindfulness shouldn’t be just an end in itself. Mindfulness for me is about remembering an object that brings about a positive effect on our mind. For example meditating on the breath, or being in the present moment and less focused on our worries, makes our mind still and calm. Meditation and mindfulness, however, can also be about remembering sadness or suffering, in order to increase our compassion and caring for others. And ultimately, if we are not practicing loving others, our mind will never be very peaceful!!

Having previously been a statutory social worker, unfortunately I know how the pace and pressure of high caseloads and levels of risk can cause our heart to harden a bit. It can feel that to allow the suffering of vulnerable people we work with to really touch our hearts, would cause us to become overwhelmed or unprofessional. Yet the success of this approach shows us that – during IRISS’s year of love – that powerful learning and personal development comes from allowing ourselves to deeply connect with others.

Joelle McCallum, Social Worker, NSPCC, Glasgow Service Centre

———–

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read our previous post about being mindful: “Mind Full or Mindful? Making Space for Creativity

Thanks, Fiona

Embracing negative capability: the value of not knowing

Acknowledging the unknown

Scottish Social Services are facing a time of change; with changing demographics, increasing budget restraints and policy drivers such as Integration and Self Directed Support. The landscape of Scotland’s services may look radically different in the future.

So how do we cope with a period of change when we are faced with so many unknowns? How do we find the space to be productive and innovative when we can’t anchor our ideas onto any tangible reality?

Negative capability

I’ve become increasingly interested in negative capability, the state in which a person ‘is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’. (Keats, 1970: 43.)

Unhelpfully for us, this is the first and last time that Keats used the phrase, so we’re not quite sure what it means. People now use the term in the artistic world, psychoanalysis and in leadership development to describe comfort in the unknown.

Ok, so maybe it makes sense to think about negative capability as a contrast for positive capability. Positive capability is the knowing of stuff – the facts and skills to use them. Negative capability asks that we shy away from ‘knowing’ in favour of staying “in the place of uncertainty in order to allow for the emergence of new thoughts or perceptions” (Eisold, 2000, p.65).

Not knowing can feel uncomfortable

In an environment that rewards activity and action, it can feel very uncomfortable to experience the unknown and be seen not to be doing anything about it. At an event I attended last year on the topic, I spoke with a practitioner who was put under constant pressure to present information that wasn’t available – through a series of speculative presentations and papers. The actual outputs themselves were conjecture and not useful, and actually detracted time away from other meaningful core activity. This activity gave the impression of facts, and the safety net of feeling like the organisation was making decisions based on knowing things. In fact, she felt they were missing out on an opportunity to explore the unknown, and develop their own internal structures to be more resilient no matter what changes faced them.

Negative space is creative space

Negative capability wouldn’t be much use without the positive capability to navigate it – the skills that help us build relationships and learn.

In the state of the unknown, when outside forces can’t be tied to fact or certainty, is the perfect time to set out a vision for your own future. Using the space to think creatively about what you want to do, what your values are and where you see yourself in the future is useful. Ultimately, these are the things that will help you position yourself when events eventually unfold.

I’m reminded of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”
The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?””

 

Walking the talk

Here at IRISS, we find ourselves in the flux of change. Through the recruitment of a new director and the development of a new 3 year strategy, we find ourselves really having to embrace not knowing things too.

In the next three years we will be embarking on a place based project called ‘The Big Idea’. This project will support one geographical area in depth to broker, break and renegotiate the boundaries between the community and services to build lasting connections and a more resilient community. In some ways, this project will use our existing skills as an organisation, but I expect that working in one area in such depth will also challenge and push us.

To achieve the outcomes of this project, we need to be responsive and flexible to what the community wants and needs and embrace our own negative capability.

It’s very unnerving, but full of potential.

Over the course of the project, I hope to capture and share the experience on this blog… Let’s see what happens next!

In this blog I referred to:

Eisold, K (2000) The rediscovery of the unknown: an inquiry into psychoanalytic praxis. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 36(1)
French, R, Simpson, P and Harvey, C (2009) Negative capability: A contribution to the understanding of creative leadership.

Creating Loving Relationships – Parenting across Scotland 2015 conference

On 12th March I was fortunate enough to attend Parenting Across Scotland’s 2015 Conference “Creating Loving Relationships” – don’t you just love the title?! – alongside colleagues from Hot Chocolate to present the Relationships Matter project I had been co-leading with Gayle Rice [*].

The PAS 2015 conference, Creating Loving Relationships, focused on relationships.

Increasingly, the importance of relationships within families is being recognised. Children don’t come alone; they come as part of a family, with complex and intersecting relationships. We need to recognise this, and support the whole family.

Being a parent isn’t so much a job as a set of intersecting relationships. Like all relationships, being a parent has its good times and its bad times, and most families will have times when they need some help. It’s important that the relationships between families and professionals are nurturing, and help families to forge loving relationships within the family.

**Charis Robertson (Assistant Director, Hot Chocolate) beautifully summarised the presentations throughout the day**

When arriving at the conference I was welcomed by an array of stands displaying how we can all work together to support young people in and leaving care. There was a general buzz of happiness in the air as people discussed the inspiring conference theme.

The conference was opened briefly by Clare Simpson (PAS Project Manager) before she handed over to Fiona McLeod (MSP, Acting Minister for Children and Young People) to welcome everyone to the conference.

Fiona focused her discussion on the need to support families (and Dads!) to provide loving relationships so that Scotland can become the best place to grow up for children.

“We want Scotland to be the best place to grow up…we’re gathering the evidence of what works so that children have the best chance” Fiona McLeod (MSP).

Following Fiona’s welcome we were in for a wonderful and inspiring presentation from Dr Suzane Zeedyk (University of Dundee) about “Our human need for love: why it’s a the problem and why it’s the solution.”

This presentation was genuinely one of the most moving presentations I’ve seen and I’m sure I wasn’t alone with many people wiping their eyes throughout.

Suzanne spoke openly and honestly about the need for us to focus less on policy driven agendas and more on what matters to the young people that these policies are in place to support.

“I’m worried, worried that we care more about policies than relationships” Suzanne Zydeco

She raised concern for the ‘second skin’ developed by workers when working on difficult cases and the need for them to remember why they got into their line of work in the first place.

“Nurseries are scared to cuddle ‪children in their care for fear of inappropriate contact. This needs to change!” Suzanne Zeedyk

Next Dr John Coleman (OBE, Research Fellow, University of Oxford) spoke about “New knowledge about the adolescent brain” and how, if we really want to be person-centred and meet the needs of young teenagers then we should start understanding what works best for them. For instance did you know that teenagers would actually function better at school and obtain better test scores if classes started at lunchtime and finished later? No – me neither!

After this series of inspiring speakers it was time for a break and some reflections about all we had learnt so far before hearing from Dr Judy Corlyon about “A reversal of misfortune: who are the poor relations now?”

This presentation focused on the shift in recent years to grandparents having more money than parents and the struggles faced by young families as they work hard to support and care for their families.

“It is not long ago since many retired parents relied on their adult children for financial and practical help. Now it is the adult children who are more likely to find themselves

needing help as they struggle with benefit cuts, low-paid employment and expensive childcare” Judy Corlyon

Next we had a round table discussion to help us reflect on what we had heard so far. 

The table I was at focused on concerns that fear and policies were driving change when really we just need to think and act in more caring ways towards the young people we work with and support.

There was a focus on the need for evidence* to champion more person-centred approaches in practice and, of course, we thought hugs are great!

*there is a selection of evidence available on the Relationships Matters Website.

Then it was time for a quick (and super yummy!) lunch before setting up our workshop: “Where is the love? Thinking about what love looks like for professionals”

During our workshop we discussed the JAM event we ran in January as part of the Relationships Matter project and what Hot Chocolate would be doing in 2015 to champion loving relationships with the young people they work with and support.

We then asked our participants to reflect on this before completing prompt cards that questioned how they would translate ‘love’ into a professional context and what their pledge would be to make 2015 the year of love.

Participants were very engaged in this activity and there was a lot of group discussion about how they we could all champion love in 2015:

“being able to connect with others in a positive way”

“give something of yourself”

“more hugs and cuddles”

“I want to be courageous about making love my priority”

“not being afraid to talk about love”

Following the workshops Professor Phil Wilson (Centre for Rural Health, University of Aberdeen) gave a presentation about “Challenging the inverse care law: Can parenting support be fair for everyone?”

This presentation focused on evidence which suggests that parenting support isn’t always offered and taken up in proportion to need.

“The higher the risk/need, the lower the likelihood to access it” Phil Wilson

The conference concluded with an amazing presentation from John Carnochan OBE QPM (Independent consultant and expert on violence prevention) about “It’s relationships, that’s all, relationships”.

This presentation was especially moving and an inspiring way to end a great conference. John focused his discussion on the need for us to (re)connect with each other as fellow humans and to care for and protect children, young people and adults.

“We are wired for connection…sometimes it’s as simple as putting your arm around someone” John Carnochan

He spoke of his concern that we focus on policies rather than care and support and asked a very thought provoking question that seemed to resonate with everyone in the room:

“Why do we need a policy to ‘get it right for every child’ surely that should be obvious and we should just do it?Maybe we don’t really like kids, but simply tolerate them…we’ve professionalised the whole bloody world and we’ve abdicated our responsibility as humans” John Carnochan

I found this conference one of the best I’ve been to. The selection of speakers were inspiring and thought provoking and I am so pleased to see a conference that bravely focused it’s theme on love and loving relationships. I am hopeful for 2015 and a new focus on love over policy.

The answer to fear is love…this needs courage but we can do it together!”

Thanks, Fiona Munro

[*] This project is now being taken forward by Gayle and Ellen Daly in 2015.