Over the past twelve months APEHM in Luxembourg, Balance in Vienna, and Leben mit Behinderung in Hamburg have been working in partnership with users of their services and their families. Together they have been thinking of ways to make the organisational change necessary to support people to fulfil their lives within their communities as valued citizens. Julie Lunt has been supporting each organisation through regular conference calls, helping them to learn more about Theory U and plan a ‘sensing event’.
The sensing events began in Vienna. Cornelia Reinholdner, together with the Balance team have been working on moving towards a more person centred way of working for some time. They were looking forward to the event which would take them to the next stage. For two days they reflected on what is needed to change. Many participants felt the event had enabled them to unlock some of the issues with which they had been struggling. The group reflected on their professional boundaries and the shifts that needed to be made if they were to operate in a person centred way. They grappled with how to address these changes in the current climate of tighter budgets and higher expectations of health and safety.
In December APHEM staff met in the old chateau which is now part of their administration and training block, the landscaped gardens also providing a backdrop for the dialogue walks which were to become an important feature of the work. The day before, Julie and the APEMH coordinator, Liz de Pourc prepared the results of the interviews with people with intellectual disabilities and families who gave their views on the services and how they wanted their lives to be. The team were able to use this information to stimulate discussion and challenge their preconceptions. They learnt that thinking deeply about the issues raised took time, something that is a luxury in their busy working lives. Issues they thought would be covered in half the time took twice as long and still there was more to talk about. It was the first time service users had been asked about their views in this way and many team members commented on how valuable it had been. They suggested that this form of consultation needed to be done more often and other ways of including users in consultation and decision making should be considered.
The next stage of our journey is the Leben mit Behinderung sensing event in Hamburg which took place in February. Forty people with intellectual disabilities, families, staff, managers and board members met in a brand new conference centre built using natural resources. You might have noticed that the location of our meetings is important to create an environment which is peaceful, free from distractions and enables people to focus and think deeply. The evening before, Julie was invited to deliver the 5th lecture in a series of events which promote person centred practices “Horizonte erweitern und Mut machen” (opening horizons and encouraging) to other organisations.
Partners from each organisation have been able to attend the events in the other countries which enabled them to deeper their understanding of Theory U as a tool which invites us to suspend our preconceived ideas, raise our awareness and think deeply about the way forward in creating organisational change. It has also enabled them to learn a lot about approaches in other countries which takes our ‘sensing’ to a new dimension as they were able to see the teams working together trying to solve their own difficulties. This is a far cry from the traditional visits we often experience when we look at services who want to understandably show the most positive parts of their organisation.
The teams were also able to build on the learning from these events. Initially, each organisation had expressed concern about involving people with intellectual disabilities and families in the programme. They understood the events would require them to be honest with one another and to think deeply. They recognised this might be difficult and were reticent to expose their struggles to people, to whom they wanted to present themselves as professional and competent. However through their observation and learning, the team members who attended the sensing events recognised that this was an essential part of the process. As a result, the events have developed into truly inclusive encounters with people who have a stake in their service.
There was an overwhelming sense of appreciation from this experience which has shifted their understanding of the organisation. They recognise that this is a beginning. A ‘Sensing Event’ is designed to do just that, to sense what is happening around them from everyone involved in their organisation and to reflect on what they have learned. Their journey continues with exploring what needs to change. Otto Sharmer calls this part of the process ‘Presencing’. It requires further reflection on working practices need to be abandoned while identifying new ways of working that will serve as prototype models for the future.