The managing board of BALANCE, an organisation providing support services to persons with disabilities in Vienna, is preparing its annual spring meeting of executive managers. The upcoming meeting will build on the outcomes of a Sensing Event held in November 2013. The Sensing Event provided BALANCE with a space for reflection on how to become a truly person-centred organisation. It was facilitated by Julie Lunt from the United Kingdom, who was assisted by Lis De Pourq from APEMH, and Céline Müller from Leben mit Behinderung Hamburg.

austria 6During the event, participants could experience how taking time and being ready to really listen can lead to a deeper level of understanding. They took time to share more things about themselves, their personal journeys and the reasons and life trajectories that brought them into this kind of work. ‘We were able to get a first glimpse of what we need to change in the way we work. None of us really had expected such an intensive experience and frankness that transcended the organisational hierarchy. We have looked into stories of being successful in organising good support for the users of our services. We discussed our big assumptions about what we believe that the users of our services and their families want us to do. It has been striking to learn in which ways deep listening enables new thoughts and ideas to emerge.’

The Outcomes of this event were numerous. The participants decided to practise this form of cooperation and apply the sensing strategies they learned in the event in meetings of their teams and working groups. They agreed that active participation of persons with disabilities in these meetings and working groups is necessary for BALANCE to become a person–centred organisation. They also shared that deep seated beliefs and assumptions from within about expertise and professionalism have kept them away from truly working together with people with disabilities and their families.austria 4

Furthermore, they also addressed some of the big challenges they face such as providing individualised and person–centred support within a general policy and funding framework created for group support models. An appealing idea for overcoming this hurdle was to begin thinking more ‘outside the box’ and to look for possible resources and connections with people outside the system. A first case of this ‘opened doors’ policy will materialize within one of BALANCE`s sheltered workshops. Users and staff members have co-created a completely new operating system with the aim of supporting the users in taking valued social roles within their urban communities.

austria 3In the past months they have already seen how some of the ideas that emerged in from the Sensing Event had been influencing their daily work. A working group consisting of support workers, users and managers has developed a concept on how to bring about ideas and appeals within the organisation and initiate improvements. In May, the working group will present the concept to users and other staff members and discuss its implementation.


Another milestone is about to take place in April. BALANCE will organise a workshop highlighting a focus point of a one-year process inspired by Helen Sanderson’s “Working Together for Change” methodology. In a participatory process, members of BALANCE have collected personal statements fromaustria 5 75 Person-Centred Review meetings of service users who live in one of its supported accommodation services. In these statements, users revealed what in their view was not working and made suggestions for improvements. Finally, they were clustered into a final set of five big themes. These themes will form the starting point for intensive discussions about the necessary changes in the support services BALANCE is offering. The dialogue will take place during a workshop with about 100 participants including users, their friends and relatives, direct support workers, managers, as well as representatives of the funding agency and politicians.

In our spring meeting, the board of managers will reflect on the experiences taken from these processes. We will explore how the disruptions, conflicts and anxieties that we are facing within our daily work relate to our intention of working in a person-centred way. We will explore ways of finding new answers when leaving our comfort zone, and discuss what we are missing when we do not have users in our panel. Of course, this will mean having to open up and deal with our big assumptions once again.’austria 1

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