How can we change services for people with disabilities so that more people can live a good life?

This has been and is our guiding question on the shared learning journey that the New Paths to InclUsion Network has set out to and which is now entering in its third and last project year. Part of our learning has been that it is not enough to just do new things that will help people get their own homes, real jobs and good chances to learn with others. We also have to approach the way we try to change things in new ways.

We have also discovered that we are not alone with our intention. It`s time for radical change in health and care systems, states the recently published white paper of the British National Health Service (NHS) calling for a "New era of thinking and practice in change and transformation".

They write: "It is no longer enough to strategize for large scale change solely with the logic of the past… To deliver change … we need to supplement this with new thinking about how change happens. We need to reframe the role of diversity in the change process and get new and additional voices into change conversations for greater insight and innovation. Perhaps now, it is time for us to reflect deeply about our own mind-set for change and consider whether we need to open our minds to additional possibilities.”

A few weeks ago, at the end of November, the partners of the New Paths to InclUsion Network met for their third project meeting in Vienna. It became very evident that their involvement in our partnership has had a lasting impact in changing people's and organisations’ mind-sets. Yet the changes and learning we are collectively experiencing do not all come in nice and colourful boxes. At the meeting, John O`Brien framed it this way: “The work we are actually doing is inviting people into confusion, uncertainty and questions – questions that lead us to step outside our comfort zones". 

We are beginning to recognize that many of our current efforts are in itself not designed to include people with disabilities, and that we still have very limited experiences of working WITH people and families that can overcome our historical legacy of doing things FOR or ON people. We are becoming aware of our defence mechanisms that are keeping us occupied, and often sabotaging ourselves with an overload of work. Doing less but more meaningful work means leaving our comfort zones for most of us.

But, again, we can be reassured that we are not alone. Margaret Wheatley, a world-renowned consultant writes in her book “Walk Out Walk On”: “Surprise, Confusion and Disruption can be promising feelings, because they offer us a choice. Either we can retreat to the safety of our familiar opinions, or we can become curious... In journeying together these moments offer opportunities to see our own minds, to notice our beliefs and assumptions and to be open to change."

Theory-U is still guiding our learning. After having given ourselves a range of opportunities of immersion and deep dives (Sensing) and intentionally providing a space for retreat, reflection and stepping back (Presencing), the third project year should witness our learning becoming more tangible and resulting in a variety of lived examples of New Paths to InclUsion. But the deeper we are exposing ourselves to this new rationale for change, we are learning that the U does not follow a clear and direct pathway. It is rather a fractal process in that each step along the U contains within it a smaller U.

That is why we have chosen to take up the idea of Social Labs for our Multiplication Course Modules - one module per key to InclUsion we are addressing. Per definition, a social lab is a multi-stakeholder platform to address particular and complex social challenges by taking an experimental and systemic approach. In these Labs we want to cross-fertilize our learning and experiences and give us the opportunity of trying out new things in new ways. “Scaling-Across” instead of “Scaling-Up” is how Wheatley calls this approach.

So instead of aiming for replication and standardisation we want to create distinct and inclusive learning environments that have the potential to inspire ourselves to carry new ideas home and develop them WITH people with disabilities and families in different and unique ways (Prototypes). Because we believe that solutions are only sustainable when the people who are affected by it become part in their creation.

We invite you to have a look at the different experiences of our partners in their efforts of trying to change their organisations, communities, networks and themselves.


Oliver Koenig

December 2014

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