Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Tag: tools

Control First, Plan Later

In one institution they painted a zebra crossing on the floor of the recreation hall – in order to help people safely cross the road. Can you imagine anything more dangerous?

We often do this. We teach a skill but in the wrong environment where it has no meaning and where the real life consequences of using or not using the skill don’t exist.

Many good ideas come adrift because we do not give them the right foundations. The cart goes before the horse.

I remember a conversation I had with a keen advocate of person-centred planning who was part of In Control. She seemed to think that people and families couldn’t plan or make sensible decisions without first receiving support and training in person-centred planning. This seemed upside down to me.

For me I couldn’t see the sense of giving people support to plan unless you’d first given them control over their lives. And once you’ve given someone control they may or may not need help to plan. It is extremely presumptuous to assume that disabled people or families can’t make their own life decisions without the well intentioned involvement of an enlightened professional.

I still feel:

Give people control first. If people still need a bit of extra help to plan then lets figure out the best way to make that happen afterwards.

Not only is it patronising to plan with people and assume they can’t make decisions for themselves – it’s also dangerous. When people are not in control, and are persuaded that they must first play the planning game just to get the chance to be in control, then we swiftly corrupt the planning process:

  1. Planning turns into pleading, negotiating, advocating – but that’s not planning. It lacks integrity and creativity – it is done as part of the ‘game’.
  2. Professionals leap in as consultants, trainers, planners, facilitators and brokers. Instead of supporting capacity we create new professional roles and tasks.
  3. Planning is used to control people further. Support plans are checked, altered, approved or not approved.

Its always useful to ask: would we want this for ourselves? When in life do we plan? When in life do we stick to the plan? When in life do we have to share our plans with others?

The only thing that makes planning safe is staying in control – knowing it’s your own plan and if you change your mind you can throw the plan in the bin.

Tools Don’t Work

Give a man a tool and he’ll go and build himself a tool-shed.

Collecting tools is far easier than finding out how to use them well.

Tools do no work – only human beings do the work. Tools, if well used, just make that work easier.

This simple truth is so easy to forget. Just as men go and buy power tools and gadgets that they will never use – and certainly will never master – so do governments buy into concepts and social innovations that (at best) are only useful tools. But when the state enforces the application of those tools then you can be assured that tool will rarely be used well, and certainly will never be mastered.

Varun tells a story of how he designed a wonderful solar oven to help poor villagers in India. But, when he came back to the villages, where these ovens were to be used, he found that people were simply using the ovens as cupboards. This was not from stupidity – cupboards was what they really needed.

Ultimately the value of a tool does not lie in its use but in the outcomes it achieves. It is only by looking at things from the perspective of our real needs and aspirations that the true value of a tool will be discovered.

Sadly, concepts like Personalisation, Individual Budgets, Self-Directed Support, Person-Centred Planning, and so many other attractive and often useful concepts, are all now tainted by the mindless enthusiasm of government. By making someone use a tool (especially a tool that you do not understand yourself) you guarantee that it will be either obsolete or put to an entirely different use.

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