Tuesday, 8 July 2014

What are the conditions in which people share their learning?

In person centred approaches, we rely on lots of different people sharing their learning, including people who previously may never previously have been asked about what they have learned. We ask people, their families and their frontline supporters what they have learned about the person, and what is working and not working in their lives and supports.

In my experience the times and spaces where people actually share their learning in everyday life are extremely rare. Usually conditions mitigate against this. Where the conditions are not right and people don't feel included on an equal footing, they wont tend to feel inclined to share learning, even if they're asked. Learning tends to get shared better horizontally in circles than vertically in pyramids, between equals, rather than in situations of imbalance of power and knowledges, and such equal situations are themselves all too rare.

If we think someone is much more knowledgeable than us, we tend to clam up, let them do the talking. In general we would be nervous to share our ideas with someone if they are going to think us naïve or that we have missed the point. Nobody likes to feel stupid.

If someone is more powerful than us, is hugely influential in our lives, then our strategy tends to be very similar.  It does not always  seem wise to share something that might contradict somebody with great sway over your destiny.

What we have learned from our experience is precious to us, when we share it, we feel exposed, at risk. Most of us need to feel confident that what we are sharing is going to be heard, valued and appreciated, or we keep it to ourselves.
Because most organisations contain hierarchies and silos, and because of the inequalities in society, person centred practitioners try to work out in our practice ways of temporarily short circuiting these hierarchies, bringing people out of their silos in order to connect them on a more equal footing and to allow learning to be shared between them.  We find and wedge open gaps and spaces in the formal structures of organisations attuned to the needs of bureaucracy and market instead of to people, and while in these interstices, we aim to create 'power with' rather  than 'power over'.
In person centred planning, and in training, we rely almost totally on people we call 'content experts' sharing their learning for these processes to work.  In person centred thinking and planning it's the learning of people closest to the person from their direct experience that we truly value. In the training we lead, it's about unleashing some of the tacit knowledge that lurks in people who have years of experience, deep values, different ways of seeing the world, so that everyone in the room learns from themselves and each other.
I've found in my most successful trainings 80% or more of what people have learned comes from each other, rather than from me. This is also true in the best planning sessions and coproduction exercises. As facilitators and trainers we feel a real buzz after events and processes that achieve this. After such sessions we feel that we have also learned a great deal ourselves, we yearn to achieve this again! This 'buzzy' feeling is a sign that learning has been successfully shared, that for a short space of time the conditions for sharing learning were successfully in place.

As facilitators and trainers one really key role is therefore to create the conditions where power and other imbalances are addressed so that sharing of learning can happen.
In both planning/thinking and in training we achieve this by a variety of methods – which include
·         Establishing a clear purpose for the session, so that everyone participating understands where to focus  their thinking
·         Involving the  right people: in PCP the people most directly involved in the person's life
·         A hospitable space that makes people feel valued, comfortable, safe.
·         Rituals and routines of demarcation at beginning and end that separate learning space and time from work or leisure time.
·         Ground rules (as few as possible, and each one designed specifically to  help people be included and involved)
·         Equal space and time for each participant, so that everyone gets a chance to contribute. (Delivered through techniques like 'rounds')
·         Mutual respect
·         Using the communication methods most appropriate for the person/participants
·         Listening Mindfully
·         Incisive questions
·         Appreciation
·         Valuing each contribution
·         Being prepared to  act on learning and turn it into concrete change

It's worthwhile spending plenty of thought on what the conditions are that enable people to share their learning. If we're to achieve genuine engagement from citizens in the production of their own lives and services, if we're going to listen to people well, if we want to create organisations that learn and change, then a grasp  of how we create the conditions for people to share learning is fundamental.

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