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Communities of Practice: Update

VOICES cop sized

By Steve Freeman, Solution Focused Practitioner


The current round of @SoTCoPs began in September with a theme of Engagement and is nearing its final stages.

Part of the first meeting was a discussion of the term engagement. Is this a pejorative term? Are there better terms or simply euphemisms?

Sharon Sharman’s recent piece highlighted the inequity of labelling people as ‘difficult to engage’. Well worth a read https://www.voicesofstoke.org.uk/2019/08/30/please-dont-call-us-difficult-engage/

Sharon’s article mentions elements of unconscious bias. This is a process by which we act in ways that are less than helpful without thinking about it. Unconscious bias exists and it’s better to be aware of it than try to deny it. More information here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5333436/

For the @SoTCoP Engagement series we are taking a systemic view of engagement; how can providers, communities and community members’ best engage internally and externally to maintain and improve services for people experiencing a range of challenges. What would have to happen for engagement to be seen as a skill and an objective rather than a label to stigmatise people attempting to access services?

The term ‘silo mentality’ has been around for decades. Increased demand and diminishing funding for statutory and third sector bodies have made this more evident over the past decade. There is an understandable reluctance to accept a referral from another agency when yours is already overstretched. Sadly this way of thinking has a paradoxical effect because lack of multi-agency, multi-disciplinary working leads to increasing levels of need and an inevitability of a future referral of the same person with even greater levels of need.

There are examples of good practice in this area across the UK and further afield. In Stoke-on-Trent we have MARG (multi agency reference group), the Voices learning programme which addresses practice issues across organisations, and @SoTCoP.

Communities of Practice have several aims. One is to bring local knowledge and skills to bear on local challenges. Another is to include lived experience from as many fields as possible in order to fully represent the community. Feedback from @SoTCoP member consistently points out the links to and between organisations that is seen as useful if not essential.

Bruno Ornelas from Voices has researched and written on the statutory requirements of organisations to provide services. An integral part of this is to work across teams and organisations as well as within. His knowledge has been invaluable to this and previous series of @SoTCoP.

For decades people’s inherent competence and expertise has been largely ignored. At best it has been compromised by ‘experts by qualification’ who have not recognised the value of expertise by experience. @SoTCoP have set a new standard for co-production with the help of Expert Citizens and Voices. Avoiding tokenism and recognising expertise has allowed us to develop a more informed view on several issues. Equally inviting people with a range of experiences and expertise has made a significant difference. A recent update on community policing activities and future plans from Di Malkin of Staffordshire Police has been one of the highlights. Their cross team approach and engagement with community members has set the bar high for others. We hope to reflect this in the report which will follow the last engagement CoP of this series in February 2010.

If you would like to join us for the January and February meetings please contact Lee Dale for more information [email protected]

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