As a social care practitioner straddling the housing, care and support shorelines, I find myself being invited to many “good practice workshops”. As good practice group leader of the Emerging Role of Sheltered Housing national consortium (Erosh), I have been responsible for a few in my day.
But now I wish to seek invitation to what I can only call bad practice workshops, although perhaps I do not expect any invitation to be so called.
Good practice workshops are often either the launch of a product or an awareness-raising and flag-waving activities. They appear to have a common theme in a desire to let one know about the good things being done out in the field. They may provide examples and case studies of what works, what is working, where they bravely overcame obstacles and dodged the rapids of near failure. All good, exciting, adventure story stuff.
I want to have an invite to a presentation that follows an alternative pattern – one of: “OK folks, hands up, we tried this and it did not work.” The outline might be: this is what we did, this was the stage at which we had concerns, this was the process of judgement, this was the stage at which we pulled the plug, this is why it did not work, if we were going to do anything like it again we would…
I have spoken to several senior managers in health, housing and social services and we would like to lobby for invites to this sort of a workshop. We might even buy the book.
The peer network is the informal mechanism for this dark art at present. People meet in smoke-filled rooms or skulk off into corners to discuss the mysteries of tried and failure products, processes, services, systems or structures. The problems with this approach are that you’ve got to know that something was tried and failed, and you have to have a cosy enough relationship to ask someone to disclose.
The capacity to learn from the mistakes of fellow travellers would provide at least fascination, at best a valuable mechanism to avoid pitfalls, to conserve resources, to re-examine choices and to avoid the rocks at the rapids of failure.
No one wants to admit to making mistakes, but much attention is drawn to where things are going wrong but no one steps forward to raise the flag of caution or shares the lessons of been there, tried it.
I would be delighted to offer suggestions of anonymising the process, darkened profile video presentations akin to the Mr X witness at secrets trials or offering screens to shield the presenter from public view.
Finally, and seriously, a plea: perhaps if a conference can’t work then why not channel a brief paper to esteemed journals such as the one you are reading?
Meic Phillips is assistant director of Epic Trust, a care and support provider in London.