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8 of 13 Balanced Power Dynamics

“Yeah, sure, I’m off drugs and ! haven’t had a drink since last week *a-hem*. If it means I keep a roof over my head, then I’ll tell you whatever you need to hear. Wouldn’t you?”

In a lot of situations where people were supported in their accommodation, people talked about their relationship with their key worker or support worker. It was a common theme that people had good relationships with workers but were often unable to be totally open with them in fear that they would lose their accommodation. Some people said that they attended sessions with key workers just to keep the roof over their head or avoided support sessions as they had rent arrears. Staff often talked about people being manipulative or dishonest but had no recognition of the power dynamic in the relationship between a resident and a worker who has the authority to evict the person.

We took action

We took all of our coaches out of housing and based their roles within communities. We completely separated our accommodation business and made sure that coaches were not involved in management or operational housing matters and didn’t have a say on an individual’s tenancy status.

The Personal Transitions Service is set up to ensure that power is balanced so that people are able to develop genuine trusting relationships that don’t influence the roof over their heads.

Comfort Zone….What Comfort Zone?

Executive Assistant and Quality Assurance Manager, Ciara Killeen gives a very real account of her own journey with the Personal Transitions Service (PTS). Looking at how its strength based and personalised nature impacts on those working behind the scenes in an organisation delivering the PTS and the importance of internal systems change.

The PTS is person-led, personalised and strength based. The Coaches capture so eloquently how this translates to the experiences of the people we work with in their blog posts so I will not try to replicate. But what about everyone else working to deliver the PTS principles? How does a person-led, personalised and strength-based approach apply to the ‘backstage crew’ in order to create internal systems change?

Well, I am an Administrator – it’s what I am good at! I would describe myself as shy, not confident at public speaking, happy to contribute as part of a team but not a team leader. So that’s exactly why I just stood up and gave a 20 minute presentation to 30 of my colleagues about how I am leading on the implementation of the new PTS Accreditation.

Add to the list that I only really write formal documents (this is my 3rd blog), that I am slightly phobic about social media (Tweeting is the new procrastinating) and that I am not too fond of travelling (Birmingham, London and Northampton in 1 week – sure!). In between the travel, presenting and developing the Accreditation, I also book diary appointments for our CEO – Pat, proof read documents, take minutes, all on the move in various locations and far away from my original comfort zone; the office desk.

Before you start to think that I am heading down the rabbit hole, let me make it clear that this is not a moan fest or a cry for help. I am not complaining about the amount or location of my work because I absolutely love the vibrancy and energy of the PTS movement for change, which sees me literally working on the move. This way of working and the opportunities to frequently step outside of my comfort zone have become part and parcel of my working life, for which I am grateful. However, before I got to the grateful part…

I knew where my comfort zone was. It was in the processes that I needed to follow, knowing exactly how and when things should be done. I understood the status-quo of office life; hierarchy, defined job roles, your defined ‘area’ of work. I held on to all of this tightly and, quite honestly, working in this way was making very little difference to the people we work with. I was essentially erasing the main reason I wanted to work for Mayday in the first place.

I was in danger of becoming a barrier to change rather than a ‘systems changer’. At first, I found it difficult to let go of my comfort zone so that the internal, cultural changes necessary to become a truly strength based organisation could happen. It was uncomfortable. I felt adrift.

I had a real world conversation with Pat about whether I belonged in this new PTS environment. Pat’s response was to ask me about my interests, highlight my strengths and provide options so I could choose how to develop my job description. So, essentially, Pat used the key PTS interventions, focussing on my strengths and putting the power in my hands.

I had autonomy for the first time in my working life and with this came questions. Why did I need a desk or office to define a good working environment when I had a laptop and a park? Or I could meet my colleagues in coffee shops?!

Once I had started to question the basic logistics of administration I then started to question the actual work; how can my fellow systems changers use their autonomy to inform processes in a person-led response? I started to argue at meetings that we needed less paperwork, less questions, less meetings in fact! It seems that once you have taken the first systems change steps there is no going back; it becomes a way of life.

Naturally, like the first domino falling in a chain, a person-led internal system developed. We began to understand what dynamic job descriptions meant in reality. Our roles reflected the individual talents we could bring to Mayday rather than traditional roles. I learned that I was good at administration but I was not an ‘Administrator’.

Our lives do not work in straight, prescribed lines. Nor do we have one definition of who we are. This is what we try to convey to the people we work with to encourage their self-belief and internal motivation. So we, the #OneTeam working to deliver the PTS, need to believe this and live this too. This is what a personalised, strength-based working environment looks like; seeing people, not job titles. Seeing talents and understanding the benefit diversity of experience can bring. Supporting this through the one team approach that means there is still a comfort zone – but it is people, your colleagues, and not desks and processes.

This blog is not about me. I have used myself as an example but I could be talking about any one of my colleagues who, for example, work in the Finance Team but stepped out of their comfort zone to co-develop a system for quicker personal budget payments. Or my colleagues in the HR Team, who had to learn about strength based recruitment before working with the PTS Team to co-develop a new recruitment process.

The thing with comfort is that you actually have to be a bit uncomfortable sometimes to find new comfort in something better. And what’s better than a new comfortable working environment which is person-led, personalised and strength-based? That seems worth the discomfort to me.

The Art of Listening

Asset Coach, Andrew Durman, looks at the importance and privilege of listening to the people we work with, the challenges of the traditional system and how his role as a Coach can help to break the negative cycle a person may find themselves in.

As I draw near to the end of another week of having many amazing conversations with inspiring individuals. I reflect on the mind blowing stories I have had the privilege to hear over the past 10 years working in this sector. A favourite from this week has to be hearing about someone’s past adventures travelling in New Orleans. Simply listening to him talk of his experiences and the feelings that he not only felt at the time, but was also re-living through the telling of his story to me, was amazing for him and me.

The opportunity to be able to hear these kinds of stories is one we regularly have to create ourselves. The people we work we are often surprised that we even want to hear them, especially when they have been caught up in the system for a prolonged period of time. Being given the freedom to have these conversations in my role as a coach, makes me count myself lucky that I am no longer caught up in the traditional system.

Looking at the traditional system

The current deficit, needs, label and diagnosis led system does not leave much room for these discussions. When a person in being assessed for eligibility to access the system, a number of questions will be asked. These questions will be on substance misuse, offending, behaviour or mental health difficulties, suicide attempts, history of arson and their previous housing history. This then leads to working with a keyworker or project worker, who will take this information to draw up a support plan and risk assessment, with the idea that at one stage (probably pre-scripted to 6 to 18months) this person will move on and live independently. Weekly meetings will be held for this person, reviewing how they are doing, and inadvertently reinforcing all the problems they have going on and what they have been through previously.

Looking beyond the surface

The traditional system demands this information to be shared to allow a person to qualify for the support they are told that they need. Yet this does not even scratch the surface of who this person is, what they have achieved, what they are interested in and where they would like to go. When working with people just on the surface and dealing with the symptoms of what is happening to them, you will never really see the real person. It is only once you get past all of this, that you will see the individual being hidden behind that label, deficit description, or referral form. The big question is, how do you do that as a coach?

Giving back the power, removing the labels and listening to the person

We have to earn trust and respect, we have to get the belief from that individual that we have their best interests to heart, and that we are here to have a positive impact on their lives. We have to ask different questions and have different conversations. It is simple, we ask people, instead of telling them and expecting that person to conform. We expect them to succeed rather than expecting them to fail. We see the talent and assets and we focus on them.

Accepting that there is a problem

You can’t ignore that there isn’t a problem in the current system, we see and hear about it on a daily basis as coaches. The system currently allows and encourages the use of labels, keeping people segregated from society and doesn’t identify the person, only their presumed deficits – so what can we do?

A question I often ask myself, is this how I would want to be treated? If the answer is no, then why would I expect others to settle for being treated this way?

Prior to joining Mayday these conversations that delved beyond the surface kept me motivated and passionate during my journey through the murky system waters, however they always occurred outside of the Key-work setting and beyond the file of paperwork attached to the person. Now these conversations lead the way and are always the starting point when I meet with a new person as a coach.

Starting the conversation and breaking the cycle

Once you get to the point where a person trusts you as a coach and starts to talk about themselves as an individual rather than a list of problems the real progress can start, development, aspirations and achievements can begin to be imagined and made.

I often find that due to the traditional system focusing on deficits and labels, the people I work with often define themselves by them and become institutionalised within the system. It brings me back to the same conclusion every time – we shouldn’t just be working towards breaking the cycle of homelessness, we should be breaking the cycle of the system.

Real life heroes

As a part of my reflection I continually assess my ability to have these conversations with the people I work with, and whether I deserve to still be doing what I do. Yet when I try and think of another job or sector to follow, I know I will be giving up the privilege of meeting the remarkable individuals I work with. They are real life heroes, yet they are portrayed as helpless, down and out, poor, disadvantaged, and written off.

Do you know someone who has jumped into a river to save someone’s life, regardless of their own? I do.

Do you know someone who left their family home, recognising that the relationship with their partner was not healthy, so that her children could continue to have somewhere warm, safe and stable to live? I do.

Do you know someone who has had no positive role models in their life and everyone they looked up to and trusted abused them, yet still became a positive role model for two children, which are not even his? I do.

Do you know someone who has experienced 20 years of hardship and difficulty, only to forego the opportunity of a way out because there was someone younger in the queue? I do.

Do you know someone who has sat in the French Quarter in New Orleans listening to jazz watching the world go by? I do and I wish it was me.

Will I ever stop meeting heroes? No.

Listening, the real art of the PTS

It is only when you ask and listen to someone’s story that you can help someone find the answers to what is going on in their lives. What and where they want to go, what they want their futures to look like and ultimately what barriers are stopping them getting there.

This is what I am able to do now, freely without the expectation of the system audits and questions. These are the stories being heard at Mayday Trust and with the partners who are delivering and reflecting on PTS and real strength based approaches. This is why it is working, this is why people are voluntarily allowing us to support them and this is why people are able to break free from the cycle of the system.

Expecting the best, rather than fearing the worst

Asset Coach, Andrew Durman reflects on the Personal Transitions Service. Looking at the significance of a positive approach towards the individuals that coaches are lucky enough to work alongside and the importance of releasing control

Reflections on the Personal Transitions Service as an Asset Coach for Mayday Trust

A recent conversation with someone I work alongside reinforced the importance of making a personal choice to approach our work in a strength based and solutions focused way. This I believe, has a direct impact on how we work alongside people, and how they respond to us as Asset Coaches.

It is an approach I totally agree with, although one I often have to remind myself of, challenge and reflect on. One of the hardest things can be watching someone make their own decisions, when in truth we may have done something differently ourselves. But trusting that the choice made, is right for the individual at the time is very important.

It is not our place as Asset Coaches to know what is best for an individual, instead we influence and coach them in their decision making and control, with the hope that the decisions they do make will have a positive impact on their lives.

I was reminded of this very clearly with the individual I was working with, as not long ago I lost contact with him for 3 weeks. During our last meet up he had been very frustrated and feeling like he was on a knife edge due to his own challenges, as well as his uncertain, unsettled and unsafe living conditions.

He felt that going back to prison would alleviate him of this and that it was a place that was safe. Unfortunately this is something we hear quite often.

We explored alternatives and dug deeper into the reasoning behind those emotions, although I was left with the feeling that it could go either way.

However, I recently received an email from his probation worker, as he had requested that I was sent a new contact number for him and that he was looking forward to getting back in touch with me. He had changed his living conditions and location, making a difficult but crucial decision, resulting in a positive effect on his life. He had also secured a job, which he was due to start the following week. This was brilliant, as during that 3 week period I could not help feeling worried for him.

I had to fight that ‘fixing’ feeling and have faith that he would be okay. It turned out he was, and not just okay, he was thriving!

He is a very inspirational individual, as are many of the people I get to meet as a Coach. I would much rather expect the best from someone and be wrong, than expect the worst from someone and be right. This individual knew that I had 100% faith in him and through this he could build faith within himself.

Would he choose to meet me and allow me the privilege of being involved in his life, if he didn’t think that I had faith in him? No.

Does he talk of frustrations with other agencies expecting him to fail and re-offend? Yes. I don’t believe we can be effective in our coaching unless we are allowed and have permission from the person we’re working with to believe in them.

A clear sign of this permission within Mayday Trust and the PTS, is that individuals have a choice in whether they want to work with an Asset Coach and how they would like that coaching relationship to work, and importantly, there is no consequence of ‘not engaging’. The people we work alongside are far too often underestimated, especially by the ‘professionals’ working with them. A person can see right through us if we do not truly believe in them.

I believe as Asset Coaches, or in fact any professional working with people going through difficult periods in their lives, it helps to ask ourselves a few questions. Questions I reflect upon regularly.

Do I feel more satisfied when someone achieves something that I have not had much input in, or do I want to be involved in every step of that decision?
Do I genuinely believe that the person I am working alongside has the ability to be successful and happy?
Do I genuinely want the best for the individual and expect the best of them (this will show through in our work and there is no way to hide it)?
Am I happy to take a step back and allow the control and power to remain with the individual, even if I have doubts and fear the consequences?
Is it that doubt and fear that dictates whether I step in to fix the situation for that individual?
Is what I have done today allowed/empowered that individual, or have I taken control (despite it feeling like the right thing to do and with the best intentions in the world)?

One of the most important reasons why I love working as an Asset Coach with Mayday is the constant self-reflection, on ourselves and the PTS model. There is no room to get complacent, it constantly evaluates whether we are providing the right and best service possible.

I do not believe this should ever stop and does not only provide great service, but maintains our model and longevity within the sector. This ensures that Mayday moves with the times and that we are adaptable to whatever comes our way. This also means that we can continue working towards and influence system change.

This philosophy runs deep within Mayday Trust and the individuals delivering PTS, I am very fortunate to be able to count myself alongside them.

#SystemsChange

Evaluating the Personal Transitions Service

WeiHsi Hu, the Director of Logical Thinking discusses their research looking into the effectiveness and impact of the Mayday Trust’s Proof of Concept for Personal Transitions Service.

Logical Thinking is a consultancy supporting charities to undertake research and evaluation to better understand the needs of their communities and the impact of their work.

We have worked with Mayday Trust from the very beginning in designing the theory of change and the evaluation framework. We work closely with Mayday’s in house analyst to evaluate both quantitative and qualitative data. On our end, our focus were mainly on the qualitative data interviewing people they work with, stakeholders, and reviewing case notes of 113 individuals.

Our evaluation examined prioritised outcomes in 5 phases of the Theory of Change, particularly:

  • Individual’s initial engagement and relationships with Mayday
  • The degree to which there is trust and understanding between the individual and their coach
  • Individual’s own learning and understanding of their assets and strengths
  • Individual’s own development of their assets
  • Individuals’ utilisation/application of their assets to achieve the hard outcomes

You can read our evaluation in full detail in the report – but for now I would like to share some highlights from this research.

Evidence base & Key messages

The Proof of Concept had set out to deliver the new Model to a minimum of 220 people, consisting of various cohorts of people including those from the existing homelessness pathway, young people from the young people’s pathway, probation referrals and care leavers. Referrals have mostly been received from the homelessness pathway, which amounted to a total of 113, as opposed to the initial 220 target.

Due to the limited numbers, the volunteers were not engaged as part of the Model so the full extent of the approach has not been tested. With the limitation of numbers and quantitative data collection, we are unable to establish quantitative evidence on the outcomes of asset development. Additionally, we have not been able to model an effective staff:people ratio as originally designed—that a Coach could work with between 35 and 50 people at a time.

However, the data (interviews and full review of the case notes) we collected evidence that what Mayday is doing is new and that people are welcoming and engaging with it.

In terms of engagement, we have found that:

Seeing PTS as new approach makes better engagement

People living or working with Mayday talked about wanting to try something different.

People who knew about the Mayday programme felt that the programme offered a real alternative to the current homeless pathway in Oxford, and the fact that it was different was enticing to people to engage. It shows how much people desired an alternative approach in the pathway.

The feedback from people who took part in the Mayday programme commented on their ability to have ample time and space to have conversations with their coaches. They felt they were in control of their support, when and how they would like to progress.

It was particularly interesting how individuals often talked about having the space to explore their assets and had the choice to withdraw and rethink and not being thrusted upon when they were working with Mayday.

Voluntary engagement is key

In the early stages of the programme, stakeholders’ views highlighted the potential challenge of voluntary engagement and that Mayday seemed to have difficulties engaging people when support was voluntary. The assumption goes ‘if support is mandatory, people will have to and therefore will engage’.

Interestingly, we found statistically significant quantitative evidence for the contrary to this assumption: When coaching became a mandatory part of the accommodation service, the active engagement dropped significantly.

This highlights the crucial role of voluntary engagement – and how the theory of change got this right. Clearly, when individuals have an active choice and control over their engagement with their coaches, they are more likely to trust their coaches and participate meaningfully. Conversely, when coaching is made mandatory, individuals feel far less in control of their progress and see coaching as yet another ‘box to tick’ to move out of homelessness, and therefore engage less enthusiastically, or not at all.

Persistent and positive approach brings people back in

Coaches’ persistence and ever-present presence was the single utmost factor in re-establishing engagement. In many occasions, coaches found innovative ways to reach out to people.

Having positive conversations about things people are interested in, their hobbies, their passions were a big part of re-engagement. For example, one person started to engage, because they wanted to pursue their interest for music.

As a result of this persistent and positive approach, people felt the coaching offer was sincere and people felt they were valued as individuals – not just as clients.

It is important to emphasise how the two previous findings tie together. It is a fine balance between voluntary engagement &/vs. outreaching to keep people engaged. When we talk about voluntary engagement, it is not just leaving clients be and letting them fall through the crack when people don’t engage. The Mayday approach let people have a say if and when they want to engage, but at the same time, coaches persistently reach out to let the clients know that people should get in touch when they are ready. As a result, people felt the sincerity and became more genuinely engaged as time goes by.

Relationships and Trust

People felt coaches were non-judgmental and always accessible for them. The coaches’ behaviours was a prominent factor in building trust and forging good relationships.

People who work or live with Mayday said they had a good relationship with their coaches, they trusted them and felt free to talk to them about anything The conversations were not just their typical ‘needs’. From fixing a bike to their football team, from keeping fit to their relationship with their children.

Self-reliance and independence

People felt comfortable asking for help and indeed they did for various reasons. But as they progressed, people started to seek less help, and not because they were not engaged, or they thought they could not be helped, but because they developed new skills and networks to overcome problems.

Coaches were very successful at promoting independence. We found that coaches consistently enforced a sense of ownership, by handing over the responsibility to people.

Coaches should be commended in their initiative to take on a supportive role providing information and advice as requested, and empowering people to take self-action to make things happen.

Asset utilisation and hard outcomes

The next stage of research will look into the relationship between asset utilisation and hard outcomes more closely. For our discussion on Mayday’s Theory of Change and how asset utilisation and hard outcomes relate, please download our presentation below.

Download the full Logical Thinking Report on the Theory of Change

 

Introduction to Wisdom from Behind Closed Doors

Based on our experience of working with people from all backgrounds and providing accommodation in challenging circumstances, we wanted to know about their experiences and how they feel about the services and accommodation they have received. Wisdom from Behind Closed Doors is based on 80+ conversations with people who are housed in temporary or supported accommodation, as well as people who are sleeping rough and sofa-surfing.

People told us that they wanted a home where they could feel safe and secure, where they would receive a warm welcome; where they could just get on with their lives.

People moving into accommodation didn’t want to feel labelled, stigmatised or that they had to prove themselves in order to remain. What they want is to start rebuilding a sense of purpose and value to their lives. People want to stay somewhere with a decent standard of accommodation which supports them to access education or work. People told us that they wanted a place where they can make friends and maintain contact with their family. People want the assurance of knowing what to expect from their landlord, including how long they can stay, and what their responsibilities are within the accommodation. Like any tenant, people want access to a feedback and complaints process when the accommodation is not up to standard or things aren’t going well.

“I did two years in prison and now I’m doing two years here. They say I got sentenced for two years, but in reality it’s four.”

An Introduction to Wisdom from the Street

In 2011, we conducted a qualitative review of over 100 people inside and outside Mayday Trust. We wanted to know what people thought of the services designed to support their move out of homelessness and toward independence.

Their feedback, and our own reflections, uncovered the systematic institutionalisation of people accessing homelessness services. The ‘traditional’ focus on needs kept people in their area of weakness, leaving them unable to create sustained, positive change for themselves.

The results were so powerful that they demanded a need for radical change. Change not only in how we delivered support, but in how our entire organisation thought, acted and responded to make sure the individual was at the heart of every decision we made and every action we took.

A whole cultural change was needed. So that’s what we did. We took a blank piece of paper and created the first strength based personal transitions service for people experiencing homelessness: The Personal Transitions Service.

Wisdom From The Street illustrates the key issues highlighted to us during this review. What we learned informed a completely new way of working so that homelessness and tough times can become what they should be; a temporary transition.