People who connect on a value and feel empowered to live to that value are able to innovate. Simon Sinek talks about how the most innovative organisations and leaders in the world inspire action by putting the “Why” first before the “What” and “How” of their product (Sinek, 2009). The person-centred approach to partnership is a “why” first model. The partners connect and work together because they share a belief that we can better support people in the human services system and that together we have the power to enact change. This module seeks to explain some of how that is achieved and a bit of what such a partnership does. But ultimately, if the shared value, the why comes first, that how and what have the ability to look different, be flexible and creative according to individual client need. This way of approaching human services allows for the unique and chaotic idiosyncrasies of humanity.

To work in a person-centred way is something we all strive for in the community services field. This can becomes tokenistic however if an organisation or individual ceases to continually challenge themselves to this ideal.

The person-centred approach to partnership recognises that the community services system is not conducive to a focus on the person and that practice improvement as a sector must involve upholding all decisions to this principle.

The fractured nature of the community services sector together with rigid funding requirements is a difficult environment in which to put the experience and individual needs of the people we are supporting foremost. The environment can create an “us and them” culture, where an organisation or discipline may notionally believe their client group as unique from that of others. While this can be true to an extent, it discounts the complexity of life.  A ‘unique’ cohort may be people who are homeless, yet to believe that only homeless people deserve your attention discounts the reality that those very same people may not have fit that category three weeks ago. It overlooks the social ecology of an individual, such as that a young person’s greatest support may be their grandparent for whom your service may not cater.

To be person-centred in partnership with other organisations means we recognise and seek to challenge the limitations to our services due to systems and funding. It values meaningful relationships with other services because the premise is that as a sector we have a shared responsibility for person-centred approach to service.

What does being person-centred mean?

From Miller and Rollnick’s perspective in the context of the helping professions, it is “…letting go of the idea and burden that you have to (or can) make people change… in essence, relinquishing a power that you never had in the first place” (Miller and Rollnick, p21). In our experiences as practitioners working in the community services field we will always have examples of success stories where, no matter how hard we try to attach the outcome to our own endeavours, really the person just went and made the change themselves.

So in such an example, was the practitioner of any benefit towards the outcome? Youth work values the ‘relationship-based approach’ where a quality alliance includes trust and respect. Carl Rogers talks about the belief that under the right conditions people will make good choices for their lives.  One of the most essential conditions is that there is someone who believes in them to make the right choices for themselves.  The most essential and simple explanation of being person-centred is that it is about believing in people.

There is much evidence to support person-centred approaches to practice. But viewing the person-centred approach from a systems and partnership perspective highlights the need for the principle to not sit separately in a practice environment. To put trust and belief in the people we support involves more than the worker response. It requires a flexible approach to service provision so workers are empowered to see possibilities and authorised to offer changes to usual practice. See Empowering Environment

Person-centred is as much an ideology as a practice approach. In the context of a partnership, partner agencies must connect on a shared value. The individuals involved must also connect the shared value to their own personal values and beliefs.

Team Building exercise: Connecting personal value to shared value

In the early days of any partnership it is important to ensure investment of individual members by clarifying the purpose of the endeavour and linking that to individual purpose. Here are some suggestions for opening discussion about values that link the partnership endeavour to the personal values:

  • Ask members to choose a picture card (generic pictures of different scenes are great such as the St Luke’s resource: ‘Picture this’ cards). They must think about how they view the people they support in their work. As a group, invite members to share and discuss why they chose particular cards.
  • Have each member describe in just a few words why the partnership/group is important to them or what their hopes are for the group.
  • Use butcher’s paper or a whiteboard to record key words in a group discussion about the concept of ‘person-centred.’ Encourage different perspectives of the notion and barriers to realising its ideal – both individually and structurally.

Partnerships require a large amount of trust between partners, which also needs a healthy degree of belief in each other. Although we are encouraged to compete against each other for funding, organisations are recognising more frequently the value of supporting each other based on our mutual respect and understanding. Connecting on a person-centred ideology means partner organisations must be brave enough to put trust in each other, trust in their practitioners and ultimately trust in the person receiving support. Out of this trust can form a more solid shared responsibility for the experience of people being supported by the service system and a collective approach to improving their journey.