Edited by John O'Brien & Carol Blessing
“The more deeply this whole group can listen, the more strongly they believe in the person, the more vividly they can imagine possibilities, the more widely they are connected, the more creatively they can see ways to move forward, the more courageously they can enter into agreements that engage their integrity, the more likely cycles of planning and action will generate good changes.” O'Brien p22
“Conversations on Citizenship” is a collection of brilliant threads, tied together by editors John O’Brien and Carol Blessing around the issues of the citizenship of people with disabilities and of overcoming the barriers that are still preventing full access to society.
In her introduction, Blessing asks why, despite all the great thinking, theorising and training that’s been carried out over the last decades, often only language has changed, with human service delivery systems and ‘experts’ still acting as the commonly accepted gatekeepers to community.
In an attempt to redress this disconnection between people and their communities, the book draws together ideas from some of the most inspirational thinkers from a variety of areas, the person centred planning and thinking of people like Beth Mount, Jack Pearpoint and Michael Smull, the positive potential of appreciative inquiry summed up by Diana Whitney, the value of developing communities based on their assets, recounted by Mike Green, and work enabling people to achieve their potential through employment explored by Denise Bissonnette and Connie Ferrell.
Each of these writers puts forward their ideas, experiences and values in response to a set of incisive questions. This question and answer format is a natural way of simplifying and opening up thinking that goes back to Socrates and Plato, making it much easier to find something to whet the appetite to consume further bitesize morsels of the writers detailed arguments and alternative world views.
Overall the book is like a delightful meal, each thinker bringing their own unique dish to the table, but running through each succulent dish are the common flavours of humanity, community, potential, courage and capacity, meaning that while the book was written to support people on a particular leadership course, the short introductions to appreciative inquiry, asset based community development, person centred thinking and supported employment are both a useful introduction to these areas to the uninitiated, and an inspirational resource to provoke thinking and action in those who are already familiar with these ideas.
The deepest theme of all is that the changes required to genuinely include and value people with disabilities in our society will be accomplished by individual people in their own lives, supported by the people who love and care about them. O’Brien argues that these people will benefit from using person-centred planning as “a means to guide the personal creativity and organisational innovation necessary for people with disabilities to act in valued social roles as contributing citizens” but adds a pinch of salt to the dish with a warning about the limits of Person Centred Planning: he explains that this cannot be treated as “mindless word magic disconnected from a context where people can act resourcefully on what the planning discloses as meaningful”, calling for commitment to building the social contexts where real change can be possible, to supporting the person to convene people who can actively support them to offer their contribution to the community, and to supporting the communities of practice that nurture the applied and relational skills of the people who feel called to support such purposeful convening.