Tag Archives: communication

Participation is key to challenging discrimination

At the All Wales Participation Network this year, Joe Powell set the tone with a powerful opening speech about the importance of full participation in society for people with learning disabilities. Joe was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1996 and has spent 11 years in social care. He is now National Director of All Wales People First; a group uniting the voices of self-advocacy groups in Wales. Joe drew on his first hand experience of fighting to leave a system that was determined to see him purely as a service-user, someone needing assistance, and not as someone who also had a lot to offer to his community.

Joe began his talk by outlining ‘The good life model’; values that are important to the people with learning disabilities Joe has spoken to. These values included ‘loving and caring relationships’, the choice that is derived from having some wealth (implicitly this includes control over one’s financial assets), a ‘contributing place in the World’ and ‘a home of my own’. The first thing that struck me was how similar they are to what a non-learning disabled person wants from their own life – these values seemed universal, as opposed to learning-disability specific. All of the values were, to my mind, underpinned by a balance between personal safety and security on one hand and on the other a sense of being able to take agency over one’s own life and further, contribute something to the lives of others. Isn’t this what everyone wants form their lives?

Picture of Joe Powell presenting at Participation Cymru event.

Many people with learning disabilities also have a visual impairment and some of these people were not taught to read at school. Simple measures such as offering easy-read information and audio format can make it possible for people with learning disabilities to access information without having to rely on a friend or carer to read it to them. This allows people to maintain a sense of independence and dignity, rather than become institutionalised, especially where the information concerned is of a private nature.

Given that what people with learning disabilities want is so similar to what the wider population aspire to, one could be forgiven for assuming that these desires are readily accommodated in learning-disability care and are empathised with by society. However, Joe explained that in reality people with learning disabilities are effectively ‘retired at the age of eighteen years’; rarely in employment and often even excluded from volunteering. The mentality behind such sidelining appears to be that anyone with a learning disability is a ‘service user’ and therefore in need of assistance. Whilst many people with learning disabilities are indeed users of services, this does not mean that they are not capable and eager to give assistance in their communities and contribute meaningfully not only to their own lives, but also to the lives of others.

History of people learning disabilities

This restriction in participation is not only a massive loss in terms of potential volunteering and employment opportunities but also completely contrary to the principles of the All Wales Strategy 1983. The strategy stipulates that people with learning disabilities have the right to choose their own patterns of life within their communities and to access to professional services where additional help is necessary for them to achieve this.

People with learning disabilities largely DO want to work and to volunteer, said Joe, and we need to make more of an effort to accommodate their needs in theses capacities. Prejudice stems from ignorance and when people with learning disabilities are visible in useful roles, this will make it harder to stereotype them as a burden and give credibility to their voices.

Joe’s closing remark, before inviting questions from the floor, was that participation for people with learning disabilities must be realistic and never tokenistic. We must make it possible for people with learning disabilities to enter the workforce with reasonable adjustments made if necessary only when they are capable of fulfilling that role.

If you would like to hear more from Joe Powell, you can keep up with Joe’s Soapbox.

The ‘Storify’ for the day, including Joe’s presentation, other resources from the event as well as delegate’s contributions via social media is available here.

– Non

Our radio debut!

RadioCardiffRadio Cardiff 97.8FM is Cardiff’s community radio station, which is a type of radio service that offers broadcasting beyond commercial and public service. They broadcast content that is popular and relevant to a local and specific audience which can often be overlooked.

Diverse Cardiff is live every Tuesday 13:30-15:00 and Participation Cymru were asked to come and speak on the show. I thought this was a really exciting opportunity so I volunteered myself for this; I’m really good at chatting about our work so I thought: why not?!

Just before I arrived at the studio I remembered the ‘Confidence at Public Events’ training course that I attended last year and it definitely came in handy at this point! I particularly remembered the part of the course about overcoming fear…

  1. The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow
  2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it
  3. The only way to feel better about myself is to go out…and do it
  4. Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I’m on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else.
  5. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness

(taken from Susan Jeffers ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’)

I was clearly nervous before I started speaking but within a few minutes I began to really enjoy myself and didn’t want to stop talking!

The format of the show is very informal, chatty and conversational, with it being so close to St. David’s Day all of the music played on the show was by welsh artists, so I had the pleasure of listening to some Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci & Super Furry Animals whilst I was waiting.

I began by introducing Participation Cymru, who we are and what we do, then I spoke about some pieces of work we have recently been involved with and I finished by speaking about ways in which people can get involved with us, by attending our training, networks and endorsing the National Principles for Public Engagement. I also mentioned some local opportunities for the people of Cardiff to be involved, I signposted to websites such as www.askcardiff.com and http://www.thewaleswewant.co.uk/

Diverse Cardiff are always looking for guests to speak on the show, so if you have an interesting local project that you’d like to speak about then click here to contact Diverse Cardiff.

Here are a few tips for any first time radio guests:

  • You’re just having a general chat about work; imagine the table with the microphone isn’t there.
  • Speak in Plain English – don’t use long sentences or jargon-words which you might stumble on and if you do stumble – just start over again – the chances are no one will notice (apart from yourself!)
  • Be prepared – you could even write some questions that you want the presenters to ask and send them in advance so you know what to expect
  • Remember time seems a lot quicker when you’re actually speaking – what you think may take 2 minutes to say could actually take 5 minutes

You can listen to the entire show here or just Participation Cymru’s interview here; the other guest was Chrissie Nicholls from Welsh Women’s Aid.

–          Sarah

Networking at breakfast!!!

The mere notion of meeting and influencing new people at breakfast time sends me into a cold sweat but this is exactly what I was asked to facilitate at the WCVA Conference, ‘Engage! Collaborative Working’ in the Liberty Stadium, Swansea this week.

About 20 people from a variety of third sector organisations in Wales turned up especially early to attend the breakfast networking session run by Participation Cymru.

Networking

As the facilitator for this session, it challenged me to ask the question, ‘How good am I at networking myself’?

It is after all more than just saying hello to someone else in the room. It is a deliberate activity, a practiced art and there are natural networkers and then those like myself who have to work quite hard at it. Put me in front of a room of participants for a training session or ask me to facilitate or chair a meeting and I am well within my comfort zone. Put me, without a role to play, in a group of people I don’t know and I find that much more difficult.

Networking is an important competence for many a job these days. Partnerships and collaborative working depend on it. Making the most of meeting new people with a view to them being potential new colleagues or partners is something we all need to be good at.

So this meeting over breakfast offered the opportunity for a seemingly random set of people to start getting to know each other better, to share knowledge, experience and opportunities. To go away with a new contact, a fresh piece of thinking or the germ of a collaborative opportunity.

Time was limited before the opening plenary session of the conference started so I facilitated a speed networking process that allowed people to identity someone in the room they didn’t know and to spend 5 minutes in each other’s company using the following as prompts and then another person and so on:

  • Tell each other who you are, where you’re from and what you do.
  • Identify what you and your organisation can offer to others.
  • Identify what you and your organisation can gain from others.

After all ‘Networking is marketing. Marketing yourself, marketing your uniqueness, marketing what you stand for.’ (Christine Comaford-Lynch).

But it also worth remembering that. ’You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you’. (Dale Carnegie).

Networking is a skill that can be learnt. It is an attitude that says, ‘I am open to new encounters and opportunities’.

Thank you to those eager people who took up the opportunity to network at breakfast this week and I hope that the conversations over coffee and croissants was worth the early start.

Mandy

Channel Shift: Making the best use of your citizen communication channels

This is Participation Cymru’s first guest blog, which comes from Tanwen Berrington. If you would like to contribute to our blog, please email participationcymru@wcva.org.uk.

Public Sector Customer Services Forum

Towards the end of February, I went along to the somewhat elaborately-titled conference, ‘Multi Channel Customer Contact Strategies & Channel Shift for the Public Sector’, organised by PSCSF. I found myself surrounded by public sector customer service specialists and private sector companies sponsoring the event. Now, I am not an expert in these areas and I imagine many readers won’t be either.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at how the wider concept of public engagement has become a key consideration for both these sectors; public engagement sells nowadays.

There was quite a mix of presentations on the day, including speakers from English and Welsh local authorities and private sector companies specialising in social, online and electronic customer communication (though not enough of the latter to turn the conference into a sales-pitch).

They all focused on multi-channel customer contact and making the best use of these channels. Some focused on the technology available to manage your public engagement and all were interested in providing a better customer service through improved communication and engagement.

For us lay-people, some of the presentations which specialised in customer contact centres might have been a little above our heads. For me, the presentation given by Sarah Barrow from Wokingham Borough Council on selecting appropriate channels of communication and by Leon Stafford from LiveOps on ‘empowering your agents to autonomous engagement’ were particularly interesting.

What did I learn?

  • To my understanding, channel shift is not just a case of shifting your citizens to social and online media; this is, after all, a little dictatorial! It is rather about engaging citizens on the most appropriate channels. This means shifting between different media depending on the nature of the service and the media the citizen is most comfortable using, or uses in their day-to-day lives. So, a customer complaining about a service on Twitter might appreciate an immediate response via a web chat (which of course, conveniently comes with the added bonus of privacy).
  • It’s not necessarily good practice to use your social and online media just to broadcast information. Twitter can be useful for broadcasting traffic updates, for instance, but it is also a cheap and easy way to actually listen to your citizens. Social media and technology can be used as a pre-prepared ‘human sensor network’ (a nice concept used by Professor Dave Snowden) that you can use as a temperature check, to become aware of local issues which are a source of complaint or praise. Why arrange irregular and infrequent consultations when you already have a regular feedback loop?These networks can also be ‘activated’. I was charmed by the example of the network of dog walkers in Wokingham Borough; when a dog is lost, the Council sends text messages to network members, who then turn into a borough-wide search and rescue party (though I must admit, I am a ‘dog person’).

What does this mean?

  • Often, organisations already have many of their engagement channels set up. You don’t necessarily need to re-invent the wheel therefore, just make the best use of what you already have.
  • This can be as simple as actually paying attention to what your citizens are saying!
  • Or managing your channels so your messages are co-ordinated. Citizens will feel they can get in touch by whatever means they feel comfortable with, without getting lost in the system.

– Tanwen Berrington
Working in public sector improvement. These views are my own.