Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Peer Pressure

I have already been reminded that those who are friendly towards me expect a more biting review of the conference than the one below. Please forgive me, friend, for forgetting my place. There's no better metric for the failure of the conference than that.

To be more biting means to be a little repetitive, because the weakness I found were those I predicted in this space, but to recap.

Wrong format and content: It is pure vanity for anyone to believe the substance or particulars of that conference are change agents or that the conference itself is a change agent. The truth beyond the fiction presented is this: No one working in this field needed this conference to learn the words "dignity," "meaningful," "individualized" or "appropriate." No one there needed models presented to provide dignified, meaningful, individualized and appropiate support. None of us missed the transformation from doing to to doing for to working with to working for people with disabilities. What we needed, need and don't have is a system in which the right, effective and most valuable support prospers and the deadening one is entombed rather than the person served.

What exists now exists as it does because the supports now offered are adaptive to the environment. Like gum chewing in a lecture hall. If we want change, and I think we're sincere about that, we have to change the environment and I don't believe we are sincere about changing the environment. We want to watch from under the sea as our issue prosper on land.

Look at the conference. Dignitaries, experts and other charlatans speaking from a lectern about listening. The conference was a site-based, segregated day-program using generations-old prompts to modify behaviors.

The topic is not what to do differently but how the system needs to change so that we can all get what we claim to want. When a system changes, every element within it changes in form, function or both. Regional Centers have to change. Providers have to change. Clients and families and DDS has to change. First change? Learn to use question marks. If the Devil were a question mark, it would have been the cherubs that fell.

Wrong Message: The message continues from last year. That the failure of the system is a failure of imagination. Or a failure of willingness. This is not true. All over the state are clients who know what support they want, unmatched to the many providers ready, willing and able to provide that support. It's not even a failure of will. The failure is to ask why the system doesn't tolerate the services we all imagine and how intolerance can become encouragement.

ADAPTIVE, adj. Expedient. Ethical.
APPROPRIATE, adj. Traditional.
COURAGEOUS, adj. Selectively submissive.
DIGNITY, n. A shimmering blanket draped over the head of the pitiful to reflect the beauty of the beholder.
INDIVIDUALIZED, adj. Filled to taste, as a glass from a vat.
MALADAPTIVE, adj. Inconvenient.
MEANINGFUL, adj. Fully funded.


Andy said...

---There twice was a conference in San Diego
---To go, you wrote to an ARCA woman named Griego
---The weather was nice
---But if you took Doug’s advice
---You would not go just to learn what you know

If there ‘aint no learning happening the blame lies with me. I’ve attended more conferences than I can remember. I know what to expect. I expect nothing from the scheduled events in terms of professional, personal or epiphanous growth. (My epiphanies come from places far more common and likely) I anticipate learning nothing from the keynote or breakout sessions. I expect not to be disappointed anymore . . . and these expectations are perpetually met.

What I do expect is to get out of the office for a few days . . . sleep poorly in an overpriced hotel room . . . stay out later than I should and have one to four more drinks than I should. These expectations too are perpetually met.

If I am lucky though . . . not only will I muse on some lost and fond memories that always seem to return to me with slight hangovers, but I will also see and spend time with folks whom I rarely see and who I greatly respect. We will agree on almost everything. We will spend only a short time faulting the conference and much more time talking and scheming about we can do better.

And I am often lucky. Usually, as I drive or fly into one of these things, I feel a little queasy . . . a touch of dread and despair, actually. With luck and old pals, as I return home, I feel a little bit of hope. Can’t ask for much more than that!

It was great to see you and Joe and several other folks. And don’t worry, Doug, the hope will be gone by middle of next week. . . . you can count on me.

Doug said...

Andy, I know to depend on your cynicism in the long run. I didn't realize I could depend on you for a limerick, though. Well done!

Anonymous said...

Systems, by definition it seems, do not change. Change happens in small settings, like your agency. And fans out, through people sharing with people. Don't you at the very least find some encouragement in the fact of the conference? Don't you think the service system has changed at all, even in the last five years? I know it doesn't change fast enough for most of us (and too fast for some of us!), but we cannot pretend change is not occuring...

o ceallaigh said...

My God, Doug! It's cross-cultural! You just described all my biology meetings! I long ago gave up on all the sessions, and used the meetings to prowl the break rooms looking for friends, possible contacts, and (very rare) bona fide sources of funds.


Doug said...

Anonymous, that's a very interesting combination of comments and questions.

Let me start with this: I am glad that the values of the Regional Centers, on balance, seek to promote more individualized, person-centered thinking. Yes, I think the system has changed a little in the last five years so there's the affirmative part of my response.

Here's the other side. Open systems actually change by definition. People have to stop them from changing. To be honest, I think the best way to do that is to hold a conference on change. You'll see my meaning in the fable a few posts below. Here's the problem, as I see it:

That conference was entirely occupied with presenting ideas, disregarding the fact that the system as it is fosters the opposite of those ideas. There was no opportunity to discuss why all those brilliant models presented aren't the norm. There was no opportunity for providers to say to regional centers "we know that. We think we know how to do it. Here's how you can change to let us try and let us learn." Or for clients and families to do the same with vendors and regional centers.

There's also the fact that people can really relax when they think progress is being made. The conference was evidence of progress unfulfilled. So I believe that conference was just as likely a mechanism for inhibiting change as a catalyst. I don't doubt that it was intended the opposite. I will say this, though, the probability that an attendee I spoke with was a skeptic was fivefold what it had been at the 2005 conference.

O Ceallaigh, believe it or not, we do have constructive meetings in this field. You can always tell them from the others because attendance is dismal.

Doug said...

Oh, and Anonymous, thank you for engaging so thoughtfully. Feel free to continue the discussion either here or to email me.

O Ceallaigh, it's always a pleasure.

Anonymous said...

I read the fable and do not know what lagoculture is. I looked it up at and couldn't find a definition. Could you help me out? I think a conference on what impedes change would be great! Are you up for organizing it? I also agree that an open system would be receptive to change. But we don't have, and will never have, anything close to an open system at the regional center or state or federal level. Open systems can occur with success at the agency level--even while operating within semi- or closed systems. There are too many innovative and responsive agencies out there to suggest otherwise.

Doug said...

Ah, anonymous, Lagoculture is kind of a made up word meaning the raising of rabbits. (Lago is latin or greek or something for rabbit.)

An open system is just one that can be influenced from the outside, and I do think we have that, even if its resistive.

I'm not a good person to organize a conference because I don't think anyone would come after I made fun of all of theirs, but I'd be happy to help. You can email me at dpascover at mac dot com if you're serious. If you're being ironic, touché.

Anonymous said...

I guess I think it is easier to be a critic than it is to be a 'real' change agent. And I wonder why you bother to attend any conferenses, since you anticipate learning nothing and actaully might be inhibited to change because you seem to think the conferences are just co-opting moments! do you think that one reason the conference was held is because ARCA perceives a need to keep the brilliant models before a larger audience? Or that the majority of providers are change resistent? finally, was your attendence at the conference funded through public funds? What does that say?

Doug said...

Anonymous, I think ARCA may well think the majority of vendors are change-resistant, and I agree with them. I'd go further to say most of the system is change-resistant, including the ARCA membership. That's why the conference format is a problem for me. First, because lack of models is not a barrier to change, we all know plenty. Second because it assumes that new models are change. Third, because it doesn't acknowledge that the way we do things now are adaptive to the system we have in place.

If the system is as far from working as intended as the folks at ARCA seem to think, and as I do think, then everyone has to change so the outcomes we want are selected for, not against. If that were the goal, we'd start with dialogue and action, not presentations. It's way too typical of the system to start by assuming you know what's wrong and who needs to do the adapting. That's what's wrong with the services we provide and the environment we provide them in.

And of course it's easier to be a critic than a 'real' change agent. Funner, too.

To your final question, I'm not sure. If the state pays money to the regional centers, who pay it to my agency for services and then it's paid to me as salary and I buy a cheeseburger, is the rancher who raised the beef using public funds when he buys fertilizer? I'm never sure when the money stops being public, but no non-profit or state agency funded any part of my attendence directly.

I'm not inhibited from making change at conferences. Both locally and at the state level, the change I'm most interested in is greater transparency, felxibility and accountability which I think together will make for a more responsive, person-centered system. Either a conference opens up tools to make progress on that or it stimulates working harder.

And, finally, thank you. It's good to be challenged.