Community Living British Columbia recently hosted a community engagement process on October 22, 2012 in Vancouver to develop a three-year plan to increase employment for people with diverse abilities. The Community Action Employment Plan Summit used a strength-based change process called Appreciative Inquiry (AI).
The AI process surfaces “what is best” and then grows the “positive core.” AI is not a top-down planning process that is focused on deficits. In top-down planned change exercises, decisions are often made without meaningful input from stakeholders and then efforts are made (or not made) to get buy-in on the plan. The outcome of the top-down process is often always resistance from stakeholders which can frustrate and stop the intended change from happening. In contrast, AI seeks to create the conditions for co-creation and involve as many people as possible in order to promote whole-system change. The operating assumption behind AI is that if people are involved in the change process, then the task of geting buy-in is not required because people have a hand in creating the change.
In this regard, the Community Action Employment Plan Summit process scored well by having touched almost 800 people who want people who have different abilities to be able participate in the economic system as an employee, a consumer, and as a taxpayer. In my view, senior staff at CLBC demonstrated a great deal of leadership and courage in engaging in an an Appreciative Inquiry change process because it is very different than the way most strategic plans are developed.
The Community Action Employment Plan project started in November 2011, when a small group of parents, service providers and CLBC staff began to explore how to move forward with increasing the number of people with intellectual disabilities who are employed. The Core Planning Team determined that meaningful progress requires collaboration and sustained effort among individuals, families, service providers, employers, community members and CLBC. The ultimate goal is to increase employment opportunities for British Columbians served by CLBC by 2015.
The Community Action Employment Plan initiative started the engagement process by gathering data from different stakeholders throughout the province in community meetings, in one-one-one interviews, and through an online survey. The results of these inquiries were brought back to the Summit and folded into the process where all involved (service providers, families, self advocates, community members, employers and interested individuals) gathered to develop the three-year action plan.
The Community Action Employment Summit started with a welcome, introductions, and a number of success stories. What followed was more “Appreciative Interviews”, making meaning of the data collected, and developing possibility statements. Then the groups developed a number of topics for discussion and using an Open Space Technology process, the participants focused on where they were most interested to begin to flush out the topics, that combined, will give rise to a comprehensive plan for the next three years. The topics included shifting to an “employment first” approach, refining employment toolkits, ensuring that people have access to supports (job coaches, developers etc), creating more capacity in the education system to prepare people for work, and increasing the capacity of families to know how to best set the stage for employment of their loved ones. Another major theme that surfaced during the process was shifting the attitudes of families, people with diverse abilities, service providers, public and employers to believe that employment is possible. All of these topics will be folded into a Community Employment Action Plan that will be rolled out and actioned over the next three years.
It is also important to acknowledge the skill of the facilitators from Innovation International, Bill Scott, Tim Fleming, and Maureen McKenna who led us through the “appreciative” process in order to glean the wisdom in the room. Aaron Johannes also provided structure for the sessions through masterful graphic facilitation.
Several FSI parents were in attendance and made sure that the voice of families was heard in the process. Family involvement is important because when families are part of the employment planning process for their loved ones it is a huge leverage point in achieving inclusion through employment – we know that having families onside and understanding best practices creates the most favourable conditions for success. At FSI, we are excited about the possibility and the benefits that this co-creative process will bring for people with diverse abilities across BC.
Jack Styan of CLBC is also excited about the process and said, “Employment for people with developmental disabilities is one of those tough problems that will only be solved when everyone collaborates and when learning is part of the process. We tapped into the knowledge and experience of individuals, families, service providers, employers, CLBC staff and community members during the inquiry leading up to the Summit and at the Summit representatives of the same groups came together to co-create solutions. So far, I would say we have been successful in promoting both learning and collaboration. It’s an exciting start.” At FSI, we agree that it is an exciting start and we look forward to seeing how change will occur in terms of employment rates for individuals across BC.