Learning and strengths

When people outside the social care sector ask me what Research in Practice do, I tend to describe us as a membership service that works to help social care organisations improve their work. I often consider the priviliged position that this puts us in, and what it means for organisational change – as we are outside the organisation we can be critical friends, but we can't be fully clued up around what it looks and feels like to work in that particular organisational context.


As an external provider there are a couple of pitfalls to be avoided. As a not for profit organisation we avoid the ethical dilemma faced by big private providers – we don't have a conflict of interest around our approach to solving problems. We aren't incentivised to maintain an unbalanced relationship where our partners need to spend more money to access our time and expertise.

We're not in a space where we need to maintain a hierarchy. In fact, we're looking at how we can leverage more of our strengths as a network. Our flagship events and the work of our partner engagement team are around connecting people across organisational siloes so that people can share their learning and experiences with each other. We're not centering expertise and value within ourselves, but in the wider network. This provides a space where people can co-create and develop knowledge.

An illustration from Fiona Katauskas for The Guardian a farmer sells a service to hens for safe henhouses and to foxes for breaking into henhouses

The other dilemma is around responses to knowledge gaps within the organisation. A perceived lack of expertise can lead to a vacuum where knowledge needs to be accessed via training or similar means. This clashes with the strengths-based approaches that we often talk about in social care. Our approach to learning too often mirrors deficit based services – participants have nothing to offer, trainers have everything to share. But when we consider that it's participants who have the knowledge of the context that they're working in, there's much less of a division of knowledge between trainer/facilitator and attendee than we would expect.

An image taken from a blogpost by Andrew Duckworth where a chicken shares slides that say “Everything you do is stupid and what I do is smart. Hire more of us!”

When we model effective learning relationships, we're also modelling good working relationships to our partner organisations. Showing that we respect their knowledge and expertise means that they are better able to reflect a similar dynamic when facilitating or running exercises with people that they work with. Reflecting back to Andrew Duckworth's post where the above image is taken, it's really about showing, not telling what good work looks like.

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