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Person Centred Planning 'Tools'

Author: Peter Kinsella

Peter Kinsella was a leading figure in social policy in the United Kingdom. He established the social enterprise Paradigm and led the development of supported or independent living for people with learning disabilities as an alternative to residential and institutional care. In 2010 he left Paradigm to set up the award-winning restaurant Lunya. In this article, written in 2010, Peter looks back over his time in human services and describes his frustration at the nonsense of jargon and 'tools'.

Why is there this tendency to over-complicate everything in services? In 2001, I wrote about the risk of professionalising and industrialising Person Centred Planning, and both predictions have sadly come true.

A simple question or exercise is no longer that, it is now a 'tool', that needs special materials, people trained in it, accredited in it, books written about it and a simplified message that to every problem or issue, there’s a tool that will solve it.

If only people’s lives (and the support to change them) were as simple as building a house where getting the right materials and buying a few simple tools will do the job: a cement mixer to mix the cement, a trowel to layer the cement, a hod to carry the bricks, a saw to cut the wood etc.

Today, everywhere I look, I see the same old exercises and questions dressed up slightly different as mind-blowing new tools that will get people the lives they want, sort out budget deficits, aggregate planning information, and on and on it goes. I met a family this week who wanted to do some planning with their son, but thought that they had to wait for ‘tools training’. What has the world come to?

Let’s call a spade a spade and not introduce language which is alien, nor dress up a simple question that may or may not be helpful as some innovation that is going to make all the difference. If only we put as much time and effort into the action bit of planning (and making things happen), rather than the endless analysis, sifting of information, 101 different questions and pretty bits of paper. Maybe a new year campaign beckons: "Give me a life not a tool!"

However, it does not end there, language seems to be constantly changed or invented to describe some incredibly simple things which most of us understand. Why is that? Is it to make professionals seem superior, to give an air of doing something new or different? Co-production is the latest buzz word. What does it mean? Well it has replaced ‘partnership’, but it means doing or making something together. Why on earth cannot people say that. Maybe another new year campaign, "I want a life not co-production", or maybe as the lack of a sex life and relationships often comes up as an issue for people with learning difficulties, how about  "reproduction not co-production".

Seriously, I think it just confuses people. I tried to use the word (through gritted teeth) with a couple of people outside of this sector this week; they had no idea what I was getting at. Maybe it’s a good time for me to be getting out of this sector as, if it is becoming all about co-production and "3 whiches and a when" - then roll on the heat of the kitchen!


The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Person Centred Planning 'Tools' © Peter Kinsella 2010.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.