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Thinking About Frameworks

Author: Anna Eliatamby

I have been fortunate to work in numerous human service and private organisations. Each has its own conceptual framework and accompanying language that helps to maintain the zeitgeist of that organisation. Recently I have been thinking about the purpose of the frameworks we use, in the name of the organization and the people it serves. 

For example, in learning disabilities, we have had normalization (complex), the five accomplishments (easy to understand), person-centred planning and individual budgets. Each has been extremely useful for the professionals, providers and commissioners to allow them to do their work, think about people and to talk and communicate with each other. The same applies for professional frameworks such as those used by clinical psychologists, e.g. functional analysis which provides a general framework to enable the professional to question, learn and understand a person and their problems.

Most of us need some help in our thinking and decision making and this is often provided by our frameworks and our professional training (which normally inculcates a given style of thinking and being). But there are significant drawbacks. They can restrict our thinking and creativity- ‘we stay inside the box’. We can refuse to see reality for what it is and translate everything back into something that maintains and upholds the framework. Years ago, I was working with a group of men who were independent and lived in a hostel. They needed very little help to go around their neighbourhood. We were helping them move into individual flats about a mile away from their hostel. One man became very frightened at this prospect, because some-one had told him that he was going to move into ‘the community’ and he did not know what that was.

We can become emotionally attached to our frameworks to the point of dismissing others that offer a different perspective. Normalisation provided an enormously successful methodology that helped professionals create a very different life for people away from institutions. It has been superceded by less complicated frameworks but there are still some who stick to it rigidly. Similarly person centred planning is a very helpful device to lever change in a person’s life but some believe that their person centered framework is the best (not sure what criteria are being used).

You can only lose what you cling to - Buddha

And what do people who are the recipients of these frameworks think of them? I suspect that many would not recognize our frameworks because we, often, haven’t taken the time to explain our rationale and logic, let alone our training. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. The most that a recipient would normally know is a form or a letter or report that commonly describes an outcome, e.g. of the planning meeting, the psychological assessment. 

We should also think about the possibility that not every piece of work requires a framework. I think about and plan parts of my life without using a clear and constructed model and sometimes things happen for which I have no plan. Why do we insist on frameworks to help some-one with a learning disability do the same? You could argue that the person with a learning disability needs more formal resources but this should not prevent us simply asking the person what they want in their life. 

We all need to stop and think about the frameworks we use and how these can both restrict and liberate us. We should make personal decisions to be brave enough to step outside them and see how we can function in a more human way.

There is only one time
when it is essential to awaken.
That time is now. - Buddha


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Thinking About Frameworks © Anna Eliatamby 2013.

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.