Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Individual vs organisational need

One of the issues with diverse groups of people is that we need to understand the particular needs of each member as well as the needs of the group itself. This takes both time and energy and also a sincere desire to include.

I am reminded of the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 which changed the way that social services were delivered (amongst other things). The premise was that services had been provided to suit the organisation and staff and not the individual client. In short-hand they needed to be more person or needs led. This was a challenge in particular for those of us who managed group services - how did we balance the need for organisational efficiency with the needs of individuals. Any group faces this balancing act.

As an example I will look at communications. The ever-growing use of electronic communications means that we can persuade ourselves that we can communicate much more effectively and efficiently via email and other electronic means. Indeed for the provider of information this is true. We can be very creative with the use of sound, colour and pictures which we may not be able to do using paper formats. However we then assume that our readers
  • Have access to an Internet enabled computer; and
  • Do access it on a fairly frequent basis; and
  • Find all electronic communication effective; and
  • Only want to read, say a newsletter, sitting at a computer rather than on the sofa with a cup of tea.
Most computer enthusiasts like other means of communication - I like to read a paper, love to read a book and enjoy thumbing through magazines. But not all readers of paper format like to read on-line content for a variety of reasons. Of course if people have a printer they can print things out but that adds expense which some can afford but some cannot.

So how do we ensure that individual needs are met? First we have to know what those needs are and then we have to respond to them. We can say that the majority has it - asking for a vote for one type of communication and going with one medium. But as a community which prides itself on including minorities this seems to be much too exclusive.

I think that we need to look at paper communications, telephone including text, electronic means (in all its diversity) and face-to-face communications. Some of us also try to produce CDs and DVDs. One person cannot do this alone - including others in the production of printed material, audio material and in its distribution is key. This is the commitment to communicate made real.

Whilst this thinking about the totality of needs may slow some things down it will also speed some things up - the development of those feelings of being a loving, participative and informed community. We all need to walk the walk.

Perhaps we lose some organisational efficiency in the short-term but in the long-term such organisational efficiency will lead to people feeling isolated, feeling that they are not important and wondering why no-one cares whether they are kept informed or not.

So perhaps it is not such a balancing act after all. Perhaps it is about what we are aiming to do and where we are aiming to get to. I would suggest that inclusion should be an aim for us all.

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