Adopting a Positive Perspective

I’ve been working on the Multiple Metaphor Model of change for a few weeks and was indebted to Rob Lewis who suggested some key questions which could compliment the metaphors.

Around the same time that I received Rob’s questions I came across the notion of Appreciative Inquiry. In order to try out the model I used the metaphors and some of Rob’s questions to reflect upon our current Integrated Children’s Services Plan. The difficulty I was finding was that I kept coming up with problems and areas of need. As the work went on it became more and more negative, to the point where I wondered how we could possibly put a successful change strategy together. My solution was to adopt an Appreciative Inquiry approach and consider each of the metaphors in turn but to seek three concrete examples within each which demonstated good practice, for example, using the sculpting metaphor I considered our medium – which is people, and identified these three strengths:

  1. Our colleagues are committed to providing the best possible service for children, young people and their families.
  2. Our people will continually work beyond the expected parameters to benefit children, young people and their families.
  3. Our people care about their colleagues in their immediate situation.

By considering each of the parts of the metaphor model in turn I began to develop a much more positive perspective on what we have been doing – and – more importantly – a number of things which we could build upon to imrove our service. Such an approach has the added benefit of maintaining morale, engaging postively with people and creating a culture where the focus is on success – not failure.

I don’t see this as being a “happy clappy” way of working and if we can find a way of linking this approach with the rigorous Performance Indicator model mentioned in the previous post then I’m excited by its potential.

Perhaps the greatest problem that we face – and this isn’t “Appreciative Inquiry” – is the tendency for Scots to see the downside and also to be more comfortable with that approach. I’m going to continue exploring this area over the next few months.

PS – I’ve made a start at putting together a list of related literature which people might like to dip into for additional infromation – or feel free to make addtions.

Performance Measurement in Education

I spoke to
Professor Mike Pidd this morning about Soft Systems Methodology and public services. Mike was surprised that so few public services have taken up SSM as an approach to improve their practice. I came across an interesting article which Mike had written about a soft systems view of
performance measurement in public services.

Mike referred to three reasons why we might measure performance in public services.

“1. To see what works: this is the use of quantitative indicators as a foundation for evidence-based policy by measuring and comparing the performance of different delivery and policy options. To be properly done, this requires the careful use of statistical methods and designed comparisons.Thus, if there are several options available, the performance of each can be measured and this information can be used for comparison to determine the best way to proceed. Alternatively, the impact of a single policy might be measured by comparing its costs and benefits to see if it is worthwhile.

2. To identify competences: this is the use of quantitative indicators to identify good performers (and, by implication, poor performers). Often the resulting performance data are published; for example in school league tables, the star ratings of NHS hospital trusts and, more recently, the performance of social service departments in UK local authorities. An ultimate aim of such measurement is to encourage the transfer of knowledge and expertise and to inform services managers about how well they are performing. The idea is that the identification of high performers will enable poorer performers to learn how to improve – it also provides positive feedback to the high performers.

3. To support public accountability: this rests mainly on the publication of performance data to allow members of the public to see whether services are being delivered properly and offer value for money. Since New Public Management separates policy from operations, it is clear that the accountability loop must be closed in some way; otherwise there will be no link between policy and action. Though this measurement may, in theory, be for public use, politicians are intimately concerned with this aspect of measurement since part of their future may depend on it. Whether the general public is so interested is a moot point. The indications from local authorities (Miller, 2003) and health care (Marshall et al, 2000) suggest that public interest is rather limited.”

To summarise the three accepted reasons for performance measurement:

  1. To see what works
  2. To identify competences
  3. To support public accountability

I completed a draft of
The Child at the Centre last week which set out a draft format of our Department Standards and Quality Report using a wide range of performance indicators. The next day I explored the potential tension which can exist between what I described a
soft and scientific models of change but that they could be used in a complimentary manner.

The challenge when reflecting upon performance indicators is that they can dominate and overwhelm the person or group to whom they refer, with attention naturally focussing on the weakest areas – which can debilitate the organisation and their ability to make any effective response to the area requiring attention.

This took me back a problem I created at Dunbar Grammar school when we set up a departmental review process. It took the form of a peer review of a department by colleagues from the school. In one of the first departments to go through the process we identified many strengths and some areas which required development. However, when we presented our report to the department we attached numbers to each of the various performance indicators e.g. 1 = Unsatisfactory 4 = very good. Despite there being a very positive narrative the members of the department focussed on the numbers and wanted to engage in debate about the level allocated by the team – despite agreeing with most of the narrative. I learned a very important lesson that day – that in such circumstances we should negotiate the levels with the team by reflecting upon the narrative and the evidence which supports it – in other words people must take ownership of the self-evaluation process. However, there is a need to provide some form of comparative indicator to enable people to make some judgement about the overall quality of the work under consideration – and so I would stick with the proposed
The Child at the Centre model – but doing so within a culture where people take direct responsibility for self evaluation – with the role of the authority being primarily one of validation.

I've always operated on the basis that I would rather be aware of any weaknesses before any external form of evaluation took place – such as a peer review, authority review or HMIe inspection – I believe that such an approach provides an excellent foundation for progress – regardless of how negative the self-evaluation might appear at first – at least we were in control.

In my next post I'll explore some of the problems thrown up by the way we currently use performance indicators.

Library service

I met Ann Johnston and Alison Hunter, who represent our school and community library service. In a wide ranging discussion we considered the place of libraries in the development of learning and teaching in East Lothian and the place of community libraries in community learning and development.

As the librarian at Dunbar Grammar School, Ann educated me about the potential contribution of school libraries to the learning and teaching process. We agreed that there is a huge disparity between how senior pupils are taught at school and what they will experience at University or College. We do no favours to children by the extent to which we spoon feed them – although nobody can question our motives. We need to develop the ability of pupils to learn independently and to make best use of learning resources such as the library in our learners. I'm delighted that Ann has agreed to join our Strategic 3-18 Learning and Teaching Group – and also agreed to keep a blog – watch this space.

Alison is going to join our
Cultural Entitlements and Education Group.

822 visits

We broke our record for individual visits to yesterday with 822 visitors. Not bad for the summer holidays. Only 178 short of the daily target we set ourselves for the summer.

Appreciative Inquiry

I’m enjoying having some to do some research around the
multiple metaphor model of change management I’ve been developing over the past few weeks.

I came across an interesting methodology today called
Appreciative Inquiry – a new one on me.

Anyone who knows me will understand why I’m taken by this approach, particularly given this analysis by Fitzgerald et al:

“It is not a technique or method per se, although there is a basic Ai approach that has been articulated in the literature and practiced in various settings. Most importantly Ai is an affirmative worldview that shapes what we look for in organizational inquiry. It involves a conscious value choice to seek the most affirmative, valuing, and generative information available. The intention is to discover and build upon the strength and vitality of human systems as experienced and reported by their members.”

(My emphases)

The only problem I foresee are from my farming roots where Ai stands for something quite different!!

Community Learning and Development

I had a very productive meeting with Tom Shearer, Head of Community Services; Margaret O'Connor, Manager, Community Services and Alison Wishart , our link Education Officer with a Curriculum for Excellence.

We explored four key questions about the links between education and community learning and development (CLD):

  1. What's currently on offer in our communities for young people and who delivers?
  2. Where are the existing links between schools and CLD?
  3. What are the opportunities of improving links between CLD and schools?
  4. How do we go about recognising the cachievements of young people outwith school?

I won't go into the detail of the discussion but we came up with the following list of possible ares where links already exist, or where there is potential for development:

  1. Sport
  2. Performing arts – dance music, drama
  3. Visual Arts
  4. Creative writing
  5. ICT
  6. Outdoor education
  7. Community Projects – e.g motorcycle project
  8. Library service;
  9. Volunteering;
  10. Museum service

We also identified the following as areas which present a particular challenge:

  1. Integration between schools and CLD workers;
  2. Curricular links with CLD.

On the latter point Margaret spoke about the notion of cultural entitlements. I have to admit to ignorance on this front but after some srearch on the web came up with this link to the
Scottish Exec's reponse to the Cultural review. The main thrust of the Exec's response is to see cultural entitlements in a local context:

“The Commission was asked to explore and define the subject of cultural rights and entitlements. The Commission stated correctly that entitlements should be developed in each local authority area, in response to the wishes of local people.”

They go onto suggest:

At local level, the local authorities will have a duty to develop minimum cultural entitlements to apply in their areas. As with direct support to non-national cultural organisations and venues, the Executive believes that cultural entitlements are best, and most appropriately, delivered locally – for the benefit of communities. The cultural planning activity of local authorities, mentioned above – integrated within the framework of Community Planning – should include entitlements that address identified need in each authority area. The Executive anticipates this approach should open up a range of choices for local people, and a menu of cultural options which they have helped to develop. The principle of free access to cultural activity for young people should be every provider's goal – and should underpin the entitlements and pledges now being explored.

From my reading of this we have a clear obligation to ensure that we develop a clear strategy for identifying and fulfilling these cultural entitlements for young people. Given our recent Learning and Teaching Policy – which is framed around the notion of “learner entitlements” it would appear that we could make this area a particular focus for developing and expanding the links between schools and CLD.

We are planning to set up a Performing Arts and Education Group next session. It strikes me that we should perhaps maybe rename this group as “Cultural Entitlements and Education Group”. All this seems particularly appropriate given the belief axpressed by our Headteachers in S
eptember 2005 when they identfied “creativity” as the cornerstone of our approach towards the “Curriculum for Excellence.”

We are going to explore the possibliity of this being a key theme in a joint conference between Headteachers and the CLD team.

Soft and scientific

Thie two tasks I've completed this week are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of change management.

multiple metaphor model tries to capture the complexity of the change process. For some people I suppose this will seem woolly and ambiguous and of little apparent benefit. At the other end of the spectrum is the
Child at the Centre paper I put together which captures a range of hard measures with which we can judge the impact and effectiveness of our services.

I don't see these ways of thinking as being in conflict and would argue that there is a need to combine
soft systems like the multiple metaphor model together with hard data collection and management allied to clear methods for organising ourselves and tracking progress – see
service improvement plan tracker (oops that's three bits of work done this week).

I'm indebted to David Gilmour for pointing me in the direction of
soft systems – which would appear to provide evidence that such approaches have academic credibility. Much of my own work has been influenced by systems thinkers – most notably
Peter Senge's work. If you are interested in finding out more I can recommend
The Fifth Discipline which had a transformational effect on my practice when I read it nearly 10 years ago.

Child at the Centre

I’ve pulled apart the most recent new-format
HMIe inspection report of the education functions of Clackmannanshire Council undertaken in May 2006


The various headings I’ve identified all feature in the actual report.

It would be my hope that something like this would form the basis of our 2006 Standards and Quality Report and the foundation for next 2007 Service Improvement Plan.

As the document’s name suggests it starts from a focus upon the impact of our services on the child and opens out thereafter. We would require to have clear criteria and robust evidence for each of the elements identified within the Report.

Service Improvement Plan

Spent almost all of today writing up the Task Management Tracker for our Service Improvement Plan with Sheila McKendrick.

This is an initial version but there's plenty gaps to be filled in by the people leading each element. It should be in a complete form by the end of August.

Had a number of chats with folks about the
mutiple metaphor model – positive responses. I did more work this evening on fleshing it out.