I’m a glass half full person. That alone is enough to get me on board with strengths based approaches. Working around people’s strengths makes sense to me.
Having worked in co-production and participation, I’ve seen the amount of waste that results from designing services around organisations instead of people. This piece by Maarten van Doorn is good on why it’s important to see the best in people. The Pygmalion Effect is where enhanced expectations for someone will result in them meeting those expectations. By contrast, the Golem Effect is where people will meet the low expectations that people expect.
So what good are we doing by focusing on people’s weaknesses? It feeds into a risk averse culture where staff aim to correct weaknesses and avoid risk (even when it’s well managed).
Risk and “Disguised Compliance”
This paper on “Disguised Compliance” is really interesting (HT Dez Holmes). For those not working in social care, it’s essentially a sketchy term used by staff when they think that someone is gaming the system. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this paper finds that it’s not very useful.
“Although ‘disguised compliance’ appeared to be a helpful term for professionals in that it enabled them to express concerns about parental behaviour, in contrast, parents found it far from helpful. Being labelled with ‘disguised compliance’ not only increased their worry and anxiety, but it also left parents feeling they were being set up to fail.”
At a recent Dartington Service Design Lab event, we had an interesting discussion about risk. Essentially when thinking in systems, risk doesn’t disappear, it just moves. All the risk moves from the service to the people who access it. So there is another aspect to risk and strengths — strengths based work must not be an abdication of responsibility. It’s actually about knowing what we don’t know.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
“Despite reading 35 inquiry reports, the authors had found that it was impossible to predict which families would disengage from or resist social work intervention.”
I might have already featured two hypotheses, but I’m gonna go for a third! The Dunning-Kruger Effect is where people with a lack of knowledge and experience have a false sense of confidence (as outlined in this great post by whatsthepont on his Churchill Fellowship). At the end of the day, public service staff can never know as much about people’s lives as the people themselves. This should be embraced, not hidden.
Although disguised compliance comes from social care, it’s not our concept alone. It goes much wider than that. And in that sense, this quote from the research report can be applied to wider services too.
“Ultimately, what appears to matter most is that social workers recognise their limitations in certain situations and focus instead on what they can achieve.”
A perfect strength based quote to finish a strength based post.