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The Origins Of Person-Centered Planning: A Community Of Practice Perspective

(Remember before the pandemic, when we had time to focus on best practices and good lives in community? Here’s a recent article from Aaron reminding us about what good person-centred planning is.)

I thought it might be interesting to share some of the works that I’ve been reading about person centered planning. It seems like they are available to everyone through This one, “The origins of person-centered planning: A community of practice perspective,” by Connie Lyle O’Brien and John O’Brien is really important I think, in terms of thinking more deeply about person centred planning not as a recipe but as an approach to individuals and systems. It was a transformational paper for me to read early in my research.
I encourage my students to read this for a few reasons.  First, perhaps most importantly it gives a historical perspective – person centered planning did not come from nowhere or fall full-grown out of some E.D. or government person’s brain.  It has historical roots, was ushered by caring people through different iterations and then spread because those who experienced it loved it.
Second, it introduces the idea of a “community of practice.”  From the Wikipedia entry:
For Etienne Wenger, learning is central to human identity. A primary focus of Wenger’s more recent work is on learning as social participation – the individual as an active participant in the practices of social communities, and in the construction of his/her identity through these communities (Wenger, McDermott & Snyder 2002). In this context, a community of practice is a group of individuals participating in communal activity, and experiencing/continuously creating their shared identity through engaging in and contributing to the practices of their communities.
There are a few important parts in this idea:
  • One, our methods are always evolving and should be.  The kind of PATH and MAPs training done by Inclusion Press, who were part of the invention of these methods, now is different from what they trained people to do four decades ago.  They are constantly innovating and developing new and better ideas.
  • Two, as people learn these processes they become (and this for me is part of the point of the paper) not executors of the processes but critically thinking participants in these ideas.  Did this plan really lead to community involvement?  What did I learn as a facilitator?  Has the person’s network expanded in this process?  Will the plan assist them to expand their network?  Many more questions but you get the idea…   Or maybe not.  Part of the idea is that facilitation of person centred planning processes is about shared leadership.  With every iteration the person doing the planning should be more in charge.  We have seen this over successive plans – where the person’s first plan is for an organization that asks “Which of our three programs do you want to participate in?” and the most recent plan has them making a bid for individualized community based supports.  This assumes they are supported (both planning facilitators and the folks doing their plans) by organizations focused on their rights, inclusion, education, emancipation, etc..   That’s a very big assumption but there are places where it happens, and where we find those places we find really good person centered planning supports.  And maybe it’s not true…  in this case I am thinking of, she was supported by parents who listened to her.  In other cases, there are agencies that simply won’t stand for anything less and build these things into their systems of support.
Third, it introduces folks to the work of Connie Lyle O’Brien and John O’Brien and through them to the idea of leadership in our field and of having a career that has a lineage back to Social Role Valorisation.  Later on I introduce students to John’s Supporting Social Roles Workbook.
“We have an agenda to promote by adopting this point of view. We notice that agencies that want to benefit from person-centered planning often act as if person-centered planning were a sort of tool box of techniques which staff could be trained to use in workshops by studying protocols, hearing about ideas, and perhaps trying out a technique or even two for homework. Such context-free training no doubt teaches something, but we think it deprives learners of the kinds of social supports for inventive action that were available to the people who developed the first approaches to person-centered planning. This seems to us like a prescription for a system fix destined to fail in its purpose of promoting better lives by disclosing people’s capacities and gifts.”