Learning together to safeguard children: developing a multi-agency systems approach for case reviews

Key concepts and fundamental assumptions - Local rationality

  • No practitioner intends to make mistakes (Woods, 2003).
  • We need to understand how limited knowledge (missing knowledge or misconceptions), a limited and changing mindset, and multiple interacting goals shaped the behaviour of people in the evolving situation (c.f. Woods and Cook, 1999)
  • The relevant question is: how did the situation look to the practitioner so that the action chosen seemed like the sensible thing to do at the time?

A key assumption in a systems approach is that human behaviour is fundamentally understandable: even actions or decisions that later turned out to be mistaken or to lead to unwanted outcomes, at the time seemed sensible. It becomes important, therefore, to try and avoid hindsight in reviewing professional practice. Instead, a key task is to reconstruct how people were making sense of an evolving situation. This is referred to as their ‘local rationality’: how the situation looked to someone at the time.

What the world looked like for each person involved will differ according to various factors including:

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