“I am not a number.” Keeping local co-production personal

Featured article - 18 July 2017
Jillian Martin, Office of Social Services, Department of Health Northern Ireland

Head-shot of the author, Jillian Martin, Office of Social Services, Department of Health Northern Ireland

It is the stuff of bad dreams and old 60’s TV shows, isn’t it – dystopian worlds, humans stripped of their identities, ascribed unique identifiers, trapped within the labyrinths and walls of a ruling totalitarian regime. (Sorry Portmeirion / The Prisoner). That could never happen in a social care system, right? Our systems are transparent, open, egalitarian, aren’t they?

Well, let’s hope so. We want to be on the side of the good people here, but the writers of that TV show – the Prisoner - it seems also understood a thing or two about co-production, and about the strength and social power of communities. And so they created a ‘baddie’, not a person but a system, an authoritarian administration with all its might set against the social. How? Through the denial of identity, the isolation and undermining of the individual, the concealment of knowledge, the shutdown of discourse, and the immobilisation of social networks and interpersonal connections.

Of course they aren’t the only people in history, real or imagined, who have caught onto all of this, but it serves all the more to underline to us that how we approach the development and sustainment of social wellbeing reflects ourselves and our view of the world. So it shapes our society, our systems and agencies, our communities, and our relationships with each other.

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My experiences in social work tell me that we are on board with strength-based approaches. For many social workers it’s hard-wired into practice; it’s the way we work. Most social workers I know deliver practice by making connections and then building relationships. They are up for as much person-centred, strength-based, resource-mobilising social-capacity-building co-production as possible. And the Government strategy for Social Work in Northern Ireland has set our vision out there; our professional world view is rights-based and strengths-based.

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So we are out of the blocks, and as a collective our aim is to keep social wellbeing moving forward in Northern Ireland. We never stop learning though: just a few weeks ago at a co-production gathering Dave Milliken, one of our local civilian copro leads gave us pause for thought: “Please stop telling me I’m an asset! An asset is a thing, I am a person." And he has it right. I am not a number, and neither are you. #swmakesadifference

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