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Friday 1 November 2013

Actions speak louder than labels

Most organisations label their activities: social services, health services, education services.  As soon as you label something you create a boundary around it that separates it from everything else: other services, organisations; the public; the people that use the service.

These 'boundary labels' filter and blinker people's thoughts and direct people's actions down specific routes, separating and fragmenting rather than joining up and integrating. If collaboration does take place it does so at the level of the labelled service; information is passed from one service to another rather than shared, discussed and developed in real time by all those individuals who have an interest in it. 

Susan is admitted to hospital after a long period of care and support at home. Her records are passed to the new service. But does everyone involved in Susan's case acknowledge, discuss and use the valuable information they contain? Do they use it to inform and enhance Susan's hospital care and treatment?

Passing something to social, health or some other service can become equivalent in people's minds to taking action to maintain or improve something; addressing and fixing the label is assumed to ensure that the parcel will actually be delivered to the right place at the right time and that the person who receives it will appreciate its importance and know what to do with it. 

To encourage and enhance collaboration use actions to describe your work. Actions liberate people's thinking. They invite people to take part. They dissolve boundaries between services and organisations, joining up and integrating rather than separating and fragmenting.  Preventing, promoting, intervening, supporting, protecting, caring, training, safeguarding, reaching, engaging: actions make things straightforward, personal and immediate. They describe physical behaviour that everyone can identify with, understand and find ways to contribute to, whatever their status, role, knowledge, expertise or experience.

Susan is admitted to hospital after a long period of care and support at home. She has a copy of her records and treatment plan. She can help 'inform and shape' the treatment and care she receives in partnership with the professionals. The actions of 'caring and treating' have become more important than acknowledging and negotiating labelled professional boundaries. If there is a collaborative initiative encouraging this approach it is most likely called 'Supporting the Patient's Journey to Recovery' or 'Supporting Your Journey to Recovery'  It definitely will not be called 'Patient Care and Hospital Services'.  

For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition 

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