Thursday, 20 August 2015

Flying well

We should take credit much less often when things go well; we should beat ourselves up far less often when things go badly. 

The thought keeps returning to me for an unusually diverse numbers of reasons.  But it still remain a thought – or a clever play on words to begin a Blog post – because I know how my heart soars with a hint of praise or success and how my stomach aches when even briefly aware of a valid criticism or a recognised mistake.

I was sitting in a recent meeting of the local Voluntary Sector Forum and listening to a model for ‘social prescribing’ being set out.  A Big Lottery bid is being made for a fund to experiment with paid referrals to social activities or support to see whether these will help reduce the number of individuals who self refer repeatedly but inappropriately to health professionals.   If there is then evidence that the person’s cost to the state has reduced (evidenced by fewer GP appointments and A&E attendances) payments will be made.  

The local health service and local voluntary groups are behind this, but I just raised the question of whether the ‘payment for success’ model was really a fair one.   What if this only ever works half the time?  Does this mean voluntary groups will get paid for only half their work, in effect at only half the rate?  What if the mistake sometimes is with the person making the referral – with the best will in the world that particular person referred was unlikely to change so all the extra support given to a particularly difficult person will remain unfinanced.

I remember the dilemma of chairing the Curriculum and Quality Committee of the governing body of a Further Education College.  The external judgement, and the league table place, will be determined by outcomes tabulated as achievement, retention and success.  Occasionally the threat was even that funding would follow each success and not each start.  So do you make it harder for people to start, take fewer risks?  

Yes, it would be irresponsible to take someone on a course who brings funding with him but who we know is very unlikely to succeed.  But what if we know that half the people like her will succeed and half will fail?  And that the College is the last chance they have?  Does our fright at how Ofsted values a 50% success rate mean we should never give the opportunity?  Are we ‘outstanding’ when some of these succeed and ‘in need of improvement’ when some of these fail?

A Bishop volunteered to me recently, ‘You know you asked, a little while ago “what if, when we have done all these things, there is no change?” , well, I should have replied “That is all that was asked of you” ’. 

Near the end of Tobias Jones’ new book, I find he says much the same.  “I wouldn’t get angry with an individual for their erratic behaviour and, more to the point, I wouldn’t be proud when someone got clean or well.  We were still deeply sad when things went wrong, or hugely grateful when they went right – but solely for their sake, not ours.  We didn’t feel we were to blame or to credit.”

 There is a Church of England alternative Collect which one is free to use on any Sunday at this season “... when we prosper, save us from pride, when we are needy, save us from despair...”.

Meanwhile, a bird struck so strongly into one of our windows last week and that it left this impression; a moment earlier, it must have thought it was ‘really flying now’. 

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