The Solution-Focused Collective meeting on 10th May looked at how solution-focused ideas and practices can be brought to bear on environmental matters.
A record turnout (17 of us) listened to the reflections of four solution-focused practitioners who’ve been considering this: Mirjana Radovic (Serbia), John Sharry (Ireland), Fred Ehresmann (England – and also working with John in Ireland) and Mark Allenby (England). The conversation then opened out to all, and it was a good one. See this subsequent blog by Fred.
During this open discussion, John Sharry mentioned the book From What Is to What If, by Rob Hopkins, a resident of Totnes, England and founder of the Transition Town movement, which has global reach. John sees the essence of solution-focused thinking in the book, which argues that better futures are best created by starting with asking “What if” the world could be like x, and imagining the rich detail. John said he doesn’t know Rob, nor whether Rob knows and is influenced by solution-focused practice.
Following some discussion of the book, we agreed this will be our text for the SF Collective Reading Group meeting of 20th July. I’ve since been reading it, and can see something of SF in there.
Cut to Saturday 5th June, and I’m on Plymouth Hoe for the start of Extinction Rebellion (XR)’s walk to the G7 summit at Carbis Bay, south-west Cornwall, an impressive action organised by Totnes XR. I spotted Rob Hopkins and decided to seize the moment and went over and introduced myself. We chatted for a minute, then I said, “I have a question for you: do you know about solution-focused practice?”
Mystery solved: the answer was “No.” So I explained a bit about SF, and the SF Collective, and about John’s reference to Rob’s book. He showed some interest, though he had other stuff to attend to right then. Later that day I emailed him details of the SF Collective. I wonder if he’ll look into SF, and us.
I find it interesting when different thinkers, practitioners and activists arrive at a comparable place via different routes. I remember when I first came across Appreciative Inquiry and was surprised to learn that David Cooperrider & co. had no knowledge of the work of the founders of SFBT.
So: to what extent does Rob Hopkins’ thinking in From What Is to What If contain something of SF?
If you fancy discussing this, read it and join us at our Reading Group – details below.
SF Collective Reading Group
Date: Tuesday 20th July 2021
Time: 6-8pm London time (BST)
Location: Zoom – please email firstname.lastname@example.org for the link
We are delightedtofeature a post on the Solution-Focused Collective blog from Fred Ehresmann, who has been actively involved in responding to the climate crisis and considers here what a solution-focused approach can offer.
When my then 8 year-old daughter announced in November 2018 that the planet is dying and that she fears not living long enough to know what it’s like to be a teenager or a grown-up, all my solution focused and parenting skills deserted me, like so many rats scuttling off a sinking ship. All that remained was the trusty ‘Dad Joke’ – “Yeh, but not before Saturday as we’ve got hot chocolate to drink and the stalls to browse at St. Nick’s Market.” Two months later, my 32 year-old daughter let me know that her quest for motherhood was at an end because, “why would I knowingly put a person into a future that looks like that?” Again…where was the question to invite her to think differently? Why should she think differently…maybe she was thinking perfectly reasonably? Every potential solution-focused question that popped up seemed trite, formulaic and, frankly, cowardly.
And so began a two-year journey down the rabbit hole of problem talk. What is this thing that threatens my younger daughter’s sense of longevity? What is this future to which my elder daughter refuses to condemn her never-to-be-born child? Well, like pretty much most problems…the answers are complicated, which is probably one of the many reasons why we SF-ers prefer not to get involved growing conversations about them. Best focus on the solution, right? Unfortunately, this time…no, wrong. As Bill O’Hanlon points out, acknowledgement of difficulty has an impact on capacity to think in terms of possibility. Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards have shown that it’s possible to talk frankly and constructively about what is problematic and worrying (in this case child abuse and neglect) and still nurture sometimes fragile conversations about solutions.
This particular problem, I was soon to learn, is a many-headed beast made up largely of two components: (1) What’s happening now that is really troubling; (2) Its impact in the future. As far as climate scientists are concerned, the consensus answer to component (1) is clear – climate collapse as a result of human activity. Many others have added their own penny’s worth along the way, ranging from the political – for example, the expansion of neoliberal capitalist growth economics, to the slightly more poetic – for example, our species’ disconnection from its identity as and connection to nature. There are plenty more where those answers come from. Either way the message is clear – we are in very serious trouble. So serious, even David Attenborough made a documentary saying so. How serious?
This brings us to future impact, where things seem to be very much more tricky. There are some apparently very credible climate scientists insisting that human extinction in the ‘near term’ is not just possible, but guaranteed. Others are slightly more circumspect and suggest that, while climate, political and social collapse are on the cards we still have time to adapt to cushion the blow and preserve what we can. And then we have the green economists, sustainability specialists and geo-engineers insisting that this is nothing that we can’t fix. As a dyed-in-the-wool SF’er I found myself gravitating naturally to the latter group since “there’s nothing wrong with you that what’s right with you can’t fix”, right?
And yet…something wasn’t sitting right. Stone-in-the shoe moment. I took the shoe off to have a look. The stone was my terror. Not just fear, but abject terror. And I would embrace anything that would make that terror go away. Did I really believe in my heart of hearts that the future was going to be OK? Could I look my daughters in the eye and say, with conviction, those magic words any parent would want to say “Don’t you worry…it’ll all turn out fine.” What if it didn’t? As Gail Bradbrooke, one of Extinction Rebellion’s founders, is reputed to have said “Hope? Don’t talk to me about hope – I hope it doesn’t happen to me. I hope that I’m long dead before the worst of it arrives here, because it’s already arrived in other parts of the world.” Preferred future? Good luck with that.
And then, as if by magic, in stepped my SF brain. Just in the nick of time. It reminded me that, right now in this moment, the future does not exist in reality – only in imagination. When I’m with a client, a couple, a family, a team, the only time that exists is now, as I stay present and listen intently with my constructive ears to what they have to say, which will offer the seeds of my next question. I cannot allow myself to be distracted by my mind dragging me off somewhere out there that hasn’t arrived yet. But we could imagine a future, right now in this moment. We could act, right now in this moment, in ways that are consistent with that future actually existing. And if we keep doing that as best as possible, maybe….just maybe. Hurrah for the next small step – for isn’t that what each moment is? A small step. Then another one. And so on. As the future gets created right now.
I was asked recently what my best hopes are for my climate activism. My best hopes for my climate activism are that my children and as many other people’s children as possible, are engaged, aware, adaptable to and prepared for the uncertainty that they face. My best hopes for my climate activism are that I can openly acknowledge and engage with the very real reality of the problem, in a way that is constructive and maintains possibility for the future.
And as for hope? That might need some re-defining before I sign up….but I’m still open to the idea. I am an SF Practitioner after all.
At the Solution-Focused Collective’s Action Space held in July 2020, it became clear that one of the issues uppermost in people’s minds was the social injustice of racism and white supremacy and a desire to ‘do something’. At the Action Space event, our guest speaker, Elliott Connie challenged all of us to look at our role in maintaining the white privilege that we who are white or ‘pass-as-white’ might have and to begin to act to dismantle it within ourselves as a first step.
To this end we, Jonas Wells and Rayya Ghul, invited people engaging with the Solution-Focused Collective to participate in a series of four, fortnightly discussion groups where we could explore how to do this from a solution-focused perspective. These took place from October – December 2020.
We called the group ‘Dismantling Racism’, a very bold title and one which some members thought overambitious. However, we quickly filled the 12 spaces we had offered and afterwards one participant told us:
“The title of the invitation, ‘SF Dismantling Racism Discussion Group’, sounded very attractive to me, because it collects a few of my biggest passions: Solution Focus as an instrument to change the world (in the smallest and biggest meaning possible), ‘dismantling’ as a rebellious, activist battle call, appealing my furious anger when it comes to injustice, and racism especially, and a discussion group as an active, triggering use of a conversation. The challenge remains : how to make use of our SF mindset, tools, conversation attitude, … to brutally change the reality of racism? But since the start of this discussion group it does not seem that (alone) crazy anymore.”
Our participants included people from seven countries and five continents – pretty good for only 12 participants! All were white or passed as white with two members whose spouses are black. We had people who had done a considerable amount of anti-racism work and some for whom this was relatively new. There were people from therapy, academia, social work, government agencies and solution-focused Associations.
We decided to run the group on solution-focused principles. Rather than an anti-racism ‘course’, we wanted to create a space for the participants to co-create the discussion. As a starter for thinking about white privilege and how it might affect us as people and as solution-focused practitioners, we populated a Padlet with a variety of resources and invited the participants to engage with something before the first discussion and to be prepared to talk about it. Participants were also encouraged to add to the Padlet and we used it to collect some of our reflections. It enabled common reference point for learning but also options for self-exploration. People could choose what spoke to them and go from there.
The Padlet is private to the group, but here is a flavour of some of the resources. Click on the titles for direct links to the resource (unless the text colour is black).
We started the first session by exploring our best hopes and then co-created the subsequent three sessions from then on. Two of the participants from the Zebra Collective (add link) who run anti-racism training offered to share some of their training with the group, and this was incorporated into the second session and was much appreciated. The people who responded to our request for post-group feedback all spoke of how the loose structure really worked for them.
One said: “the expectation that I would have to contribute to an intelligent conversation caused me to think harder about how to prepare for the group – a fixed structure would have let me to ‘just do what was needed and no more’.”
Another said: “the Dismantling Racism group was excellent to be part of because of the enthusiastic discussion, the genuineness of those in the group, the effective running of the time and organisation of each session and that Jonas and Rayya regularly checked in with the rest of the group to ensure the discussion were going in a direction all participants were happy with.”
Running a group as a co-participant in this democratic way is not as easy as it sounds. It requires a lot of trust – of the process, of the participants, of ourselves. We embraced the idea of ‘hosting’; creating space, trusting everyone to bring what was needed and accepting that once the guests arrive there is an emergent process, and our role as hosts was to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort and that they had enough to sustain their participation. The discussion group was not a diversity training group – it explored something else, a safe space for white SF practitioners who seriously wanted to explore issues of racism in new way with practitioners from different places in the world, working in different contexts and with different prior knowledge of the issue.
One of the truly remarkable aspects of the group was how rapidly people began to identify actions and projects they wanted to do in order to further their own anti-racism work. This began in the third session and was consolidated in the fourth. For some people this was manifested in conversations at home and in the workplace, and for others it was actions or projects within their sphere/s of influence. Some of the group have decided to undertake joint actions such as writing articles.
The original four sessions ended in December but some of the participants agreed to continue to meet and will be working together on projects and encouraging each other in our individual actions. We will be sharing these as they manifest.
We hope to start a new cycle of Dismantling Racism discussion soon, so look out for that notification on the Facebook group and Twitter or subscribe to this blog.
The Solution-Focused Collective Reading Group first met early this year and got off to a radical start. Actually, it had been conceived in a radical fashion the previous September, when we presented at an event in Dublin called ‘Advocates and Allies’, organised by the Irish Association of Social Workers. Marc talked about Hilary Cottam’s book, Radical Help, while Guy called his presentation A Radical Focus on Hope. One of the pieces of reading that Guy drew on was ‘Towards a Paradigm for Radical Practice’, a chapter by Peter Leonard in the classic 1975 text, Radical Social Work.
It was actually that chapter that Guy first envisaged reading and discussing together with collective-minded colleagues – searching together for a paradigm for radical solution-focused practice perhaps? – but we decided we would start with something a bit more up-to-date, and a whole book too. That’s what found about ten of us in a (pre-Covid) collective Zoom meeting one winter evening, discussing Radical Help. It wasn’t evening for everyone, as we had an international gathering, with colleagues from Canada, Germany and Ireland, as well as from the UK. We’ve maintained this international flavour ever since, and have had people join from the US, Ghana and probably more countries besides.
We have met six times so far, with one more meeting to organise in 2020 (we meet roughly once every 6 weeks). We usually meet for about an hour and a half, and the discussion is sometimes structured by one or more questions that the person who suggested the reading poses – and sometimes it’s a bit more free-flowing (we hope it always flows to some extent!). Here are the questions Marc gave us for the first meeting, as one of the examples of more structured discussion:
Radical Help/SF – fit, re principles & approach?
How might SF enhance RH; RH enhance SF?
What do you like best? What resonates most for you?
Implications – especially for the SF Collective/SF for social action ideas & initiatives?
These led to such a great discussion that we were later inspired to offer a book review of Radical Help for the revamped Journal of Solution-Focused Practices, and were delighted when this was accepted. So if you are interested in some of our responses to these questions, you could read our review (given that this wonderful journal is now online with open access).
Since then we have discussed collective narrative practice, possibilities for adding ‘problem talk’ into or alongside solution-focused practice, solution-focused work with migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, asset-based community development, and a chapter from Richard Rorty’s book, Philosophy and Social Hope. While we have usually focused on texts – as the name ‘reading group’ suggests – we have also watched videos, for example the one of David Denborough on the webpage of the Dulwich Centre website setting out his project, Can narrative practices contribute to ‘social movement’?
The shortest read so far has been four paragraphs from Psychotherapy and Society, a 1997 book by the English clinical psychologist, David Pilgrim. These begin with the provocative observation that therapists “may ignore the non-therapeutic value of talk”. Pilgrim illustrates this somewhat caustically with the example that “when and if psychotherapists get around to seeing poor non-fee-paying clients they are in a position to bear witness to narratives of oppression”. However, others, for example TV documentary makers, tend to do this job better. This was a rich discussion, which took place before the explosion of protest after the murder of George Floyd. As solution-focused practitioners wonder how best to respond to and engage with Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist action, this suggests one line to explore, as nothing about “bearing witness” to racism suggests it would be incongruent with a solution-focused approach working in parallel.
Two texts were considered in the discussion on SF work with immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, ‘Tasteful Solutions: Solution-focused work with groups of immigrants’, by Arild Aambo, and ‘Seeking Asylums and Finding Miracles’ by Sarah Wilshaw and SF Collective founder-member, Steve Freeman. Given Arild Aambo’s use of Paulo Freire, and Steve’s skills at creating acronyms to follow the EARS of Insoo Kim Berg, Brian Jennings posed some wonderful questions that connected the two papers, the first being:
In what ways might EARS and Noticing GEMS constitute a ‘liberating’ dialogue’?
Another discussion was on a very accessible introduction to Asset-Based Community Development, written by John McKnight and Cormac Russell. This lays out the core principles and elements of the ABCD approach, which we believed has a lot to offer to SF practitioners looking to develop a community orientation – and we think that our skills in asking questions and developing conversations have much to offer to ABCD people too.
This is something we think the reading group has been great in doing; finding texts and other material that lead to discussions about how SF can be enhanced by other approaches and traditions, and how we as SF practitioners can add to what others are doing too. Reading and talking can be a way of finding connections, and connecting to a wider world beyond SF practice is one thing that the SF Collective is about.
Our most recent discussion was more theoretical, and had perhaps the largest attendance yet, as we discussed ‘Truth without Correspondence to Reality’, a chapter in Richard Rorty’s collection of essays, Philosophy and Social Hope. This was one of three chapters in a section of the book called ‘Hope in Place of Knowledge: a version of pragmatism’. It was a vigorous discussion, as Rorty’s views on truth were not to the taste of all, but there was support for the view that pragmatism has some-thing to offer solution-focused practitioners. Another question to consider is whether it has something to offer solution-focused social action too. We suspect it does, and will be investigating further.
The meetings are open to anyone with an interest in SF and in the aims of the SF Collective’s manifesto. If you are interested, drop us a line, making sure to put Reading Group in the subject header of your email. We would love to have you join us!
* A paraphrase of a comment by Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘First we read, then we write’
On the 4th July 2020, the Solution Focused Collective hosted an Action Space event online. The event gave space to think together about actions that we can take to explore the use of the Solution-Focused approach in collective social actions for social change. Around 40 people attended from around the world and some important conversations took place and connections were made.
Two speakers provided insight into their own work and inspiration for the attendees.
Elliott Connie of the Solution Focused Universe (previously, Solution Focused University) talked passionately about his actions to improve diversity and, particularly racial equality within the Solution-Focused Community and some actions that allies could take to promote this important work.
Ellie Williams, Director of Operations at Take Off, talked about how the organisation grew from a mental health service user forum into an independent charity commissioned to provide mental health services to the local populations of East and West Kent. TakeOff is unique in that everyone who works there is a mental health service user, making it the only fully service-user led mental health service in the UK.
The Action Space will be a solution-focused opportunity to share and develop actions for social change and social justice, wherever you are. Based on open space principles, you will be able to create themed spaces for intensive dialogue on social issues you are passionate about. Our best hope is that strong collective actions will emerge and make their way into the world.
Elliott Connie and Ellie Williams will share actions they have taken for social justice before we break into the Action Spaces. Elliott is a leader in the field of Solution Focused Brief Therapy and founder of the Solution Focused University. He is notable for also being the only black leader in the field right now. Ellie is Director of Operations at TakeOff, the only mental health charity in the UK run entirely by service users and offering a huge programme of services across Kent, as well as paid employment opportunities for peer support workers
The Solution-Focused Collective stand in solidarity with people who are oppressed, disenfranchised and excluded and many of us work actively with clients to reduce the effect of these social ills.
We are appalled by the recent killing of George Floyd, a death that adds to many other black Americans who have met their death in police custody or police action. We believe the disproportionate use of force and lethal violence against the black and indigenous communities in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and many other places in the world are a result of systemic racism and the legacy of colonialism and slavery.
We will continue to work in any way that we can to reduce and reverse the effects of racism both in society and within ourselves and the Solution-Focused community.
Please join us on July 4th at our Action Space event where you can discuss actions you have taken, individually and collectively and what more we can do collectively to address this and other forms of social injustice. Please return for details of how to register which will be in a separate post.
A Solution-Focused Collective Open Space Conference!
“… disaster often liberates solidarity. A more beautiful world shimmers just beneath the surface…”
Charles Eisenstein paraphrasing Rebecca Solnit’s book – A Paradise Built in Hell
You are all welcome to join this solution-focused community online, to focus on possibilities for a better world, on Saturday 9th May – at a time we hope might make your participation possible wherever you are in the world (see below)…
Get the date & time in your diary now – more details to follow, including the Zoom link.
In solidarity and fellowship The Solution-Focused Collective
Times include – 1pm-4pm British Summer Time/West Africa Time 2pm-5pm Central European Summer Time/South African Standard Time/Central Africa Time 3pm-6pm Eastern European Time/Moscow Time/Arabia ST 5.30pm-8.30pm Indian Standard Time 8pm-11pm Singapore Time/Western ST/China Time 9.30pm -12.30am Australian Central Standard Time 10pm-1am Australian Eastern Standard Time Midnight-3am New Zealand Standard Time 9am-12am Brasilia Time 8am-11am Eastern Time/Bolivia Time/Amazon Time 7am-10am Central Time 6am-9am Mountain Time 5am-8am Pacific Time.