The blue skies storyTold by Valmae Rose, first at the Art of Hosting at Couran Cove, Stradbroke Island, Queensland Sept, 2010
With acknowledgement to the original circle - Ann Greer, Kevin Cocks, Margaret Ward, Fran Vicary, Alissa Phillips, Wim van den Herick, Brad Swan, Nino Lalic, Lisa Fraser, Mark Henley, Graham Schlecht, and Lesley ChenowethThe history
The first seeds of the blue skies scenario emerged several years ago when a small group of people decided that the job of system change in the disability sector was bigger than any of us as individual lobbyists, advocates or academics. In a state where almost 90% of the people with moderate to profound disability were without any support, we were no longer able to justify waiting for the system to respond. While amongst our own constituencies, we could each generate angst and blame of others for the situation, we were unable to affect the scale of system change required. We were also starting to recognise the limitations of expecting government to drive change and had started to look for leadership at a community level.
The idea of creating an alternate vision for people with disability, their families and supporters came quickly. The work of building trust and finding common ground between people more familiar with being in adversarial relationship with each other, took around 2 years. The relationship between Margaret and I was critical in this first stage and key to our success. I can only describe Margaret as fierce in her criticism of the service system and her advocacy for people with disability and their families. From my perspective, she mistrusted me, as a representative of what she considered a nameless, heartless, useless system. I endured rather than enjoyed our early conversations but in our willingness to remain in conversation, we came to a place of mutual respect and found significant common ground.
As we were working toward common ground, NDS had started introducing some of Meg Wheatley’s ideas into our sector development work, and we learned and practiced the art of hosting conversations around powerful questions, e.g. “what would it take to create a disability service system that meets the needs of all Queenslanders?” Early feedback indicated that the real question was “how do we create a genuinely inclusive community”.The scenario building work
It was on this foundation that the original blue skies circle spent three days together at Walkabout Creek building a series of scenarios for a better future for people with disability, their families and supporters. A community development oriented scenario building process (hybrid of www.futuresearch.net
) was used, ultimately yielding a single, coherent vision for an inclusive community.
The process worked for a couple of reasons. The first was the amount of preparation by key members of the group to get the right people around the table. The group comprised our prominent systems and individual advocates, people with disability, peak body and service providers, academics, a deputy director general, a member of the office of the Minister for disability services, and parent advocates. Group membership, by design, included representation from regional Queensland, young people, and people outside of our sector. Each of the participants had established themselves as leaders on some level, yet the grouping had no precedent in recent memory.
The second reason it worked was the process itself. The three days started with a sharing of personal story, and an attempt to find common ground. From the beginning, the stories shared were so deeply personal and generous that common ground came quickly. The group chose to take a “leap of faith” to work together and those relationships have endured. While there have been some changes to the group, the culture that was established in those first few hours together has set the pattern for all of the work since.
Much of our work, both in the scenario building phase and the work that has ensued, has drawn on appreciative inquiry based tools (open space, world cafe, and conversations that matter) and involved people coming together in circles. There is something special about working in circle on complex issues, where people are invited to bring in the best part of themselves, allowing something to be created that would never have emerged if we worked alone. A language based on fundamental and shared values was able to emerge.The launch
Pulling together a single vision from the three scenarios that emerged from the workshop flowed easily. While there has not been a need to rewrite or add to the vision, the group quickly identified the need to deepen the clarity of the vision by developing a “principles and elements” companion document. This provided a useful opportunity to engage a broader range of stakeholders and together these documents have formed a useful reference point for policy makers in and out of government.
The blue skies scenario has enjoyed strong support from the Minister for Disability Services, no more so than in her offer to launch the scenario and to use its principles as a key reference point for her 10 year plan for disability services cabinet submission.
The launch was initially anticipated as a gathering of 50-60 people with sandwiches on the lawn at Parliament House in September. 350 people responded to the invitation and the event was moved to the adjacent botanical gardens. It was the new language of a shared vision that captured their imagination and inspired them.The conversations
After the launch, we invited Queenslanders to get involved in conversations on December 3 (International Day of People with Disability) around an element of the scenario that mattered to them. 138 people offered to host conversations across the state and were sent a “how to host a conversation kit”. We received feedback from over 1500 Queenslanders who got involved in those conversations in all corners of the state.
As promised, that data was shared with community through the blue skies website and with senior members of government on December 10 (International human rights day).The follow-up
The work of the group following the December 3, 2009 conversations has been largely behind the scenes and focused on using the vision to influence the Queensland 10 year plan for disability services, and the shape of the Long Term Care and Support Scheme (referred to in the scenario as a national disability insurance scheme) through the Productivity Commission at a national level. The early part of 2010 has also been an opportunity to draw breath and reflect on who and what Blue Skies is/should/could be and a Charter was developed in response.The challenges for the group
When an idea captures the imagination and builds momentum on the scale of the Blue Skies vision, it is tempting to get a treasurer and some funding and register the name. The group certainly felt a surge of responsibility as stewards of the vision but have thankfully resisted going down that well worn path. We have experienced the power that comes from holding a vision lightly and offering clear principles as a point of reference for people trying to navigate their way through the complex maze that is our human service system.
It is powerful because it is an idea whose time has come and because there are enough Queenslanders who care enough about vulnerable people to step up and demand something different. Its power does not come from it being a well governed organisation, or having money, or from being of a particular political persuasion. Its power comes from being a gently held vision for the future that has no agenda other than wanting to promote and support a genuinely inclusive community. It is powerful because it invites personal responsibility rather than blame, and it offers us the chance to be at our best in our work.Where to from here?
Exactly one year from its launch, the blue skies group each invited a few stakeholders from the broader community to consider and put some shape to a series of initiatives that have emerged from the scenario itself. These initiatives include but are not limited to, the development of a Social Diversity Bill, an integrated housing strategy (which as well as minimum access requirements and strong rental support, includes access to credit and pathways to home ownership for people with disability), major cultural and service reform in education for children with disability, a partnership between health, housing and disability that delivers early personal care, equipment and housing responses to people before they leave hospital, and exploration of social business to give people with disability the chance to develop micro-enterprises as one means of supporting a good life for themselves.
From February in 2011, the blue skies group, in partnership with the art of hosting community of practitioners, will host a monthly Blue Skies action day at the NDS hub, with regional conversations hosted in Townsville and other areas as initiated by local groups.
The Blue Skies vision has found its place as a platform for strengths based, community driven change. Let the work begin.