Positive cultures and honest words

Positive cultures and honest words              

Paradigm, a learning disability training and development agency, brought together people who run services to talk about what stood in the way of creating a good offer that supports people to live ordinary lives. Christina Schwabenland reports on what happened next

It is now a year since Paradigm issued its research on creating positive cultures.

These conclusions (see box) are the result of the 18-month project led by Paradigm where individuals from nine organisations discussed what prevented good services that helped people to live ordinary lives from being created. Three people from each body took part so, over the project’s 18-month life that started in 2015, 27 individuals participated.

One really great thing is that Paradigm has launched the GR8 Support Movement in response to our finding about the importance of valuing support workers. Support workers do not get paid a great deal but are at the heart of good services.

The project strengthens the role played by these staff through shared learning and mutual support, posting regular webinars, discussions and information updates. It is affordable (costing £25 for a personal assistant and from £400 + VAT for a team), and is accessed at www.paradigm-uk.org/gr8-support-movement.

Since the GR8 Support Movement was launched, all sorts of conversations have been held, including about cooking, medication and assisting people to have more friends and relationships. It already has 91 members and is growing.

We have also seen that organisations are operating in a climate of massive change and upheaval. Hardly any of the original 27 people are in the same job now; some have been made redundant, while others have been involved in major restructuring. Some organisations have grown and others have lost staff and services. This makes it very hard to sustain good work.

Conflicting demands

Organisations are accountable to lots of people, such as trustees, service users, social workers, commissioners and regulators, who often have differing requirements and priorities. While people normally support the idea of an ordinary life, ideas about how this could be achieved may vary. This is just one of many examples of how managers have to face competing and conflicting demands. They have to hold all that together and juggle them. That is not easy.

So along with the good things, we still have concerns. We have seen managers feeling pushed into pretending bad services are satisfactory. We have talked to some great commissioners and people from the Care Quality Commission who all agree about what services should look like – before they add: ‘But we have to be realistic….’

John O’Brien, a thinker and writer on learning disability, calls this an ‘integrity gap’ – a gap between what we know we ought to do and what we think we can do (2014). How do we manage it?

We think this calls for honesty – it is better to admit we are not doing as well as we would like than to pretend that everything is fine when it is not. That takes courage – which is why the need for courage was one of our original findings.

So the initial project is over but the discussions carry on, through the GR8 Support Movement and conversations Paradigm is organising with experts by experience, support workers, managers, commissioners and policy makers.

This is because change comes from everyone. It is not just funders or social workers or managers who have the power to create change – it is people using services, support workers, family and friends – everyone.

Funding is scarce and a lot of services have been cut, so it is easy to get discouraged. Yet the enthusiasm and creativity that is demonstrated every day via posts on the GR8 Support Movement’s Facebook site is proof that great things are still happening.

Paradigm: www.paradigm-uk.org

GR8 Support: www.paradigm-uk.org/gr8-support-movement/


Organisations can take several steps to create a positive culture.

These include:

– Managing competing demands (such as empowering people to make decisions then insisting those decisions are approved through a hierarchy)

– Spending time on the matters that genuinely make a difference

– Ensuring that the values are integrated in everything we do, and to role model them at all times

– Valuing support workers and enabling them to do the best job they can

– Courage.

Source: Paradigm (2017)


Christina Schwabenland is a reader in public and voluntary sector management at the University of Bedfordshire, and researcher on the Creating Positive Cultures initiative.


John O’Brien (2014) Healing Integrity Gaps. www.paradigm-uk.org/article/healing-integrity-gaps/

Paradigm (2017) Playing your Part in Creating Positive Cultures. www.paradigm-uk.org/article/playing-part-creating-positive-cultures/