It Takes Both the Right Dynamics and the Right Form

The blog this week was written by George Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute. The belief in freedom has often been the force that has altered organizational structures, or programs, that have damaged and unduly restricted people with disabilities. Without the drive to free people we may still have large state institutions for people with developmental disabilities in our state. The drive to change conditions in which people are treated unfairly has also been a force that has led to structural changes. Both kinds of forces have been strong examples of the ‘right dynamic’, that is a thrust to make things better.

Unchecked forces, even those acting in the name of freedom and justice, must be given direction and a constructive form or that can lead to negative results. Even creative forces must be channeled into routines and predictable process in order to serve people well. Of course such patterns of behavior can have destructive consequences, no matter how well intended and seemingly benign they may be. We need both, the dynamic drive to alter circumstances that are destructive, and we need structures to give direction and shape to practices that benefit people.

So, how do we know when our drive is off the mark and when our structure is working against the well-being of others? The typical answer in the field of human service is to establish a set of measurements to determine whether desired goals have been met, as well as tools to determine whether the methods to achieve those goals are consistent with proper rules, or standards. Then we get into trouble because we inevitably go too far, and our means of measurement simply become ways to justify the goals and standards we set. The well-being of the person who is supposed to benefit from the structures becomes subordinate, and the structure itself becomes paramount.

I think that the only effective way to determine whether our probing and striving, are leading to new programs that truly meet peoples’ needs is to look at their impact on each individual. Only by taking stock of each person being served can we determine whether our drives and our structures have added value to his or her life. Taking this alternative flies in the face of all existing conventional wisdom which supports measuring impact on the group and not the individual. And yet, it is the ever changing life of each individual that provides the right kind of dynamic and that requires the right kind of structure. We have to keep striving to improve and we have to keep asking ourselves if what we are striving for is helping or limiting.

When our drive to change things is not working, we need to try another way. When our programs are not helping, we need to alter them. Going one by one is the only real way to know which is which.