We’re looking for two members, either service providers or local authority commissioning teams, to work alongside us in developing our Strengths-Based Practice Toolkit. If you are interested in talking to us, finding out more or becoming one of two member organisations to work closely with us on this project, please complete the Expression of Interest document below or get in touch with Vicky.firstname.lastname@example.org any time.
Stepping Forward with Strengths-Based Practice
Most people know the basics of a Strengths-Based or Asset-Based approach: instead of looking at someone’s deficits (i.e all their ‘problems’ and the things that are ‘wrong’ in their lives) we focus on their strengths (what are they good at, what positive connections and links do they have in their life, what would they like to achieve?). Whilst that is definitely at the core of a Strengths-Based Approach, it’s a bit like describing London when you want to describe the whole of England. A lot of people do it, but we all know there is a whole lot more to us than Tower Bridge (I can feel the non-Londoners’ hackles rising already). In the same way there is a lot more to Strengths-Based Practice than just asking someone about their goals.
If we start investigating a bit further you can see why. How do you work with someone to enable them to work towards their own goals, strengths and opportunities, in particular when they may not be used to doing this?
You have to build a totally different relationship than that of a worker doing an assessment (even if you are an excellent worker doing a fantastically empathetic assessment). You have to be able to listen in a different way and to take longer to get to know one another. You have to build confidence and self-efficacy to enable someone to believe in themselves and step forwards. You have to have the freedom to break away from the narrow confines of ‘referring to housing or substance misuse services’ and move towards brokering opportunities that you didn’t even know existed and for which no measurement tool exists. You have to become an equal partner in a process without knowing exactly where it will lead. This is truly personalised work because it cannot look the same for two different people.
Strengths-Based Practice is a sea change in how we work. We do excellent work in our sector but we often focus on fixing people and the issues that we (and wider society) have identified as their problems. Strengths-Based Practice turns that on its head. Instead of a pre-defined list of problems, we are more interested in people, what they want and who they want to become.
As Hilary Cottam says in her inspirational book, Radical Help (2018), we can’t start with the problem and try to fix it, because when we do, we too often identify the wrong problem or design a solution that just doesn’t fit the people we aim to help. We have to, instead, start with the person and build an intervention from there.
In changing focus, the entire role of the organisation and the sector changes.
It’s exciting but can also feel a bit overwhelming. We want organisations to start (or progress) with Strengths-Based Practice so we need to identify some understandable steps forward.
At Homeless Link, we’re developing a Toolkit on Strengths-Based Practice to help support the process of change. As part of this we’ve identified 3 key steps that organisations can take to start the journey.
1. Start really believing that every person you work with has strengths and can lead a full life – every single person
2. Reframe your service around the goals that people want to achieve – true personalisation that looks different for everyone
3. Involve the people using your service at every level of your organisation – listen, include and share power
There’s a lot more to each of these than meets the eye and they lead onto 10 key principles that we have identified to support you to shift focus. However we think these steps are a good starting point.
What do you think? These steps and the toolkit are a work in progress and we’d love to talk to you as part of the development process. We’ve spoken to lots of people already but we’d like to hear from more. If you are interested in talking to us, finding out more or becoming one of two member organisations to work closely with us on this project, please complete the Expression of Interest document below or get in touch with Vicky.email@example.com any time.
 we’re using the terms interchangeably here but acknowledge that other people use them to mean slightly different things
 H. Cottam, Radical Help: How We Can Remake The Relationships Between Us And Revolutionise The Welfare State, London, 2018.