Collaborative Approaches

Since the 1980’s, human service organisations, businesses and communities in many parts of the world have been steadily transformed by a focus on skills, competencies, resources, assets, “solution-talk”, “intelligences”, “knowledges”, intentions, aspirations and preferred stories.

“Third wave” approaches have arisen in a diversity of fields including counselling and psychology, community work and organisational development. They represent an evolution of thinking from the first and second waves of thinking that emphasized, pathology and dysfunction as ways of engaging with human and community concerns.

The approaches of the third wave emphasise peoples’ capacities and cultural knowledges and invite human service workers to engage as collaborators with their clients.

Catching this third wave requires a radical shift in focus and the challenging of many assumptions about people and organisations. It is a paradigm shift that invites new ways of noticing, thinking and acting.

Some of the traditions that can be considered to be part of this “third wave” are solution focused therapy, narrative practice, asset-based community development, the strengths ‘perspective’, recovery models, positive psychology and appreciative inquiry.

These approaches are broadly characterised by a focus on:

  • Identifying what is already working well and what this reflects about peoples’ skills, intentions etc.
  • Appreciating existing skills and capacities
  • Basing change efforts on these assets and capacities
  • Developing fair, respectful and inclusive relationships
  • Treating people as experts in relation to their own lives
  • Exploring possible and preferred futures
  • Collaborating in the search for solutions and resources
  • Separating people from problems
  • Remaining optimistic in relation to peoples intentions and capacity to learn and change

Within human or community services, these approaches have arisen as positive alternatives to the ‘disease model’ of human functioning with its emphasis on client deficits, labels, problems or pathologies.

The development of third wave approaches has also been fuelled by particular concerns about how dominant notions of ‘professionalism’ were creating ‘power over’ or ‘colonising’ relationships and reducing possibilities for client preferred, sustainable change.

When applied to human services, these third wave approaches give emphasis to:

Being fair and respectful – putting the values of respect and social justice into action and seeking alternatives to labelling or pathologising ways of relating with people.

Separating people from problems – helping people to imagine and create a more preferred relationship with problems.

Enabling the emergence of stronger hope and optimism – assisting people to connect/re-connect with the values, stories and aspirations that sustain them and give them hope for the future.

Focussing on the strengths and capacities – enabling people to identify and access strengths, (local) knowledges, skills, resources and capacities that may be useful in their efforts to move towards more preferred ways of living.

Facilitating client-directed change – enabling people to make genuine ongoing choices about the goals they want to work on and ensuring that these goals remain the focus of work with them.

Collaborating – developing relationships with people that view them as ‘valued partners’ and that promote mutuality and the sharing of power.

Being open and transparent – ensuring that the people we work with are aware of who we are, what we can and can’t do, what ideas we are using and why.

Implementing parallel practice – ensuring that the principles and practices of the approach are also enacted in relationships between workers and within organisations.

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