Achieving Wider Change

The previous blog ended with a puzzle: How can ‘Meadian’ networks (like the red inclusiva) both achieve the depth of focus to bring about real change (e.g. in a single classroom or a school) while also working more broadly to foster wider change (e.g. in the education system)? This blog explores two responses to this question, simply described as scaling across and scaling up.

Scaling across

Let’s start with an example. I mentioned earlier that the ‘10th May’ network has a long history even if it hasn’t always had an annual get-together on 10th May. Some of the longest-participating members first came together as a Meadian network more than 30 years ago to confront a historic challenge and opportunity. The challenge was that through more than a Century of public policy, we had sent away people with intellectual disabilities (including my sister) to live their lives in large institutions to the extent (in England) that some 50,000 were so located in 1978. The opportunity was that, because of a series of public scandals in the preceding years, the rising costs involved in sustaining these institutions and the growing belief (informed, for example, by experience in Scandinavia) that something else was possible, there was an opening for radical change. The 10th May network in its earlier formation set out to define the nature of this change and ensure that this definition was the key influence on practice across the country.

Reflecting the approaches to strategising  described in the previous blog, members came together to describe a new philosophy for service provision, grounded in human rights, which we simply called An Ordinary Life. Drawing on international experience, we tried to detail what would be involved in establishing community services based on this philosophy, publishing this design guidance in a series of pamphlets. Members of this ‘community of practice’ with leadership roles in different local services worked with their colleagues to create and evaluate demonstrations of these new ways of offering housing and support, including to people with complex disabilities. In mutual aid networks, workshops and conferences these ideas and the growing local experience were widely shared and increasingly came to be understood as defining good practice. In turn, this practice became the basis for shaping professional training, including for the managers leading the process of deinstitutionalisation. Thus, over five years or more, the An Ordinary Life initiative grew from a network, to a network of networks and ultimately to a social movement, even if the original goal, providing alternatives to institutional living for everyone, was to take another 25 years to realise.

It should be added that, while this lateral sharing and learning within and across networks was the primary vehicle for achieving widespread change, it was supported by a number of institutions contributing particular functions. The 10th May gatherings still take place at the home of a Foundation (the King’s Fund) which for more than a decade offered its resources (not just of money but also of status and independence) for example, to publish and disseminate the design guidance and host the national workshops through which local experience could be shared. Another (the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) funded a significant programme of related research and evaluation studies. And a newly-created national alliance (the Independent Development Council) brought together leading charities and progressive experts to champion this programme of reform.

Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze (in their book Walk Out, Walk On Berrett-Koehler, 2011) call this kind of change process scaling across, which they define as ‘when people create something locally and inspire others who carry the idea home and develop it in their own unique way’. They also helpfully capture what is involved in using scaling across to achieve wider change in this diagram (included here with acknowledgements to the Berkana Institute )

3 stages

Scaling up

But there is more to it than this. Continuing our example, during the 1980s, some of the regions in England and the government in Wales went further. In the South East, for example, leaders in the regional health agency co-opted a University Institute (the Tizard Centre) as an implementation support agency. In the North West, some of the An Ordinary Life network achieved prominence in regional policy-making and sought to define standards for new patterns of community provision. And in Wales, which had had its own scandals, government established an All Wales Strategy to incentivise and shape alternative services.

In England as a whole, it took another 20years (until 2001) before government incorporated the An Ordinary Life philosophy and experiences into a comprehensive statement of national policy Valuing People: A new strategy for learning disability for the 21st Century.

Serendipity played a role here. The government changed in 1997 and one of the new Ministers had been a network ally in the earlier work. She introduced some of us to the junior Minister who had the portfolio for learning disability (the U.K. term for intellectual disability) policy. Members of the 10th May network had already produced a policy briefing for the new government and, although the junior Minister was not much experienced in this field, he had recently met a constituent who told him a story about having been very happy to leave a traditional day centre to enter further education and graduate successfully only to find that the only option then offered was return to the day centre. The Minister saw the wasted opportunities in this story and was open to our proposal that, 30 years after the previous national policy statement, it might be timely to have another go!

And indeed we did. By then, some network members had achieved national prominence for their work and one or two already had policy roles in government. Network members peopled the task groups established to draft the new policies and some were commissioned to develop tools for implementation. (Helen Sanderson, who initiated this series of blogs was one – taking on leadership of the work to detail how person centred approaches would be the corner stone of local provision). In this phase then, network members were key participants in a process of scaling up the lessons from 20 years of An Ordinary Life innovation into a national policy framework.

I define scaling up as a way of reconciling ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ approaches to change through a process of dialogue and mutual learning between policy-makers and local implementers designed to establish the conditions for large scale change. In this dialogue, policy-makers need the insights and experience of local implementers to understand what the new vision requires in local practice. But equally, local implementers need the skills of policy-makers in formulating national guidance, gaining political consensus and providing support for change. Both need opportunities to share their learning as implementation proceeds so as to keep the change process on course.

In the Valuing People example, government defined clear principles to guide change, created an implementation support team, required new partnership arrangements locally including people with intellectual disabilities and their families, and established a fund to support innovation. Over the ten years that the policy was actively sustained, there was much greater ‘voice’ for people and families in the local policy process, significant changes in a range of local services and a strong focus on putting choice and control into people’s own hands. However for the original visionaries there was also significant disappointment, not least in the huge variation in what was achieved in different localities.

A full analysis of this experience is beyond the scope of this short blog. Clearly there were many factors at work in shaping implementation (or the lack of it). However from the perspectives on change offered here, one observation is critical. Welcome though the Valuing People policy was, it can perhaps best be understood as an enabling framework for local action: it created a receptive context for local leadership committed to the An Ordinary Life philosophy. In places where there were already well-connected local leaders with the capacity to build partnerships, work across agency boundaries, inspire creative action and listen to the experience of people with intellectual disabilities and their families, much was possible. But implementation support was spread thinly and the national programme did not in itself invest adequately in developing and sustaining this capacity in every locality so as to ensure good use of the new framework, especially in the large public agencies (e.g. local authorities) where this agenda was being pursued alongside many other policy initiatives.

Scaling across and scaling up

Let us now return to the so far, more modest ambitions of the red inclusiva and its focus on advancing inclusive education in the Bucaramanga municipalities. The red inclusiva recognises that its aspirations for local educational reform require both scaling across and scaling up. Its primary orientation is to developing leadership (e.g. among teachers, family members and administrators) and spreading innovation ‘laterally’ e.g. from classroom to classroom and school to school. But it also recognises the need to share this learning ‘upwards’ with managers and policy-makers e.g. from classrooms to the whole school, local schools to the education district and, in due course, education districts to national policy so as to establish the optimum conditions for wider change.

Heidy Araque and I have tried to represent these processes simply in a diagram (included in another pamphlet Teachers as Leaders in the Journey to Inclusive Schools available at )


As I say in the red inclusiva case study, this Meadian network is still travelling hopefully!