The seven elements of a Person-centred organisation: My experiences from working with IPCAI in India

19 January 2016

It’s been just over a month since I returned from India, after spending an incredible two weeks in Kerala. I attended the second national conference on person-centred practices in Karnataka state, and spent time visiting many of the projects and meeting many of the people involved with the work of The Institute of Person Centred Approaches in India (IPCAI). I wanted to give myself a bit of breathing space before writing this blog post, as I wasn’t quite sure how to focus my reflections. After much deliberation, I’ve decided to share my thoughts on how I see IPCAI evolving as a person-centred organisation.

Although I am by no means an expert, I’ve spent the last year and a half working for a wonderful person-centred organisation, and I’ve been on a steep learning curve about what it means to be person-centred. As a guide to this blog post, I’ve used Sanderson and Williams (2010) paper What are we learning about person centred organisations? through which the authors outline seven key elements that they assume to be the foundation of person-centred organisations. I thought it would be interesting to share my reflections on how I see IPCAI in relation to these seven elements.


1. Visionary leadership

Having spent one week in the UK and two weeks in India working and socialising with IPCAI director Mathew Kanamala, it is evident that IPCAI are led by a charismatic, inspiring and extremely well connected Director, who is incredibly passionate about promoting person-centred change in India. One of Mathew’s greatest characteristics as a leader is to think big and to work alongside individuals from a variety of backgrounds, which so far has enabled IPCAI to develop relationships with government officials, primary school teachers, college lecturers, doctors & nurses, disability activists, yoga teachers and many others. By pioneering the use of person-centred practices in so many different settings, IPCAI have been able to successfully evidence the positive impact of implementing person-centred practices across Indian society, and have established a strong foundation from which to continue their incredible work.

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2. Shared values and beliefs

During my short trip to India, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in a workshop with 15 members of IPCAI, during which we shared our experiences of using person-centred practices in our own lives, and how we were trying to use them in a professional capacity. Given the diversity of professions represented in the room, it was fabulous to hear so many inspiring stories and to hear people talk with such passion about what it meant to them to be person-centred. Everyone who spoke shared the fundamental belief that a person-centred approach could revolutionise the way that services are provided and established in India, whilst also agreeing that some of the person-centred thinking tools could be used to break down many of the often restrictive or damaging patriarchal structures that permeate the majority of Indian families and communities. All of the experiences that people shared, focused on the value of focusing on what is important to someone, and all of the IPCAI members present had positive experiences of this at a personal level.


3. Outcomes for Individuals

Mathew and Anish introduced me to seven different projects that IPCAI have been involved with over the past two years, each of which were focused on personalising the support provided to the people who were involved in each programme. For example, at St John of God special School, a school for children with learning disabilities, IPCAI delivered training workshops to staff, directors and teachers to introduce them to the concept of person-centred practices and to explore ways in which a person-centred approach could be applied within the school. After the workshops, IPCAI supported fifty students to develop One Page Profiles, to determine what good support looked like to them and to find out how they could improve their experience at school. As a result, when the staff develop the individual support plans for each child, their first port of call is always the students One Page Profiles, as this informs the whole plan and ensures that the wishes and interests of the child are always central to the planning process. Over the next 12 months, St John of God School have expressed an interest in developing One Page Profiles for all 300 pupils at the school, a project that IPCAI are really keen to support.


4. Community focus

One of the most impressive elements of IPCAI’s work is their community focus, and the autonomy to which they afford to their volunteers and project participants. An admirable component of Indian culture is the sociability and neighbourliness of people, who are committed to supporting and engaging with other people from across their communities. IPCAI have been able to draw upon this social capital, and have encouraged people to utilise person-centred practices in their everyday lives, in different settings, across their own communities. Moreover, IPCAI organise regular events, workshops and seminars across their local community, Kottayam. They are passionate about driving person-centred change from within their community and are aiming to establish partnerships with key stakeholders from different sectors in society, which will enable them to continue their role as person-centred pioneers in India.

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5. Empowered and valued staff

IPCAI is made up predominantly of volunteers, and they currently only employ two part time members of staff. Their inaugural projects have been delivered in and around the city of Kottayam, in the district of Kerala. The key stakeholders of each project have been local people from a variety of backgrounds. Teachers have delivered person-centred workshops in schools, counsellors and social workers have delivered workshops within the organisations that they work for, and college lecturers and university staff have delivered lectures at the institutions at which they teach. This has resulted in person-centred practices being widely disseminated, and has empowered IPCAI members to be active in the promotion of person-centred approaches across the state. Moreover, at the Second National Conference in Karnataka, a group of IPCAI volunteers were asked to represent the organisation by delivering a seminar on their experiences of completing the e-learning. The volunteers were delighted to represent IPCAI, and gave a very informative and passionate presentation about their experiences, as they felt valued and were empowered to do so.

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6. Individual and organisational learning

Last week, I was delighted to see that IPCAI officially launched an Indian version of the person-centred e-learning that HSA and Dimensions have been using with organisations across the UK for a number of years. The Indian version concentrates on the cultural applicability of person-centred practices in the Indian context, and draws upon examples of how person centred practices have been used in different settings across Kerala. The e-learning will act as a starting point for new IPCAI members and volunteers to learn in great detail about how to become person-centred. It is also great to see that IPCAI members meet regularly to share their experiences of using person centred practices as a group, so they can learn from their experiences and problem solve together. The meetings then inform future workshops that are delivered by the IPCAI members, so as an organisation they are continually learning and reflecting.

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7. Partnership

Internationally, IPCAI are working in partnership with Dimensions and HSA in order to continue their fantastic work of promoting and developing person-centred practices across India. This international partnership is reciprocal, with each organisation benefiting from it in different ways. At the start of next month, we hope to launch a new international buddy programme, where members of IPCAI will be matched to members of staff from Dimensions, which will allow each participant the opportunity to learn about how person-centred practices can be implemented in different settings, and to problem solve and share learning internationally.

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The HSA Foundation is thrilled to be working with Dimensions to support the pioneering work of IPCAI in India. From my visit in November, it is evident that IPCAI are laying the foundations for person-centred change across Kerala, and I’m excited to share stories of future projects and success stories from their work.


Ross Young


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