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Developing communities of practice – across the Atlantic

A message to the participants at this year’s Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Association (SFBTA) conference which is taking place in Boulder, Colorado, in November

I was honoured to be asked to lead the opening plenary at this year’s SFBTA conference, and then when I spoke to Monica Rotner at the end of February that sense of honour became transformed into something else. Monica’s vision for the conference – and for a wide application of solution-focused ideas – excited me. It fitted closely with some of the ways I was thinking, and with some of the ideas I was then discussing with others. That conversation had the effect of intensifying and enlarging that thinking and that talking into a full-blown project, and I can’t wait to share that now with the conference participants in Boulder in November.

As befitting a solution-focused project it feels very much on the move, the ideas that are shaping it coming thick and fast, shifting and swirling around, some solidifying, some more elusive and hard to grasp. It’s going to be a task to pin them down for the purposes of presenting them, though a stimulating and enjoyable one.

These ideas are about broadening the use of solution-focused practice, taking it beyond the therapy room (where we know how powerful it is), beyond the individual and family, and into community, social, and even political domains, as well. They are about a focus on the collective, on conversations happening in public as well as private contexts, and on whether solution-focused practices can be drawn upon as part of social action, and if so, how.

Earlier this year I was inspired by the work of Suzi Curtis, a clinical psychologist in Liverpool, England, who is offering solution-focused brief therapy to homeless people there, and I am now developing similar work in London. Suzi and her colleague, Steve Flatt, were the hosts of this year’s UK Association of Solution Focused Practice (UKASFP) conference, in Liverpool, and one of the conference’s ‘streams’ was on ‘SF and social change’. This was also inspiring to me, hearing from people who have gone out into the community, equipped with our powerful solution-focused approach, looking to effect change.

One of these presentations concerned a solution-focused approach to the ‘Community of Practice’ model, which has been pioneered at Voices of Stoke, a service for people experiencing homelessness, mental-ill health, addiction, and offending. This service is shaped by the lived experience of local people with multiple needs, the ‘expert citizens’ who sit alongside the professionals within these communities of practice.

Since attending the UKASFP conference in June, I have been visiting and talking with some of the people who presented there, and a small group of solution-focused practitioners here in the UK have also started to meet as a ‘solution-focused collective’. We are developing a manifesto for a socially engaged solution-focused practice, to set out and publicly share our hopes and intentions for taking the approach into social, community and public settings.

I feel as though I am part of a growing community of practice, and, rather than presenting as an individual in Boulder, that I will be there embodying this community, and bringing it across the ocean to meet with you in the US. And what’s really exciting me as I am writing this is the thought of the community of practice that will develop during the conference. After all, isn’t that what a conference is, a community of practitioners coming together, to have conversations, as a community, in public and in private, during workshops, presentations, breaks, mealtimes and in the evening. I will do what I can, to spark off this conversation and dialogue, with the assistance of the community of practice I am bringing with me, and I am grateful to Monica and the SFBTA for giving me the opportunity to do so.

I look forward to seeing you there in November!

Guy Shennan

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