A guest blog post from Professor Chris Hatton, Lancaster
This blog was prompted by a question posed by Martin
Routledge (currently Head of Operations for In Control) on Twitter,
which went as follows (I've added some vowels…):
"Reflecting that we are good about talking about
personalisation, less willing to accept ways of actually
transferring power to people - why? Institutional history of
services? Risk averse organisations? Interests of commissioners,
providers, staff not same as people using?"
I've worked with In Control for over a decade on a series of
tools (POET) to evaluate the impact of personalisation on people's
lives, and this question has never been far from my mind. I've
recently been wondering if this is the right question, and if
asking the question in this way actually sets up as adversaries
people who might otherwise be allies.
Dennis Johnson, a PhD student I've been supervising,
introduced me to a set of dictums formulated by Michel Foucault,
the French philosopher with an interest in how challenges to
patterns of established power or authority have historically been
successful, who came up with six common features of such successful
challenges. Given the formulation of the personalisation project in
England as a challenge to established structures of power in social
policy and service provision, I wanted to see if Foucault's ideas
would translate into a set of strategies for how personalisation
can develop into a meaningful reality for everyone.
There is a longer blog here http://chrishatton.blogspot.co.uk/
that 'shows my working' - In Control invited me here to focus on
the conclusions and what they mean for personalisation in England
by going through each of Foucault's six dictums and outlining what
they mean in terms of strategy.
1) Avow 'transversality' or
Foucault's first dictum suggests that ideas that change the
world do exactly that (at least partially) - they are thought of as
international and beyond a certain point inevitable and 'common
For good reasons, the personalisation project in the UK has
largely focused on the mechanics of implementing personalisation
within existing legal, policy and service frameworks. However, in
my view personalisation gains strength from taking its place as one
part of a broader international movement focusing on the rights of
all citizens to self-determination, which can shape how societies
think in ways that any national programme cannot.
Strategic lesson 1: Embed personalisation as part of broader
international movements towards self-determination for all
2) Target the effects of power
rather than confront the sources of power and
Foucault has an important notion about power being
networked, without an obvious 'centre', such that everyone in the
network feels (in different ways) constrained and relatively
powerless. This isn't to say that differentials in power are not
stark and are not real - clearly a person trying to negotiate the
social care labyrinth is all too often forced into a place of
screaming frustration. But it is to say that if we go searching for
the person sitting on a sack labelled 'power', with the aim of
persuading them to give it up or taking it from them, we'll be
searching for a long time.
My sense is that many proponents of personalisation see
themselves as an insurgent force (think the rebels in Star Wars),
but instead of blowing up the Death Star they are seeking to
persuade the Stormtroopers to dismantle it themselves and give the
parts to people to build their own homes. We might think we need to
kill Darth Vader first, but Foucault's second dictum suggests that
working systematically through the policy and practical barriers
and their consequences for people is likely to be more effective
than all-out confrontation with 'power'.
This has been complicated by the adoption of personalisation
as government policy - can it stay true to its radical principles?
(have the Jedi been turned to the Dark Side?) Foucault would
suggest that such accommodations are necessary as long as the
personalisation project stays focused on understanding the effects
of systems on people and how personalisation can make a meaningful
Strategic lesson 2: Stay close to the lives of people
involved in the personalisation endeavour, documenting and
understanding how personalisation works (and doesn't work), and
using this understanding to improve how personalisation
3) Contest the privileges of
knowledge (and contest what is privileged
Much of the debate around personalisation rests on a
sometimes acrimonious contest about what counts as evidence for
what is 'really' happening with personalisation (academic research?
accounts of lived experience?). For me, Foucault's third dictum
suggests that we need to contest the idea that any particular type
of knowledge is in a uniquely privileged position, and learn what
we can from all the sources of knowledge at our disposal.
Strategic lesson 3: Use all forms of knowledge to improve
our collective understanding of what is happening, rather than
privileging any form of knowledge or engaging in needlessly
adversarial debate about what counts as 'evidence'.
4) Engage the immediate problem
rather than the "chief enemy"
Partly because pretty much everyone feels powerless and
frustrated with how things are, there is a temptation to identify
someone else as the 'enemy' who is the barrier to a goal that seems
to be generally agreed, that of meaningful self-determination for
everyone. This might make us feel temporarily better, but does it
make enemies of potential allies?
Foucault's fourth dictum is a real challenge, as it suggests
that campaigning against the iniquities of power is not enough.
Foucault suggests that there needs to be ongoing, practical
engagement with existing power structures focused on solving 'real'
and immediate problems for people.
Strategic lesson 4: Rather than trying to identify 'enemies'
to the achievement of self-determination for all citizens, work
together to understand the systemic constraints and facilitators to
achieving self-determination in specific circumstances and
use these to build better ways of achieving self-determination from
the ground up.
5) Oppose efforts to separate
individuals from the society that nurtures them
As with much else, opinion is polarised about the intended
and unintended consequences of personalisation on relationships
between individuals using self-directed support, other people close
to them, and the communities and societies in which they live. For
the personalisation project, Foucault's fifth dictum suggests it is
vital to work on these broader aspects of social connectedness
which stretch far beyond services and embrace the importance of the
collective and belonging in people's lives.
Strategic lesson 5: Ensure that the maintenance and
development of people's social networks and the promotion of
nurturing communities is seen as just as essential as paying
attention to funding and service support mechanisms.
6) Preserve the right of
self-determination and resist efforts to control "who we
Self-determination is clearly at the centre of the
personalisation project, but the terms self-determination, choice
and control are often used interchangeably. For me
self-determination is the fundamental idea. Being self-determined
does not necessarily mean having to make choices over every aspect
of your life - you may decide to cede control over certain areas of
life, for example, with the proviso that you can set the limits of
this and take back control when you wish.
With its conflation of choice and control, there is a
widespread perception that 'real' personalisation effectively means
direct payments, with the person having to act as employer and
co-ordinator of their support. A truly personalised approach would
have no such assumptions, with people being able to determine at
what level they want to have control, the terms under which control
is being ceded to others, and when they can take control back - all
of which may change at different times in the person's life.
Foucault's sixth dictum suggests that it is vital that the
personalisation project keeps its eyes firmly on the ultimate prize
Strategic lesson 6: Keep the aim of self-determination (not
necessarily choice) in mind at all times, and design and evaluate
personalisation projects against this standard
So, what is the answer to Martin's question? I'm not sure
there is one, and even if there is I'm not sure how far it would
take us in making personalisation a meaningful reality for people.
Despite the attraction of the grand theory for academics like me,
Foucault's analysis of power suggests that there is no substitute
for the hard grind of working through the issues person by person,
and working through them together.
Foucault, M. (1994). The subject and power. In J.Faubion
(ed.), Michel Foucault: Power, The Essential Works of Michel
Foucault 1954-1984 (pp. 328-348). New York: The New York