Sharing and building Solution Focused practice in organisations

At the recent 'SF summit' gathering in Malmo (see my report at, Gale Miller suggested that we start playing the game of 'fantasy academic centre'. 


It works like this:  Suppose that someone has given us $10 million to set up an multi-disciplinary academic centre, probably based at a university, to produce excellent and provocative material in support of the 'SF paradigm' - the framework within which our practice makes sense.  Think about


* What would it be called?

* What kind of people would form the faculty

* What courses would it offer?

* What research would it's graduate students do?

* What publications would it support?

* What conferences/events would it put on?

* What else?


I have some initial ideas - will post them below.  Please add to the list - after all, it's a FANTASY centre, so you can have anything you want!




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Initial thought - call it 'the Centre for Applied Interactional ________'. Not sure what ________ is yet - psychology might work (and I am not sure if there is such a thing yet as interactional psychology). What else might work?

Applied - to warn off the critical scholars and discursive moaners that this is a place that values results and application, not just criticism of extant power structures (though we will be doing that too).

Interactional - the word describing the kind of approach that SF is (from the interactional view of the MRI, a key underpinning, and also not a much used word these days).
*What kind of people would form the faculty:
I was surprised by the suggestion of Gale to let make research on SF by not SF trained people. Earlier I was highly fascinated by how to develop forms of research which are SF themselves (as a small start I wrote researchers' diary, f.e.).
Maybe a mix would be interesting. With the curiosity, how does SF paradigm influence research?

*Events: there would be regularly events of high reputation within the center, when researchers, members of the institute would invite practitioners and would make their best to communicate what they discovered. They would co-create SF reality around these topics with practitioners. Fully in sense of 'division of labour' instead of 'fragmentation' (Gale).

*what kind of research
Divers. Also the length of the papers would be different. ‘Brief research’ ;) it’s told, that short research papers are better recognized (more quotation per page)

Fun thoughts, thanks, Mark
I think it's time we got out of the SF bubble - get other perspectives. If our way of doing things is strong (and I think it is), then we have little to fear. I think informed practitioners would be a key part of the centre - along the lines of MRI for example, where there is a practicing brief therapy centre alongside other operations. About the SF paradigm influencing research - there is already a key need to find out if (for example) diagnosing clients has a negative effect on the effectiveness of SF therapy. I suspect it might, from a narrative emergence point of view. If you spend a lot of time establishing something and then ignore it, it would look odd.

Fun thoughts - and also deadly serious.
Localites of Applied Interactional Research (LAIR).
I'm playing with the idea of localities/centre. Don't know which I prefer. Suppose it depends on what I would put into to the terms and also what I would wish for. I like the idea of a centre which is owned globally and erupts in several localities. A $10 m purse would make it possible to have several physical centres, maybe several in every continent, maybe 10-20 all-in-all. Maybe plurality is better than singulatity. I like the acronym "lair". Makes me think of Batman's batcave: a deep, dark place where it is possible to mull over things without too much interruption - and do super things.
Research - makes it open to many disciplines and, possibly unconventional, ways of getting deep.

I like this game!

Let me venture another idea.
* What kind of people would form the faculty?
People from many disciplines - crossdisciplinary. Not just professional academics. Also praticing managers/therapists/consultants etc. The latter group would be a great asset for research but I can also see the groups doing things together, producing new and exciting material. Mixing the perspectives might make the products more accessible and more useful from a consumer's point of view (which is both academia and non-academia).
Which disciplines? Well, what not to have? Anthropology (of course) is VERY central. Ha ha.
I think that having practitioners would be very important - particularly if they are informed/ aware of the wider issues and can respond to questions from researchers with more than the dreaded 'I don't know...'. A network of centres... might be very interesting indeed.

Disciplines - I might have a conversation microanalyst, a (linguistic) philosopher, a complexity person (perhaps from the organisational sphere, where these things are a little more familiar), a discursive psychologist, a therapist, a coach, a research specialist (is this where the anthropologist can be particularly useful? :-)), and perhaps a doctor/psychiatrist (critical or not). What else?
* What would it be called?
Knowledge Cloud of Applied Science for Successful Interactional Work

* What kind of people would form the faculty
Scientists with a strong affinity to applications in management, consultancy, training.
Practitioners with a strong affinity to reflect their practice on a meta level.
Both share a few principles & values about: "This makes interactional work sucessful"
Both are not searching for "The Truth".
Both don't see themselves as "evangelists" of a specific "school" or "methodology"

* What courses would it offer?
No "traditional" courses - but instead of it a lot of different "frames" to share and create knowledge between the faculty members and students in an "interactional" way based on "design mode learning" (instead of "belief mode learning"), see: Handbook of Educational Psychology; Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc Inc; 2006; pp 701
Some of those courses will be organized as face-to-face events, most of them will happen "virtual" based on "Global Social Media Learning".

* What research would it's graduate students do?
Everything which strengthen the scientific background for Successful Interactional Work in management, consultancy and training and everything which creates more practical applications based on this scientific background.

* What publications would it support?
Based on the idea, that more and more knowledge is not placed in first instance in publications but is represented as a "cloud" or a "net" of connected contributions from al large number of persons in very different platforms (websites, blogs, discussion groups, social networks, ...) the members of the faculty and the students contribute very active to this "cloud of knowledge".

* What conferences/events would it put on?
Most events are organized as specific "timeboxes" (lasting several hours or a few days) to share and create knowledge for a specific topic or question based on global Social Media Interactions.
Each year one international "summit" takes place based on Open Space which is pre-structured in a self organizing process some weeks in advance based on social media communication.
There are also a lot of local "come together events" (evenings, half-day, one day, ...) which are organised autonomous.

* What else?
Very often this Cloud Of Knowledge is shining golden in the rising sun ....
Thank you Hans-Peter. I was thinking of something with a wider remit than consulting/organisational work. And I am very interested indeed in what can be said truly, and what cannot.
Gale Miller mentioned to me about a somewhat similar centre he knows - the Centre for Socio-Legal studies at Oxford. - check it out.
Mark has invited me to join your fantasy discussion and I am happy to do so. Specifically, I think that there are issues that need to be clarified to make this process more useful. I also apologize for the length of this post.
The first issue involves money. Ten million dollars is unlikely to be an adequate amount to get something like this going. If we invested that money and got a 5% annual return, the Centre would have an operating budget of $500,000. It sounds like a lot of money but it isn’t when you consider the many expenses that such an operation would have. These include support staff salaries, equipment, letterhead, heat and lighting, etc. This does not count the cost of full-time faculty, seed money for research, perhaps money to support students, travel money, etc. Eventually, outside money might be garnered for research projects but granting agencies are going to assess the Centre’s ability to deliver on its research promises, which means that it needs to be fully operational in order to qualify for most grants. Plus, in the US at least, many granting agencies expect the sponsoring organization to provide some level of monetary support to augment the money provided by the agency.
I can’t imagine an operational budget of less than 1-2 million dollars for such a Centre, and it would increase with multiple sites. There is a reason why this is a fantasy at this point in time.
My other issue is actually more vexing to me and it cuts across several posts to this topic and conversations that I have had with solution-focused people over recent years. The general issue involves the ways in which the so-called roots or tradition of solution-focused thought and practice is being preserved as institutional memory. I was reminded of this when I looked at the ad for the upcoming EBTA meeting, which includes a list of “founders” and “first generation researchers.” These are not separate categories for me. The first generation researchers included many of the therapists who practiced it. This includes Steve de Shazer but also Wally Gingrich, Elam Nunnally and others. My role was that of researcher only (I am not a founder or pioneer) and I was joined by some other researchers (often quantitative) who came and went while I was there.
Of course, any history is arbitrary. One could begin the history of solution-focused thought and practice with MRI or even Ericksonian therapy, in which case the first generation of researchers would precede the people that I mention. I have a problem with the version of history but others might not. As I see it, solution-focused thought and practice is now in its 3rd or 4th generation. I will explain as I got along.
I need to be clear on my purpose here. I do not believe that the future of solution-focused thought and practice should be restricted to what happened in Milwaukee or what Steve and Insoo envisioned or wanted. Significant change and development will not happen in such an environment. But it is also important to be clear on what did happen in Milwaukee and to not succumb to the many rumors that define (revise) the history of this movement. Knowing history is important in preserving a record of what has happened over time and it is a basis for rationally assessing what aspects of the initial development warrant retention and amplification and what aspects might be changed or discarded.
Let’s begin with the word “psychology.” Steve did not call himself a psychologist, did not talk about psychology or psychologists as important influences on him, and he emphasized how much his thinking was shaped by Wittgenstein’s critique of psychology. He called himself a sociologist and noted the importance of Joseph Berger’s small groups research as influential. Of course, there were other influences too, including the Jesuit priests who taught him in high school. I also know that he was not a fan of Gergen or Shotter’s constructionist psychology (He saw their version of social constructionism as too different from what he did). He never mentioned Harré that I remember and I doubt that he would be a fan of the discursive psychology (although I like it very much). Please note that Steve and I did not always agree. My point here is to describe the past that I remember not champion any one’s preferences.
This is, of course, not to say that psychologists were banned from the clinic – the opposite is true. Rather, I want to highlight an unexplored irony in the development of solution-focused thought and practice. The movement has flourished among people who are largely trained in ideas and methodologies that were not central to the development of solution-focused work or thinking. I would say that the movement has been affected by this development, which is one of the reasons I say that solution-focused is now in its 3rd or 4th generation.
A second issue involves the relationship between the university and solution-focused practice. It is important to point out that this distinction was insignificant at the center in Milwaukee. Wally G., Elam N. and some other full-time university professors were part of the founding group. Further, it is important to understand how I got involved with the clinic. I was invited to do research on them. They said that they were not learning anything from the quantitative researchers and thought that my approach might be more fruitful. They were clearly interested in getting new ideas from someone who was not trained in therapy, much less in the version of it that they did. There was considerable concern about becoming insular within the founding group. I asked what the rules of my research would be, and Steve said that there were no rules.
I could observe anything I wanted, do it in any way that I wanted, ask any research questions that I wanted and analyze the data from any perspective that I wanted. If he had said anything else to me, I would have turned down the invitation and I think most other academic researchers would do the same. He took great delight in my response to questions about my hypotheses (I said, “I don’t have hypotheses, I watch and write about what I see.”) I purposely did not read anything about their brand of therapy for one year. I wanted to see it first. Indeed, all of the reading that I did with Steve during the first year was based on books that I had read or was reading about other topics. He was particularly taken by a book by Sanders on the social organization of the investigative work of police detectives. All of the therapists at the clinic were very respectful of my insistence that I not talk about any of the cases that they saw. Anyone could see my notes on the therapists, but I insisted that I was not competent to talk about clients beyond reporting what they said. Looked at one way, this made me less useful to the therapists but I would say that it made me more useful in the long run.
I mentioned how I got invited to study the Milwaukee clinic to a group of social scientists that I work with in Copenhagen. They were uniformly impressed by how special the clinic must have been to be so open and even to initiate uncontrolled research. For these clinicians, partnering with academic practitioners and researchers was more than developing a division of labor, it was a way of avoiding fragmentation and isolation. It is an instance of the strength of weak ties.
There are a couple of other implications of this aspect of the solution-focused tradition that I think warrant brief mention. For me, the second generation of solution-focused thought and practice began when Steve and Insoo began to travel a lot and began to focus on teaching it, rather than doing it. During my first 2 years at the clinic (1984-85 and 1989-90), the major focus was on “what do we do and how might we do it better?” This meant that all discussions potentially involved looking at ongoing and videotaped sessions. This was partly the job of the research committee that I served on during my second involvement with the clinic, but which had been going on long before my involvement. More generally, however, it was an ongoing issue in discussions at the clinic. Particularly, with the closing of the clinic on 60th and Center Street and the opening of an office in the suburbs, Steve and Insoo began to reduce the number of clients that they saw in Milwaukee. This was a pattern that accelerated over time as they focused on traveling and teaching. As a teacher, I know that teaching is at best a representation of actual practice and it is a different context for engaging practice than watching session after session with an eye “what do we do”? Teachers often know the answer to the question in advance, researchers do not. I should add that this is a problem faced by all teachers, not just Steve and Insoo. It is something for all of the leaders/trainers in solution-focused thought and practice to think about.
A second factor contributing the emergence of the 2nd and 3rd generations of solution-focused thought and practice involves the sites in which it has been developed in the 1990’s to the present. It has emerged in applied contexts (clinics, consultancies, schools, etc.) and not in universities. This is both a strength and weakness of it. It is a strength because the applied side of it has been extensively developed. It is a weakness because universities are very good places to publicize such developments (look at narrative therapy and its ties to the explosion of narrative research in universities) and to legitimize them. Universities are also research centers that ask different questions than insurance companies and other such bodies that emphasize outcomes research. Universities are filled with people who have jobs requiring that they stay current on a wide range of research methodologies and interpretive perspectives that practitioners are not less likely to know about. It is significant that micro-analysis is only now becoming well known within the solution-focused community, since it is one variant of the larger perspective and methodology of conversation analysis that has been around for more than 30 years. And, of course, conversation analysis is a small segment within the larger academic world of interpretive perspectives and qualitative methodologies. Despite the valiant and sometimes successful efforts of some solution-focused practitioners, the solution-focused world has moved away from the early partnership between practitioners and researchers.
My comments have gone on for a long time, and I don’t want to waste your time. But I do think that these issues need to be made clear and discussed in building a fantasy about a Centre devoted to something that might include solution-focused thought and practice. Consideration of the issues is also important in building multiple futures for solution-focused thought and practice. What do you want to not change, what changes that have already occurred do you want to keep, what do you want to change by returning to aspects of the past or by developing creative new practices, thoughts and partnerships? I have my own preferences but they really aren’t important since I am not one of the people who will significantly shape the future of this movement. On the other hand, many—perhaps all—of you are potentially important shapers of the future. Have fun!





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