Build a Consensus of Community Organizations to Present to Government Agencies
How many times have we heard that for community organizations, to be effective, must build a consensus, so the government has only a single option to comply with citizen demands? But how do you build this conensus? One important point is to agree to reach a consensus and in the next meeting or communication to the government, all stick to that demand or stay quiet.
What follows is a description of what was a particularly successful meeting with a government agency which occurred at a very difficult time for its budgets and policies. It can be an example of how to move forward in such difficult times.
On September 30th, 2011, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting facilitated by Mary Jadiwisiak, of Mental Health Advocacy Training and Consulting (MATAC). The meeting had been called to bring more direction to the Office of Consumer Partnerships (OCP). The name of this office is “partnership” and we are the other partner, the mental health recovery movement. We have discovered and developed the tools so people can recovery over the last 25 years—we did not do this alone–but no one else believed we are capable of going into recovery, so it was up to us. And we want to continue to influence the treatment field and government policy.
We are adults in mental heatlh recovery, which is one of the groups with which the OCP works. The other groups are youth and their families, youth in transition, people in recovery from addictions and those with co-occurring disorders, as well as the elder population. (People in hospitals and some group homes, as well as those in jails and prisons are part of other government departments—however the recovery movement crosses all these boundries and includes people with chemical dependency issues and, of course, our own families—families of people with mental illness).
David Dickerson, the Director of the Department of Behavioral Health Recovery (DBHR) decided to establish an advisory committee to the Office of Consumer Partnerships, drawing from our ranks. He will also bring in members of the communty to represent the families of youth, parents of adults with mental illness, and people with chemical dependency and COD issues. Our meeting also resulted in a consensus decision to form a new coalition of adult consumers, which will address issues beyond the Office of Consumer Partnership.
Out of this meeting the participants forged this new coalition of organizations and individuals, including the Regionally Emplowered Communities of Accessability and Hope (REACH) and Mental Health Action (MHA), each of which have been funded by SAMHSA to establish networks and for REACH to establish more Consumer Recovery Centers (like Consumer Voices Are Born (CVAB), in Vancouver). Also participating were the state-wide consumer social networking site, Northwest Seeds of Change, based at the Capitol Clubhouse, Ombuds, consumer hospital representatives, members of the Regional Organizing Initiative, and people who are active in the NAMI consumer movement. Representatives from Optum Health were present, which has the mental health component of the DBHR contract for Pierce County and contracts with Recovery Innovations.
Minutes and a complete list of participants is available from MATAC.
In the afternoon, the group was joined by David Dickerson, Director of the Department of Behavioral Health Recovery and his staff, including individuals who had been assigned to work in the Office of Consumer Partnerships. This example of how community coalitions can work with government agencies begins with the morning session in which the group worked through the ideas which became the basis of a set of demands to the state agency.
Mary Jadwisiak began by saying that she wanted us come to a consensus– and immediately began unfolding four easil-sized sheets of paper with the rules and values which she wanted us to agree to, so we could achieve this. Throughout, she made humor of the fact that the shortcuts to the process she was taking were directions from her and not (at least yet) anything which we had greed to.
1. All ideas matter
2. Stick to the process
3. Set aside perfection
4. Principles before personalities
5. Come to a consensus and then support it (or stay quiet)
6. Recovery principles should guide, including respect, responsibility and self reliance
7. Allow fluidity of language– don’t quibble over words or how something is said
Consensus Decision Making
1. General agreement
2. A judgment arrived at by most of those concerned
3. Group solidarity (at least for the time period of the presentation of the demand or whatever time period is agreed upon and accepted)
Let’s Examine our Assumptions– Why Are We Here?
For instance, for myself, I answered, that I talk to people every day who rarely are appreciated for their accomplishments or feelings or listened to about the traumas they have been through, and mental illness recovery is about these things as much as its is about medication or achieving normal roles and functioning.
Mary Jadwisiak put up a page for connected ideas – a parking lot for ideas outside the topic today.
On this Parking Lot she put down things like:
There should be a contract term requiring mental health clinics to have consumer councils, otherwise we will never make organizational progress in marketing recovery principles into the clinic system.
Do to the budget problems, the system needs us nor more than ever as volunteers.
What is the definition of a “consumer” – Washington is the only state which includes a family member of an adult consumer as a consumer.
The discussion began with Jill saying that we have to take ownership of the issue of how the Office of Consumer Partnership carries out recovery and the existing Strategic Plan. We need to hold individuals accountable.
Stephanie: Let’s get outside grants [and I made a mental note that we should do our own fundraising, like the Minglethon].
John: There should be an advisory committee to the Office of Consumer Affairs (an idea later approved by Director Dickerson).
Cindy: No one communicates to us in Eastern Washington.
[In answer to the question of whether the state supports recovery, the slogan that, “They need our experiences of Recovery to guide their policies of care” was later repeated by the Director]
Helen: We are involved in areas beyond the jurisdiction of the Department of Behavioral Health Recovery and so she should have our advisory committee attached to the Assistant Director of the Department of Social and Health Services [which would then include our people in youth, youth in tansition and institutions]
Michael: Self-Determination is the key issue [which was later adopted as the key issue by the meeting]
It was noted that Stephanie Lane, who was present, was successful, during her tenure as the director of the Offcie of Consumer Partnership, in starting supported employment within that office, which spread to the DSHS and the whole state government (?).
Brad Berry, the Director of Consumer Voices Are Born and REACH then faciliated the following items:
1. What is the best configuration and structure of the Office of Consumer Partnership?
2. What role and work should they do?
3. How will they interact with other elements of government and outside organizations?
[Perhaps we should have a weekly e-mail of a post which floats on top of the Northwest Seeds of Change home page. This email would be our New Coalition’s short weekly message on what is happening politically in Washington State]
John: The advisory committee members should each hold local committee meetings in their regions.
Stephanie Lane asked who hadn’t spoken.
Brad Barry presented his detailed agenda of items for consideration (to be inserted later from Mary Jadwisiak’s notes or Brad’s email attaching this agenda).
Jill: House (or is it Senate?) bill 2654 providing for consumer operated services needs to be moved forward both regarding funding and allowing Medicaid funding to be used outside the confines of Communtiy Mental Health Clinics. [Is this the bill which provided for consumers to be required to work within the confines of Communtiy Mental Health Clinics while “family members” were not required to do so –or was this later amended? If not amended, a legal challenge is very possible and would be so embarrassing to the “families” and DSHS, so that this might be resolved. – Unfortunately Disability Rights Washington has no contract to provide an opinion and should not do so –an independent professional should be consulted]
[Otherwise regarding Peer Serv ices, the can be accomplished as follows:
1. Working for Community Mental Health Clinics
2. Consumer-driven programs embedded within clinics.
3. Consumer Recovery Centers (or Clubhouses), respite centers etc. free from the current restrictions on funding only to clinics.
4. Clinics run by consumer professionals. ]
Issue: Should one or more positions within the Office of Consumer Partnerships be exempt/management positions outside the union contract and outside civil service? (This meeting was called because those rules under the Reduction of Force Terms (RFT) forced David Dickerson to accept as Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs a “family” consumer DSHS employ who is not part of the consumer movement—not even a member of NAMI ).
Steph: The Office of Consumer Partnership needs a budget [something David Dickerson later promises to pursue and put as as Requests for Proposals to local groups].
At this point David Dickerson and his staff joined us.
A report on that interaction and the resulting agreements etc. will be posted when Mary Jadwisiak posts her minutes.
Brian Youngberg, Seattle Sept. 31, 2011 for MentalRecovery.wordpress.com