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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The ethics of questioning unconscious investment in turning a blind eye

This paper describes a two year intervention within an organization providing residential care for men and women with mental health disabilities. This intervention, in support of the CEO and senior management team, took place when the UK Government was engaged in de-institutionalisation, making the transition to Community Care and instituting internal market reforms. The intervention was concerned with supporting innovations in the way the work of the organization supported the lives of its residents. The nature and complexity of the work of the organisation in its networked environment demanded innovation in order to be able to respond to residents' demands in a way that was viable. These innovations were thought to be necessary to the continuing viability of the organisation as a specialist care organisation. The consultants assumed that authorisation for the innovations would emerge from working through the dilemmas underlying the work of the organisation. The resultant innovations were successful, but were nevertheless dismissed and excluded by the Board of the organisation. The approach adopted by the consultants was based on the expectation that a change could take place in the way identities were supported by the organisation, including those of the members of its Board. This assumed an ethics that would give precedence to aligning services to the resident rather than fitting residents to previously designed services. This approach underestimated the strength of the unconscious investment in turning a blind eye to the dilemmas facing the organisation. The paper examines the part played in this by the consultants and considers the actions of the Board not just as defences against innovation but as defences against an ethical questioning of their governance.'