Some opening thoughts (2)

Yesterday I opened this blog with a reference to a paper Michael Coffey and I published in 2011. I briefly talked about ‘wicked problems’, linking back to Rittel and Webber’s original article introducing this term.

In our paper Michael and I commented on the pace of change in mental health policy and services across the UK. We were particularly interested in the years from 1997, beginning with the election of New Labour. At the start of this period there were some bold statements from members of the then-new government, including the claim that community care had ‘failed’. At the time I thought this to be far too bald and simplistic a formulation of ‘the problem’. I still do, as it happens. As a solution, more (and different types of) community mental health care became the policy prescription. It was in this context that assertive outreach teams and crisis resolution and home treatment services appeared.

What struck Michael and me was how quickly this problem/solution formulation yielded to a replacement, this time emphasising shortcomings in professional practice. Policy pronouncements in the early/mid 2000s referenced occupational boundaries as a problem. Now, eroding demarcation became a key goal of policy: and it is in this context that new ways of working emerged. This was all about redrawing divisions of labour, and I’m sure this is something I’ll return to in the future because it interests me very much.


9 thoughts on “Some opening thoughts (2)

  1. A very serious-minded and useful resource, Ben. Connecting with the language of what I’ve always felt intuitively as a very tentative service user. Questioning mechanistic processes to dubious and fraught outcomes in MH without educational qualification and license hasn’t done me any favours. Oh, for the Jurgen Klinsmann approach: organic and bottom-up. But the noesis of “wicked problems” allays the urge to have a spiteful pop at individuals in services.

    1. Thank you, Dave. The wicked issues idea is compelling. I had come across it in passing, but then heard it used convincingly and in depth by Professor David Hunter from Durham University, in a talk he gave at Cardiff some years ago.

  2. Thanks for the information, Ben. “local and bite-size chunking” and “social entrepreneurship and design” around wicked issues are fascinating. You’ve set some hares running here 🙂 Best, Dave

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