It’s good in theory – identify the problem, try something new, ‘evaluate’ and, if it works, write up the model, turn it into a program, replicate it and expand. Don’t reinvent the wheel – use this one.

It’s what we’ve been doing a long time – if it worked, how come we are still doing it?

Perhaps the point we are missing is that what we are with dealing is people, not objects; people who are by their nature irrational and unpredictable, rather than carts or trolleys that are propelled by wheels. I hear instances of it regularly. Talking with the inspirational teachers at a local Primary about their literacy program. What happened to Reading Recovery? Well, it became quite prescriptive, didn’t fit our kids, had to be used as a package, was expensive…. Similarly with case management – it’s for a certain period of time,  has to follow strict protocols, burns workers out, doesn’t suit our clients….

Naturally people funding things want to be as sure as possible that they are spending money wisely and will get the outcomes they seek. So we try to back the things most likely to achieve those outcomes. In doing so we put more and more boundaries around the thing. It’s why the randomistas have been so busy lately – controlling for variables, isolating interventions, understanding cohorts and conditions so they can replicate what works. And if it includes the irrationality of human behaviour, that’s exciting, but if it doesn’t, we have problems.

Most of the work we are involved with on the Peninsula is in supporting highly vulnerable people, all with very individual lives and situations. What works for one person may be entirely inappropriate for another. What works for one small group may be anathema to another. What works for one family may be destructive to another. Flexibility, responsiveness, patience, courage, resilience, persistence, these are the things people need to draw on when working in these situations, but restrictions determined by funding paradigms prohibit this essential human response.

Getting back to the wheel, when you think about it there really are as many different types of wheels as your imagination can create – and they are used in all manner of settings, each time designed to meet the needs of that setting. What a long way we’ve come since the first wheels, through the unending creativity, inventiveness, curiosity and wonder of the human mind. We take the basic element – it’s round – and build, innovate, create and apply, ever developing and expanding our understanding and application.

Perhaps it is the same with human services – build on the basic elements – compassion and care – then validate the expertise of people in the field and their capacity to work responsively, directly with people before them.