Drugs and alcohol

February 28, 2008

Belfast is beautiful today. Spring is kicking winter into touch. I went out for a run along the river Lagan at lunchtime. I was thinking about a piece in the HBR which I had been reading this morning about medical diagnostic mistakes due to “poor thinking” and the benefits and risks of what they describe as heuristics. It reminded me of a recent experience.

I was asked to facilitate the process of developing a vision for youth justice in N.Ireland. I suggested that we needed to bring the voice of young people into the process. As a result the NIO commissioned a group of young people to go out and talk to other young people about their experiences with the legal system and why young people get into trouble.

Their feedback was the kick off session at a two day multi agency event made up of professionals and agencies working in this sector. The young people had prepared thier information and presentaion very well They said the number one reason that young people gave as to why they get into trouble was BOREDOM.

At this point a senior professional in the audince interrupted and said that this was wrong because their agency’s recent research (done in conjunction with an academic body) had highlighted that drugs and alcohol as the number one reason. The young presenter calmly responded by asking “Why do you think they do drugs and alcohol?”

A salutory lesson about how professional entrapment in diagnosing societal issues may lead to misguided interventions which tackle the wrong things.

Yesterday I met up with Majella McCloskey who is director of CO3 (Chief Officers Third Sector) in N.Ireland to follow up on the outcomes of Dave’s much talked about since Masterclass in Belfast. Majella has really taken on board the power of narrative. She told me that last week there had been a joint dinner of chief officers with public sector leaders in N.Ireland These events are ususally evaluated by classic reaction sheet.

This time Majella broke with tradition and asked participants after the event to send her two ancedotes relating to the evening. The first was an email to their chairperson describing ways in which being at the dinner had been beneficial to them. The second was to a peer in another organisation telling them why going to these dinners is not a good use of time. Majella has found the content of the ancedotes which she has been sent rich in information, and very useful for planning future sessions.

Kayaking tonight. Rock and Roll.


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