How do you know if people are satisfied?

We used to ask people if they were happy with our service but once we started working with people one person at a time to find a life that made sense to then we learned very quickly that our old ways of measuring success and satisfaction weren’t going to be very useful anymore. While we had always said that our measures were personalised they were really just about asking people if they were happy with our services rather than satisfied with the many elements in their own lives.

We realised that any measure of personal fulfilment was intrinsic to people’s lives and what was fruitfully accomplished in their lives. We were no longer quite as interested in defining our success by bureaucratic or organisational factors such as how many required documents we had or because we provided 200 hours per month of support hours in community settings or because we could give out the results of organisational wide evaluations that presumed that the same things bought satisfaction to everyone we supported.

A fulfilled human being is a very different thing from an efficient organisation. Consequently our measures of progress needed to be developed deeply within the unique and evolving context of each individual’s life and needs.

Jacinta and her life

Jacinta is a great example of how a deeper attention to peoples actual lives began to show us what was really important for each person.

At 28 years of age Jacinta had spent most of her time at home not wanting to go to her segregated supported group or individual programs. And, when she did go she never ever came home and shared stories with anyone about what she had done. Jacinta came to us desperate to find something better.

Jacquie’s measures of success and satisfaction changed constantly from the time we initially with met her. Jacqui’s measure of the relevance of our support wasn’t about getting her to an activity to fill her days. Jacinta wanted a life she enjoyed not a life that kept her occupied and well supervised.

Her priorities were more about

Wanting to know someone was going to take the time to get to know her and listen to her and be faithful to her

To have things to look forward to doing that excited and challenged her

It was about spending time in places where she felt comfortable and was around people she wanted to be with – other adults with valued roles.

As we tuned in better to Jacquie and supported her hunger for life, it became about the excitement her family shared when she came home after every experience and started to tell stories about where she had been and who she had met and what it was like.

When Jacinta suddenly started baking cakes alongside her mum for the first time in 28 years in preparation for when people were coming around to talk about her life.

Jacinta and her family didn’t know these were going to be measures of success before they happened, but when it did they knew something was working. Now, thankfully, they don’t see these as breakthrough successes any more, as they have now become a normal part of Jacquie’s days. In a sense the bigger and more relevant to her personally that her life opportunities became, the fuller were her satisfactions with her new life.

Jacquie’s current measure is about the degree she can continue to entrench herself in valued role as a carer at a local child care centre, increasingly connecting to other people who share time with her in her role as a co-worker while reducing the time she spends with disability support staff.

4 months ago this would never have been on Jacquie’s radar, she and her family always expected her to be alongside a disability worker or family member. When we talk to Jacinta about this she sees her success as being independent, responsible and helpful, her mother sees it as Jacinta redefining herself as an adult, family member and not being seen as a dependent child.

Jacquie’s measures of success grew with her and built, just as in anyone else’s life, on her personal growth needs and aims, not from a pre developed program goals of the agency.

In her earlier programs prior to this more personalised focus, Jacquie’s success and satisfaction was measured by how often she attended segregated activities, how many hours she spent in community settings and if the service she attended had a documented person centred plan and she went for the cups of coffee and the bowling trips that it described.

While of course we document what we do to support Jacquie, Jacquie herself doesn’t have a formal document that she refers to, she and her family simply want ongoing conversations about life and good living and the measures of success and satisfaction are developed in the context of her ongoing life and what she needs or wants to happen next. They are not shared with others in a cost effectiveness model that assumes everyone gets the same value from going bowling.

This of course means that we have to keep up with more people like Jacquie who measure satisfaction differently, and it is tough, but it is also means that the next step we take is designed in the context of each person rather than in the misleading context of a globalised average of what all the service users are doing.

So, if someone askes you if you are happy with their supports or service maybe the best response is “lets talk about me”