Interview: Jonas Wells is a developer at Sweden’s National Association of Coordination Agencies and local coordinating manager for the Coordination Agency of South Dalecarlia. He came across SF in 2002 and since 2006 he’s worked with politicians and leaders from four different sectors in the health sector to enable people with coordinated needs to enhance their work abilities.
Jonas, as a developer and trainer in Sweden’s public sector and thinking of your efforts in helping the organizations what pleases you most about the work?
Earning the trust and confidence of others so that I can be in a position of influence is something I value very highly. I do not take his for granted and I am deeply grateful that I get to be in the room when policies and practices on various levels (politically, between leaders and between professionals) are being discussed and (re)routed forward.
What would the organizations where you help facilitate change tell us worked best for them?
Primarily I like to think that they talk about getting the work done, in the sense that they are getting meaningful outcomes that they hoped for, especially for people who are really dependent on the services they can provide. I also like to think that they are getting a sense of clearer direction which they very much believe in. And also enabling the development of deeper and more meaningful relations between themselves internally in the hierarchy (thereby in a way flattening and making the organization more flexible, elastic and resilient), and between the various organisations involved.
You have placed Solution Focus at the center of your work. How do your client organizations benefit?
Hopefully that their clients, whoever they may be, gather momentum for their respective directions. I also hope that they go home after a day’s work feeling happy and proud of having been useful to others in need.
Many organizations are consciously trying to de-silo yet practice expertise is hard to let go of in complex environments. In particular, the public sector is subject to political, policy, program planning and budget influences that are hard to co-ordinate (Jonas, you call this paradoxical!). Despite this, what have you seen done to build capacity and create large-scale change?
Gathering different leaders and professionals together (sometimes with client organizations and others) around common issues, joint training in SF enhancing environments, and the building of common platforms or teams where different organizations or professions work together. The bottom line is people talking in different and more useful ways to each other. That is something I really enjoy witnessing. It signals capacity, passion and anticipation of large-scale change.
How else does SF move those practices forward?
Treating the organization as “already SF” helps a lot. By this I mean that by expressing and being-in-the-organization with wholly lived SF presuppositions helps to enhance trust in their own organization’s way of delivering co-created services and coping with different circumstances and conditions that come their way. I believe that they are already doing this at least sometimes and somewhere. What SF does is make these practices and talking about it, more self-evident and connects it to whatever the organization is trying to achieve.
SF in organizations is often seen as a coaching model. You seem to applying SF in other new ways. What’s one application that you have created or used?
Yes, I don’t really see myself as a coach, even if I do that sometimes. I see myself more as a change agent, and I see them, the people working in and around public sector organizations as change agents too. I am also aware that I am in the “system”, in wont of a better word, not neutral and doing my bit to enhance change talk wherever I am invited to do so. I am not sure that is an application by itself that is original in itself, but a lot of practices evolve from these types of interactions which are original for the people involved, where we co-construct and push forward the capacities of the involved public sector organizations. I do think that this is in many ways different to SF practice say in coaching, therapy or say in a school setting. The main difference is the setting, the context and that the groups are bigger. However the main principles of SF still apply.
You are an ethnographer by training. What’s the value of this background in your work?
Well, I can be comfortable with going native for one! Ethnography is very much expressed as a tool or a mode for collecting data in the field of anthropology. It is done by living in a space, with people or in my case public sector organizations, engaging in talk, finding your place in it, making sense of how they work/tick/live etc and being able, at least occasionally, to pull yourself out of it to explain and translate the experience in an academic or analytic setting. This is very useful of course, especially in organizations who tend to overlook what’s already working well and also tend to move a little too fast forward. It helps to be able to slow down and share stories of whatever’s needed at that space and time.
Suppose we make even more progress in finding a way forward in public sector co-ordination, what will be the thing that pleases you most in the future?
I think being able to read and make sense of these topics: The politics and practices of public sector co-ordination, useful joined-up services from the client’s perspective, and how SF (or any other useful practice) is helpful in combining the three going forward, that would be something I would value highly. I am constantly looking for material that ties these three things together yet I haven’t really found it yet. Probably I would have to write it myself! Writing it would certainly please me immensely! My own thoughts might be made a little clearer in the process and hopefully others might find some use in it.
Another thing would be finding people interested in similar explorations. I am really looking for people to learn from, discuss with and connect to. I know from other sources that Canada, EU, UK, US, New Zealand and Australia as well as in other places, even in Scandinavia, have been working on these issues for a long time. I would very much like to share ideas and expand my network and get in touch with similarly interested minds. I am very sure that a network feeding on and working in ways to deal with complexity, better public services and exploring the use of SF practice in this field can make a meaningful contribution to a better world. Just thinking about the levels of inspiration we could get to, and what that might lead to, is just mind-boggling and so wonderfully exciting! I would really like to be a part of that!
Jonas’s academic background is in Anthropology. He is also a board member of the Swedish Association for Solution Focus Brief Therapy.