Lessons learned from the October 25 Symposium in Pittsburgh


The challenge of self-determination, consumer satisfaction and community inclusion is front and center with most human service organizations today.  Individuals and organizations have realized that the traditional public and private methodologies have not led way to the inclusive opportunities that are wanted.  Consequently, new approaches must be sought and developed.

Interdependence is a concept that reframes the structure around human services.  It is an approach that focuses on assets and looks to build partnerships and consensus.  It suggests that the realities that surround people who use human services are often not the issues that services must be framed around.  Rather, Interdependence appeals more to the realities of relationships and the basics of human values that we all crave as members of groups within our greater culture.

The concept of Interdependence uses a macro perspective that demands we understand culture, community and social capital.  Using the metaphor of a bridge, we can better understand why people with differences remain in separate, offset places.  Although a person’s difference might separate them from others, it is the passions, capacities and similarities of people that can create the foundation to build the bridge back to community.  On the other side of this bridge is the community, with all of its customs, rituals and structure.

In order to be successful, we must look at community and how relationships are built.  We define community as a “network of different people, who come together regularly, for something in common.”  This definition helps us understand that building relationships is a process and as support people we can facilitate this process.  The 4 key steps in the process are:

  1. Identify the passions, interests, hobbies, avocations of the person. (Find their similarity)
  2. Find a community or group that meets around the same commonality you found in the person you support. (explore www.meetup.com)
  3. Study, observe or discover the key behaviors that are expected in this group. (So you might coach or prepare the person for what is expected)
  4. Find a “gatekeeper” or influential member already in the group and ask them to introduce your client to the others. (so that their value spreads to your client)

It is important to appreciate the influence of these four steps.  They create the process necessary for people to begin to develop social capital.  The more time people spend and the more similarity they exchange, the greater the chances that a relationship will unfold.

The 4 steps.jpg

More forward thinking individuals and groups are beginning to embrace and utilize the component parts of Interdependence to not only approach human service needs, but to build the very fabric of their communities.  Such was the activity recently supported by the Milbank Foundation for Rehabilitation at the Interdependence Network Symposium in Pittsburgh on October 25, 2013.

Al Condeluci speaking the crowd at the october 25 symposium in Pittsburgh


Should Do

The first task was to become clear on what we should (vision building) do individually and collectively to build opportunities for all people  to be more active in the community.  Using an interactive, nominal process the groups identified many strategies that they should do:

1.     Ask individuals what they want (assess needs on individual and community level)

2.     Start from the beginning to focus staff efforts toward building social capital (language of job description, hiring, training, etc.)

3.     Resource allocation (focus mission and reflect social capital (government funding and board dialogue)

4.     Connect with churches, charities, and other existing infrastructure to continue community-wide dialogue(share stories and process)

5.     Engaging in community mapping (understanding “local” and matching interests)

6.     Brainstorm better transportation options (getting people where they need and want to be)

7.     Model and bridge community engagement and relationship-building

8.     Create and find work opportunities people want to do, not just what “we” think they should do

9.     Educational curriculum relevant to the individuals

10.  Network with other agencies

11.  Putting energy into on-line vehicles(i.e. social media) to grow and support all people with disabilities in communities of faith and inclusion

12.  Be an ambassador of and for people by gathering and circulating empowering information that connects the community

13.  Initiate weekly “community connection conversation party” (getting to know who lives in the neighborhood, what the needs are, where the resources are, etc.)

14.  Discard acronyms

15.  Engaging the business community (social capital in the workplace)  through education, reaching out, catalyzing opportunities for meaningful employment, etc.

16.  Better educate people around socially connecting patterns, norms, actions, and ways to feel and experience belonging (teach the hidden “rules” of belonging I and to a community)

17.  Run a cost/benefit analysis of accessible transformation vs. isolation

18.  Tap into the power of storytelling

19.  Promotion of individuals with disabilities serving on boards, community action groups, etc.

20.  Eliminate site-based services, and shift paradigm from “disability” service to people service

21.  Adapting building / redesign of facilities promoting the arts to become more accessible and inviting to our populations

22.  Maximize inclusive options of places to live

23.  Acknowledge and discuss issues as an organization

24.  Eliminate the “us” vs. “them” language and mentality

25.  Increase dialogue/interactions across staff/participants

26.  Increase time/opportunities to meet/plan with individuals and family to discuss possible community connections (done with intention)

27.  Introduce concepts of social capital from the ground up (state government)

28.  Educate the greater community on inclusion and social capital as well as the smaller community we are connected with

29.  Asking the people we support about relationships

30.  Find ways to keep people safe in the community (including safety)

31.  Imbedding social capital into government funding RFP’s

32.  Help providers and family members understand, value and embrace relational safety as opposed to system safety

33.  Define our compass point, and measure our success

34.  Train staff to be community connectors

35.  Peer-run education, support groups with opportunities, consultation, and staff (seeing people as individuals rather than consumers)

36.  Create opportunities to enhance and build already existing relationships

37.  Stop focusing on group activities

38.  Provide resources (booklet, Internet, etc.) to share with teams to ensure it is accurate and current

39.  Educate the community on the integration and inclusion (campaign)

40.  Continue to engage people beyond their presenting “need” to help them create strategies to build their social capital

41.  Provide transportation into the community

42.  Living support including support in the areas of living, learning, socializing, and working

43.  Participants in every community activity/event/board/organization

44.  Change the universal symbol for disability

45.  Financial assistance for community events

46.  Open Universities for persons with disabilities


Could Do

The next step was to reconvene and the same work groups converted their list of "shoulds" into ones they could actually do.  This conversion created a new list of "coulds".  This new list included real actions that group members think they can actually do in their daily life.

1.     Individual assessment of social capital

2.     Help non-profits to organize themselves into a symbiotic network of thought and positive action (connecting churches, charities, etc. to encourage a community-wide dialogue)

3.     Refocus staff efforts (build bridges, consumer-focused lens, recruiting, training, etc. all reflecting social capital mission and take conversation to a board / state-funding level)

a.     Engaging in community mapping (understanding what is in local communities and matching interests)

b.     Regional events and education to shift perceptions

c.     Model and bridge community engagement and  relationships-building skills

d.     Create and find  work opportunities people want to do, not just what “we” think they should/could do

4.     Be ambassadors of and for people by gathering and circulating information that empowers people and strengthens communities

5.     Engage the business community (social capital in the workplace) through conversation, education, and advocacy to catalyze opportunities for meaningful employment

6.     Better educate/inform people about social norms to help them feel more connected in social groups (teaching the “hidden rules” of belonging in and to a community)

7.     Turn the focus of systems toward engaging people with disabilities and enhancing their social capital to facilitate social inclusion for all

8.     Run a cost-benefit analysis of accessible transportation vs. isolation

9.     Transportation (Information, access, spontaneous, on-call, staffing)

10.  Inclusive recreation with in-place adaptations

11.  Promotion of individuals with disabilities serving on boards, community action groups, etc.

12.  Education on integration/inclusion/increasing comfort level of all individuals

13.  Speak up (acknowledge and discuss collaboration amongst colleagues)

14.  Educate stakeholders and community

15.  Ask participants about their interests

16.  Plan with intention of building relationships

17.  Find ways to keep people safe in the community

18.  Train staff on how to be community connectors

19.  Define our compass (measure outcomes)

20.  Stop focusing on group activities

21.  Be more open and engaging when out in the community


Will Do

The third step of the process was to have the same workgroups identify the top 5 items that they "will" do when they left the meeting.  The group then recorded their 5 "Wills”.

The final activity was a reconciliation of the "will do" strategies each group identified. 

1.     Ask individuals what they want (assessing social capital)

2.     Educating the community about our work and finding a way to promote our specific populations through positive means

3.     Refocus staff goals (build bridges to focus on consumers first i.e. recruitment, training, job descriptions, etc. to aim for reinvigorating social capital)

4.     Engaged community mapping (encourage colleagues and find tools to share)

5.     Network, Network, Network

6.     Transportation and facilities maximize utilization

7.     Speak up (acknowledge and discuss collaboration amongst colleagues

8.     Ask participants – interests, participation so we can plan with the  intention of building relationships

9.     Define compass (measure outcomes)

10.  Train staff on how to be community connectors

11.  Measure success of social capital building

12.  Formalize the measures (use of EHR, use of student interns, build structure to enhance focus, etc.)

13.  Define our compass in the day programs, set goals, and measure outcomes

14.  Empower individuals to self-advocate

15.  Stop focusing on group activities

16.  Conduct the social capital study in Central Pa

17.  Work to share resources, natural supports networks, and information

18.  Introduce the interdependence paradigm in the classroom

19.  Being more open and engaging when out in the community

20.  Peer-run education for community/peer-run support groups

21.  Write a book about ASD and relationships

22.  Create opportunities to enhance and build already existing relationships

23.  Regular (weekly) communication (staff, families, people supported, community organizations) related to importance of relationships

It was exciting to see the similarity and diversity of opinion on this issue.  One theme was abundantly clear, if we are to build a culture that truly finds opportunity for community inclusion, we must change some of our current behaviors. 



Change is never easy.  People and organizations have a propensity to keep the status quo, reject new ideas and continue the course, even if it does not solve the problem.  Yet to stay the same is to stagnate.

What you have just read is the fuel for change – the raw material of growth.  The strategies listed offer us a map to a new place – one that is at higher ground, further evolved.  Know, however, that the achievement of some of these solutions will not come easy.  They require a conscious and direct effort.  They also require that individuals and organizations have a warm and hospitable core. 

Either way, we must step forward to address these issues.  Rarely do people realize the opportunity we have to touch lives and, in turn, impact our culture.  How fortunate we are – yet how serious the task.  Thanks for all that you do and best of luck in continuing to build a community where each belongs.

Jeff Fromknecht & Al Condeluci