When interviewing the professional from a substance abuse organization we asked about one of the main topics of our course: influencing. It feels like a huge topic to begin with. It gets easier to understand when you cut it into smaller pieces; How and when can a client influence within the services they are offered? How can a professional influence and in which issues? And why is it important for them to use their chances to do so?
When the professional told us about their organization and how their clients could influence there they started from smaller things. There are many different ways to give a chance for the clients to affect their services. They are on the receiving end of the services so why not let them shape those to become as useful for them as possible.
Collecting feedback is an easy way to see what clients or other participants think about the services provided. This can include either written or verbal feedback and even nonverbal communication.
Verbal feedback might be easy to use for assessing whether the clients are happy for example after a session.
Nonverbal feedback could be for example how the client/clients sit and communicate during the meetings: do they seem withdrawn and quiet or do they seem relaxed and happy.
When asking for written feedback there are many different ways to go about it. For some it might be easier to answer the questions anonymously especially if the feedback is negative. Sometimes though it is necessarily to be able to identify from whom the response is. There are also many other things to take into consideration: open questions or yes/no options or scales from agreeing to disagreeing and so on. If taken into consideration on higher levels simply asking for feedback from the people touched by the matter can make a change for the better.
Other thing that the professional mentioned during the interview was a “client panel”. Within the organization they put together a group of clients that gives feedback on the services and other issues. This way they have a specific group of people assessing different issues.
The professional also mentioned that when there´s a strategy meeting they invite some volunteers to participate too. As they deal with clients all the time and have some sort of knowledge whether they are happy with the services or not, their insight is important when planning the future.
The last thing that was pointed out is that some organizations in the substance abuse field (and other social service fields too) can work as associations. In this case the clients or other participants should always if possible, become members. This is because in an association the members hold the highest power to make decision. This way the people taking part in the work of the organization can right away influence the decision making rather than trying to change things later on.
Thinking about the possibilities to influence as a professional we got some ideas from the interview. The people who work with the clients can straightaway make a difference on what kind of experience the clients get, whether they get the experience of being heard or not.
Many organizations within the same field or why not in different fields as well can cooperate and help make a difference together.
As a professional another great possibility to influence things is to participate in different kinds of trainings that can be offered to schools, workplaces and so on. Also, these kinds of events can be offered for policymakers when they are considering certain laws and legislations. Since the people who make the decisions in the end cannot know everything it is important that the professionals can offer the needed information for them. Educating people who don´t know much about subjects like substance abuse can make a huge difference for example in how the society sees people with substance abuse issues.
What the professional emphasized is that the persons own experience of their chances to influence is very important. If a client feels that they can make a difference they are happy with the services. Of course, to reach this it is not enough to only say that you´re listening. You need to actually take the time and listen, do what you can to see if the client´s wishes can be executed.
In the end the most important thing is that us as future professionals offer the best services we can in a client-oriented way. Always remembering that the services are there for the clients not the other way around and that by listening we can make a huge change in a person’s life.