Social Role Valorization theme: model coherency (post #1 in a series)

This is the first in a series of posts concerning the Social Role Valorization theme of relevance, potency, and model coherency of measures and services (see the SRV monograph by Wolfensberger, 1998, 3rd. rev. ed. published in 2004, pp. 111-118). Model coherency in my opinion is one of the most elegant and powerful of the themes, with immediate applicability to any informal or formal service effort, big or small. While complex to implement, and containing multiple and complicated implications, the essence of this concept as it was developed by Wolfensberger can be grasped fairly readily:

“Thus, a very colloquial way of putting it is to say that: the right servers should be using the right materials, methods, and language, in the right settings, in order to do the right thing for the right recipients, who are grouped in the right way” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 116).

While obviously drawing on his deep reading in other fields of study as well as his own broad experiences, Wolfensberger’s particular formulation of model coherency is incredibly clear and concise, while taking into account its complexities. In this post, therefore, I will let his SRV text largely speak for itself, highlighting key points by using Wolfensberger’s own published words to lay out brief descriptions of: a) relevance and potency, b) model, and c) model coherency.

 

a) As background, we want to have a clear understanding of the concepts of relevance and potency: 

“Relevance means that the content addresses a major or significant need of the people to whom the content is addressed” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 111).

“Potency means that whatever processes are employed should be the most effective and efficient means for addressing a party’s needs, so that one makes the best use of the time of recipients, rather than either addressing the need in a fashion which is not particularly pointed or effective, or outright wasting their time” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 113-114).

Is the service measure relevant to what the people served truly need? (NB: In PASSING workshops, this is one of the fundamental questions that PASSING teams spend lots of discussion time on.) Is the service using the most potent means available to address these need(s)?

 

b) With relevance and potency in mind, what elements make up a service model? 

 “… human service models are composed of assemblages of assumptions, contents, and processes” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 116). 

 “Assumptions are the underlying premises, beliefs, and ideologies (whether conscious or unconscious) on which the model is based” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 109). 

 “Content refers to what the service model actually delivers, i.e., what does it convey to recipients” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 109). 

 “Process refers to the means by which the content is conveyed” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 110).

Wolfensberger further points out (e.g., Wolfensberger, 1998, p. 110; introductory SRV workshops; the PASSING manual and PASSING workshops) that the processes or means can include: setting, schedules, techniques, tools and equipment, groupings, identities of (informal and formal) servers, and language used.

 

c) And finally, what about model coherency itself?

 “The ideal service model–i.e., the one with the greatest model coherency–would be derived from the real, primary, and urgent needs of the people to be served, and all of its process components would match harmoniously with each other and the content so as to facilitate effective address of those needs” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 116).

 Part of the model coherency concept in SRV includes that the assumptions, content and means of a service measure or model will a) match the identities and needs of the people served and also b) match the culturally valued analogue(s) for how similar content is ‘delivered’ to societally valued people. (For more on the SRV concept of the ‘culturally valued analog,’ see Wolfensberger, 1998, 118; Wolfensberger and Thomas, 2007, PASSING Ratings Manual 3rd rev. ed., pp. 30-31).

 Back to our first description of model coherency:

 “Thus, a very colloquial way of putting it is to say that: the right servers should be using the right materials, methods, and language, in the right settings, in order to do the right thing for the right recipients, who are grouped in the right way” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 116).

 

We will continue writing about this key theme in future posts. I strongly encourage our readers to share examples of and comments about the SRV concept of model coherency as laid out by Wolfensberger, to share contemporary academic resources relevant to this theme, etc. I look forward to your comments.

 Marc Tumeinski

15 Responses

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  1. Written by Darrell Wills
    on February 16, 2012 at 7:49 am
    Reply · Permalink

    A nice discussion topic.
    We are currently looking at the interplay between this (model coherency) and what Wolf called “act validity” or in his honour we call – “moral coherency”. (We are a bit more simplified in language.)
    We look primarily at these issues around 3 “big ideas”- “getting in right” – which to us means get –
    “right principles (moral coherency),
    right structures (model coherency and
    “right relationships” – (of both moral and model importance).

    Enough for now.
    Hoping others will add to your courageous entree’. Good on ya.
    dw

  2. Written by MTumeinski
    on February 17, 2012 at 11:16 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Thank you Darrell.

    A quick note: ‘Act validity’ is one of the concepts which Wolfensberger had developed and then taught about in an (ever-evolving) workshop entitled ‘How to function morally, coherently and adaptively in a world that is disfunctional, including its human services.’ He also taught about this concept in other workshops as well. This particular workshop continues to be taught, and is scheduled next in Pickering, Ontario, Canada from June 23-29, 2012. The material covered in this workshop was very important to Dr. Wolfensberger and was a major component of his life’s work.

    Flyer available. http://www.srv-sotg.ca/workshops/event/how-to-function-with-personal-moral-coherency-in-a-disfunctional-world-including-its-human-services/

    Email Patty Weatherall for registration and information. pweatherall@dafrs.com

    • Written by Kimberly Gitlen
      on February 21, 2012 at 1:15 am
      Reply · Permalink

      I am interested in understanding more about Dr. Wolfensberger ‘Act of Validity’ workshop entitled ‘How to function morally, coherently and adaptively in a world that is disfunctional, including its human services.’ in comparison to the work of John Dewey and his model of ethical love for my paper. Any information you can supply would be helpful!

      • Written by MTumeinski
        on February 22, 2012 at 2:09 pm
        Reply · Permalink

        Dear Kimberly,

        A great question. I am not familiar with Dewey’s model but here are a few very preliminary thoughts concerning act validity as formulated by Dr. Wolfensberger. We spend a lot of time teaching about this complex issue in the workshop so my points here by no means explain or exhaust the topic. In fact, I almost hesitate to reply because it is so easy to misinterpret act validity, so please take this into account and make sure to ask any questions you have. I hope this is helpful and best of luck on your paper. I look forward to your further questions and/or comments.

        Marc Tumeinski

        • Act validity is relevant to decisions and actions in the realm of morality. Deciding whether to wear a blue shirt or a red shirt is not a decision requiring act validity. Many decisions and actions having to do with human services though are decisions involving morality, what is true and what is right.

        • The ‘act’ part of act validity refers broadly to a range of actions: thinking, deciding, speaking, writing, private and public acts, concrete or bodily actions, and so on.

        • Very briefly, the ‘validity’ part of act validity refers to trying to act (as above) based on the truth of, and the inherent morality of, a particular issue, as opposed to acting for example based on what you think will happen or what you think will be most effective. (Wolfensberger called this an outcome-contingent morality.) This is a very colloquial way of phrasing it, but you might say that act validity is about trying to do the right thing because it is right, as opposed to making a decision based primarily on what seems to have the best likelihood of working or of being effective, or based on what we think we can get away with in this situation. Does that distinction make sense? Please ask if not.

        • To be clear, there is nothing wrong with hoping for a particular outcome or trying to estimate what the outcome of a decision or action will be. However, act validity proposes that the best way to decide and act is based on what is true and what is morally valid and right, not on calculations of what we think will ‘work’ or ‘succeed.’ Partly that is because we human beings are so bad at predictions!

        By the way, since you are studying education, Myles Horton of the Highlander School in my opinion is someone whose life and teaching reflected in so many ways this concept of act validity. He was not perfect, none of us are, but he was a great role model of act validity in lots of ways.

  3. Written by Raymond Lemay
    on February 18, 2012 at 10:42 am
    Reply · Permalink

    A few months before he died, Dr. Wolfensberger had put the finishing touches on a manuscript on Model Coherency, that we hope will be published at some in the next 12 months. It is a vast work that comprehensively addresses the issues that gravitate around model coherency and the implementation of excellent service. I’ve had the opportunity to read the manuscript and it is quite a remarkable work.

  4. Written by Jane Sherwin
    on February 19, 2012 at 3:24 am
    Reply · Permalink

    I think model coherency is one of the best themes of SRV and is certainly extremely helpful as a thinking framework when trying to apply SRV. However, one of the things that has always intrigued me about Wolf’s short definition is that he uses the phrase: ‘the right people’. I understand ‘right’ servers, ‘right’ groupings etc .. but ‘right’ ‘people’?? Surely the people are a given … they don’t need to be ‘right’. It’s all the other design decisions that we have to make that should be ‘right’. Any other thoughts??

  5. Written by MTumeinski
    on February 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Here is Wolfensberger’s quote again:

    “Thus, a very colloquial way of putting it is to say that: the right servers should be using the right materials, methods, and language, in the right settings, in order to do the right thing for the right recipients, who are grouped in the right way” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 116).

    From the above, Jane, I guess you are talking about ‘right recipients.’ Maybe you can say a bit more about what your question is, as I am not sure I exactly understand.

    In the meanwhile, I looked back at the SRV text. The above quote is clear that this is a very colloquial description, so perhaps we can look at more specifically what Wolfensberger wrote in the monograph about the service recipients in the section on model coherency (pp. 116-118). Here are a few quotes:

    • “derived from the real, primary, and urgent needs of the people to be served” (pg. 116)

    • “Other models carry no intrinsic moral flaw, but may become morally objectionable if applied to certain people” (pp. 116-117)

    • “Yet further, even when people have the same need, the same service model to address that need may not be appropriate or relevant for each or all of them. Thus, different models may be required to address the needs of different people, even if the people share a common need.” (pg. 117)

    From these quotes, it seems that the colloquial phrase ‘right recipients’ might have something to do with identifying the real, primary and urgent needs of the particular people served, both individually and when part of a group; as well as with matching needs with the other components of the model (e.g., assumptions, content, process).

    I can see perhaps a model being incoherent by being matched with the ‘wrong recipients,’ e.g., a service focused on providing medical care that was (mis)matched with children who needed good teaching. Even if all the other elements of the service were coherent (well trained and well intentioned doctors and nurses with the proper medical equipment and procedures, and so on), kids who needed school would not be the right recipients.

    I am also thinking how certain of the ratings in PASSING in part are relevant to this idea of ‘right recipients.’ More on this later.

    I look forward though to hearing more about your question and then continuing the conversation. Thanks!

  6. Written by Jane Sherwin
    on February 20, 2012 at 4:56 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Hmmm, i totally understand about the centrality of identifying the needs of people. I do think though that it’s confusing to refer to recipients as ‘right’, as that implies that the opposite is true also: that recipients could be ‘wrong’ … however recipients can’t be wrong in a model analysis (either construction or deconstruction) because they are the starting point for a model and so if anything is wrong, it would be the other elements of a model. Therefore in the medical care example, the other elements might have coherence between each other, but if they are not coherent with the identity and needs of the people then the issue is not that the recipients are ‘wrong’ but that the fit between the other elements and the people is wrong.

    No wonder Wolf was rarely colloquial – causes confusion!!

    Bye for now 🙂

  7. Written by MTumeinski
    on February 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Thank you Jane for the thoughtful reply. I am still not sure I entirely understand your concerns so let me just share a few preliminary thoughts, in hopes that our continuing back-and-forth will help me better understand.

    One point that underscores this online discussion for me is how important it is to keep in mind the broad ‘big picture’ and the particular ‘little picture’ when trying to teach and apply a complex theory in practice. A good reminder of how complicated this can get; we need to hold onto the big picture even while we focus on the necessary details. What is the goal and methods of SRV? What is the goal and methods of model coherency as part of SRV? And so on.

    We’ve both been fairly clear about the centrality to Wolfensberger’s model coherency of identifying with the service recipients–who they are and what they need (to use another colloquial phrasing)–and that this is foundational to SRV and PASSING. It is no accident that this is the place we start teaching both SRV and PASSING of course. As a coherent theory, I think it is right to emphasize this point, even with a colloquial phrase. If the thinking behind ‘right recipients’ were left out, I think the theory would be weakened, and would be less useful vis-a-vis actual implementation. Model coherency does need to take into account the identities and needs of service recipients, and this is part of what the colloquial phrase is trying to capture.

    While this is the place SRV proposes we start, it is certainly not always the place that all services, formal or informal, start. I have certainly seen services already in place with a more or less fairly relevant and coherent model that at a certain point, often for non-programmatic reasons, started serving a new group of recipients, fitting them into their existing model, and that this was a bad match. I’m sure you’ve seen that as well. In such a case, it could be legitimate to point out to the service that these are not the right recipients for their existing model of service. The least worst option might be for such a service to stop serving that group of recipients (because they are not the ‘right recipients’ for their existing model) rather than to change their model, thus potentially creating other problems. I am thinking back to the generic medical care example I used in a previous reply; rather than add a new educational program to serve children, it may be least worst to acknowledge that healthy children who need a good education are not the right recipients for their current service.

    Such analysis may be part of what you described as ‘deconstruction.’ In most cases, it would not be prudent or effective of course to make the point in such colloquial language as part of giving written or oral feedback to a program, at least not without some context. (A quick side point: this is one of the skills I think which is developed by learning to write PASSING reports: how to explain SRV to a naive reader that perhaps has not even heard of SRV or PASSING.) The ability to identify such a class of problems seems to be part of the strength and beauty of model coherency as Wolfensberger formulated it. I am not sure if I am making this point clearly, so please ask and comment.

    This may raise a separate and longer discussion, but another deeper point which this key aspect of model coherency indirectly challenges is the often unstated assumption we run across in human services today that any server can serve any recipient. This is untrue, yet much harm can and has been done to societally devalued people when such an assumption is dominant.

    Our online discussion so far also points out that Wolfensberger’s model coherency can be used for analysis, evaluation, teaching, application, service design, etc., etc.

    A last (for now) related point: the colloquial use of the adjective ‘right’ does not imply any metaphysical reality or values judgment about service recipients (i.e., that as persons, they can somehow be right or, by implication, not right). Within the context of model coherency and the larger context of SRV, the colloquial ‘right’ is meant to be descriptive I think of different components of a model (right servers, right materials, settings, etc.).

  8. Written by Jane Sherwin
    on February 20, 2012 at 8:50 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Am enjoying the ‘digging in’ to this important construct. Can’t wait for the book on model coherence to be published.

    What you describe above Marc sits very well. When I was half way through reading it, it occurred to me that maybe the issue is the definition and interpretation of the word ‘right’ … and low and behold that is what you finished your post with. 🙂

    ‘Right’ does mean morally good, and it also means correct or appropriate. I think the definitions are problematic for use about service recipients in a MC framework. I’ll explain using your example. From your text above, you suggested ‘to point out to the service that these are not the right recipients for their existing model of service.’ I think it’s more accurate to say that the service has not provided the right content or processes for the would-be service recipients. In other words the onus is on the service to provide the ‘right’ elements.

    I can see your point though Marc, and am happy to reflect more over time. 🙂

  9. Written by Darrell Wills
    on February 21, 2012 at 6:30 am
    Reply · Permalink

    In replaying the 89 audio tapes from Melbourne, you might hear WW suggest that it is the “right people” doing the “right things” in the “right ways”, with the “right people” etc.. (thus BOTH identities and skills math among and with the identities and needs of the people one seeks to serve.)

    You may also hear him speculate that it may be that a coherent service could indeed exist but be serving the wrong people.

    You will also hear him say that a service could be highly coherent but evil. (..and thus my point about moral as well as model coherency analysis and construction.)

  10. Written by Jane Sherwin
    on February 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    So if we take the phrase Darrell, ‘a coherent service could indeed exist but be serving the wrong people’ then does it mean that it might be possible to have a coherent service but an incoherent model??

    and I am so impressed that you have (re) listened to the 89 tapes.

    • Written by Darrell Wills
      on February 22, 2012 at 9:49 pm
      Reply · Permalink

      Oh, of course, one can have very incoherent models! (Just look around!!)
      I think Wolf was talking here about “bad grouping” – suggesting that it was conceivable to have a coherent model (with technical potency potentiation) but be serving entirely or partially) groupings of people based not on their “fit” or need for this model – but by “something else”. This is the classic error of grouping by labels.
      In education, for instance, we group students based on labels of disability and sometimes hyper-specializations, thereof. We may create a powerful model of teaching reading but then apply it only to children with “autism” label – some such children need what this model offers, some do not, some others without the label need it and so the model itself is ” potentially, technically coherent”, but the groupings we cobble together for mostly non-programmatic reasons, are not. Grouping science is the most powerful human service science and the one most poorly understood in human services – (again paraphrasing WW.)

      Equally, we can have a very technically weak model (e.g. say, for instance, to teach reading, it is pretty ineffective) but have a technically “right grouping – e.g. a common school classroom where 20% or more will fail to learn to read because the model is weak.

      (I may have erred if I said “coherent service” instead of coherent model). To be “of service” to another human being, one would have to have all of these pieces (and more) in harmony, and we mostly don’t, most of the time.

      (The 89 “tapes” – thanks to Rob Nicholls incredible job and foresight in making these – are on my ipod and so I listen to them regularly while driving to both review and smile reminiscently at the sound of Wolf’s voice.)

  11. Written by Erika Killian
    on April 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I am currently taking a college special education class and we discussed Wolf Wolfensberg and talked about model coherency. The definition of model coherency is the people being served: 1. the right kind of people to receive that service and support. 2. Getting what they need. 3. Group with other people in the right way. 4. Being served and supported by the right people. 5. All being done in the right setting and using the right methods. We discussed how he Model Coherency is set up in a specific chart which is developed around three parts. Who? How? (Process) What? (Content). Who are the people with the disabilities. How is setting and methods to achieve the best service possible. What is the content of the process and the outcome of the service. Model Coherency involves the description and analysis of assumptions of society in order to provide evaluation and service development (Cocks, 2001, p. 14).

  12. […] Model coherency is one of the most elegant and powerful of the themes, with immediate applicability to any informal or formal service effort, big or small. While complex to implement, and containing multiple and complicated implications, the essence of this concept as it was developed by Wolfensberger can be grasped fairly readily: “Thus, a very colloquial way of putting it is to say that: the right servers should be using the right materials, methods, and language, in the right settings, in order to do the right thing for the right recipients, who are grouped in the right way” (Wolfensberger, 1998, 116). “The ideal service model–i.e., the one with the greatest model coherency–would be derived from the real, primary, and urgent needs of the people to be served, and all of its process components would match harmoniously with each other and the content so as to facilitate effective address of those needs”(Wolfensberger, 1998, 116).  […]

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