One of our key values is co-production; people with and without learning difficulties working equally alongside one another through every stage of a process. Considering what is ethical - what is right and wrong - is not a straightforward task. Regardless of whether you have a learning difficulty or not, deciding on the right thing to do involves understanding issues that are often not widely publicised, taking into consideration different cultures, beliefs and social or environmental situations. Often, coming to a decision also involves a compromise of one or more values to achieve the best outcome for most (or a prioritised group). To ensure that all people across our organisation fully understood what was included in our original policy, and what they might want to change or add, we held a number of workshops to support people to understand what thinking ethically means, and why it is important.
We met with over 50 people across three locations. During the workshops we explored the range of ethical considerations involved in buying bananas as an example of where there could be many alternatives to a "right" or "good" decision. We thought about which ethical issues were most important to us, and looked through the original Ethical and Environmental Policy to make suggestions for changes and additions.
People with a learning difficulty have historically been ignored when it comes to ethical debates and considerations. They haven't been considered interested in or able to hold views and opinions on what is right or wrong. This is likely due to a number of factors including segregation from mainstream society, patronising attitudes and lack of support and opportunity for people to think about the wider world and how they interact with it. However, through years of working with people and enabling them to speak up not only about their own rights, but also about other issues that they care about, we know that many people with a learning difficulty care deeply about justice, equality and compassion. Our ethical policy review sessions reinforced this knowledge and people with and without learning difficulties and/or autism passionately contributed suggestions for improving and adapting the Policy to make it more accessible and reflective of where the organisation is today.
The consultation feedback suggestions led to a decision to overhaul and rewrite the entire Policy. We decided to split the Ethical and Environmental Policy into two, one focusing on Ethics and one on Environmental Sustainability. People wanted a simplified version, with less detail but clear points set out to guide and inform. Some people found some of the issues we discussed too upsetting to read about - including animal and human rights - and requested a supporting document be created to include the reasoning behind our values and ethical decisions. This way people could choose to find out more if they wanted but the often harsh and unsettling facts were not laid out in front of them in the Policy/guide. We decided we also needed to add more information about the way in which we work and communicate with people within Skillnet and externally.
Needless to say, it took a lot of discussion, debate and soul searching to pull together everyone's ideas. Developing the Policy increased our awareness of the additional power held by the Policy writer - no matter how many voices contributed to the content, it was going to be shaped by a core group of people with more power than others. Separating personal values from those of the organisation, yet ensuring that the Policy was progressive and influential was a challenge but with continued thought and discussion, the path the Policy needed to take became clearer. After two years of work, the revised Policy is complete and was received with a round of applause in our Canterbury Music and Arts Group this week!
As language and attitudes change, so too will our need to adapt the Policy and re-engage those we work alongside. For now, we hope you find the Policy thought provoking and an insight into the importance we place on our values and vision for a more equal and compassionate future.