Working in the Gap: What does it mean to you?

Deb Wisniewski
Deb Wisniewski
@deb-wisniewski
6 years ago
135 posts

We are starting a new series of discussions about "Working in the Gap". Gappers are people who are located in and supported by an institution (e.g. school, medical center, police department, etc.) but concentrate on strategies which engage residents as critical planners and leaders of the community building activities.Often they work to strengthen communities by connecting them to institutions in ways that are actually desired by and helpful to the communities. A number of ABCD practitioners and leaders have been exploring the identities and characteristics of Gappers.

Are you a Gapper? What do you think about this concept? How does it describe what you (and/or your institution) are trying to do?


updated by @deb-wisniewski: 05/25/17 01:06:28PM
John Hamerlinck
John Hamerlinck
@john-hamerlinck
6 years ago
42 posts

I think the most effective "gappers" are usually not identified as such by an institution. The best ones I know are de facto gappers. They know lots of people. They have high degrees of emotional intelligence (but would never call it that themselves). They are opinion leaders - folks whose ability to listen and empathize has created trust across different groups or types of individuals.

Deb Wisniewski
Deb Wisniewski
@deb-wisniewski
6 years ago
135 posts

Interesting thoughts, John... so I was thinking of gappers who are employed by the institution but bridge community and institution. Are you also including people who are from the community, and bridge community and institution? or you thinking of institutional staff who are doing gap work under the radar of the institution (their employer)?

John Hamerlinck
John Hamerlinck
@john-hamerlinck
6 years ago
42 posts

The fact that the gappers you describe are being employed by the institution is a little concerning - even if they are paying someone "from the community" to fill that role. Employees will usually do what is best for their institution, and not necessarily what is best for the community. That's how many institutions stay in business. The gapper may be sort of a powerless ombudsman. Give the gapper some autonomy and protection for speaking truth to power, and you have something real.

Toni Brinegar
Toni Brinegar
@toni-brinegar
6 years ago
2 posts

I think that most DD Council staff members are 'gappers' because our federal law requires us to bring people with disabilities and families with children with disabilities to the table to talk with institutions in order to effect change that will directly relate to services. We work hard to educate our Council members about the integral part they play in their home communities. Here in Idaho, we are working with the Councils in the surrounding states to see how/whether we can develop our 5-year plan(s) using asset-based strategies instead of needs-based strategies. This will be tricky because our federal funders don't recognize asset-based strategies as an effective measurement of the work that we should be doing, but we are collaborating to see how we can do it!

Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor
@richard-taylor
6 years ago
1 posts

What I find valuable about this conversation is the possible distinction between connectors and gappers. Both are well connected individuals with a heart for the role of the community in making decisions but they work from different places. Here in Rwanda we need both types of people to succeed as we attempt to integrate ABCD principles into the education system. Connectors are proving extremely successful at the school level but we need "gappers" who see the value and can advocate for us in their institutions. New term for us so obviously we still need to understand it better.

Deb Wisniewski
Deb Wisniewski
@deb-wisniewski
6 years ago
135 posts

So I'm hearing that a couple of things can make it complicated for institutions that want to change how they "do business". One is funding.... the institution may be excited to make this change, but they still need to comply with their funding requirements, which are most likely to be based on a "fix-them" approach. I know some folks who consider their institution as a "gapper" organization - one that is trying to straddle the space between their funders/requirements and people in the community. The organization I'm thinking of really struggles with this...

The other issue is the nature of the institution itself, both thehierarchal structure and the culture. Again, I'm thinking of a particular organization that struggles with both of these, in spite of the leadership of the organization that says that they want to change how they do business. There are so many people who join the workforce of institutions with the mindset of curing/fixing/taking-care-of and who have been trained to focus on the needs, rather than assets. But then again, I've also met people who work for institutions that actually seem to rejoice when they hear about ABCD.... It's like they've been dying to hear someone put their thoughts into words for them. Sometimes I think we've "ruined" those folks for institutional work LOL! They can't see their work the same after hearing about ABCD.

Deb Wisniewski
Deb Wisniewski
@deb-wisniewski
6 years ago
135 posts

Very interesting differentiation between gappers and connectors...

Deb Wisniewski
Deb Wisniewski
@deb-wisniewski
6 years ago
135 posts

Seems to me like the word "relationships" is connected here... How do people see themselves in relationship to each other (within the organization, as well as between the organization and the community)?

Bruce Anderson
Bruce Anderson
@bruce-anderson
6 years ago
2 posts

Great conversation. I think of gappers as translators and joiners working the messy middle ground between institutions and communities, and Ive seen them become unnecessary once the involved community and institutions find new ways to talk and work with each other. Its like a parachute jumper working a forest fire. You drop in, do your work, and move on to the next fire line. If gappers have a permanent place in the change framework of a community, doesnt that mean the transformative goals of a gapper have not been met? Thats an interesting idea to me, since institutions tend to want to promote permanent "positions" as a way to promote stability and a safe future for the institution. When is a gappers work done?

Deb Wisniewski
Deb Wisniewski
@deb-wisniewski
6 years ago
135 posts

Great question, Bruce!

Dee Brooks
Dee Brooks
@dee-brooks
6 years ago
94 posts

In Australia, we haveAbility Linkerswhose job description was written specifically by an ABCD colleague and the Department. The Linkers role is to support people with a disability, their carers and families to link more strongly into community (building the bridge from client to citizen).

We are in the process of training all the Linkers at the moment in both ABCD and Person Centered Practice across the State. The examples that are starting to come through are quite incredible and I hope to be able to share some of these soon.

The Department was responding to the fact that they will no longer exist within a few years due to the change to self-directed care in the country and what we are finding is that people who were Case Workers who came across to a Linker role are finding it the most hardest to adjust! People who do not know the sector at all, such as bankers, are the ones having the greatest successes as they have extensive networks in areas not usually associated with welfare support and they can work in areas that traditionally were 'out of bounds'!

It's been an exciting time and I must run out the door now to drive 4 hours to prepare to deliver to the next group of Linkers tomorrow morning!

A couple of Linkers are looking to attend the Festival in the UK with me next month, too!

Watch this Linker space!

Toni Brinegar
Toni Brinegar
@toni-brinegar
6 years ago
2 posts

I agree with Deb that learning about ABCD andalso working for a government body islike being in the Mob--you know too much and therefore you can't ever go back. The biggest barrier that I encounter is the idea thatABCD expertswant citizens to define what project or goal that they should work on within their community, however, the government then might set tightparameters effectively defining the project area which makes it the antithesis of organic. And often times after the citizens do a lot of great, really in-depth work, the governmental body steps in and says, "Great work! But, we want you to work on this project because we think that this is really what is right for your community," effectively destroying all of the work that the citizens have done and destroying trust. Educating funding entities about the flexibility of ABCD projects becoming what they are and not putting constraints around them is something that needs to happen, however, I'm not sure whether it's realistic to think that funders will allow projects to grow and develop on their own. But, I'm often times wrong and look forward to hearing what others think.

Deb Wisniewski
Deb Wisniewski
@deb-wisniewski
6 years ago
135 posts

Love your comment about being in the Mob! LOL...

Peter Bates
Peter Bates
@peter-bates
4 years ago
3 posts

Great discussion. I have one offering and one question, which I will do in separate submissions. Here's the question:

has anyone thought about how gapping works when the institutional partner is a for-profit?

I have been working on how to navigate in an 'ABCD style' when some folks are driven by the profit motive and some folks are suspicious of that. If true dialogue is happening, then the for-profit should be able to show how they have changed as a result of the encounter with community. I'd love to hear some stories of that actually happening! My evolving notes on this issue are available too, if anyone wants to see them.   

Peter Bates
Peter Bates
@peter-bates
4 years ago
3 posts

And here's my offering. First, simplify the multiple, networked relationships that make up real community to a dyad - one talking to one. Second, simplify the complex process of listening and speaking, explicit and implicit messages to the idea that each has a message to convey. This message might be 'everyone matters' or 'we can't survive without profit'. Now put the messages back into a bigger frame and call them 'culture'. 

This gives us perfect conditions for thinking about what happens when cultures collide and their messages are adopted or rejected, reframed or subverted. This is the world of inculturation. Read about an example where the culture of psychiatric services meets the culture of work - 'Community Bridge Building and Inculturation' at http://thenadd.org/nadd-bulletin/archive/volume-xi/  

Deb Wisniewski
Deb Wisniewski
@deb-wisniewski
4 years ago
135 posts

Thanks, Peter for your thoughts on this topic... I personally have worked with a for-profit organization that offers supports for people with disabilities, so this is an interesting question for me to consider. As I think about the 6 assets of ABCD (individual, associations, institutions, economic, physical, and culture/stories), one of those assets is local institutions which includes businesses. So yes, I think there is a possibility of "gapping" between community and local institutions. In my mind, a lot depends on the role of the business in that community and how they see themselves. Does the for-profit see itself as "leading by stepping back"?  How do the employees of that for-profit see themselves?

Recently I had the good fortune of talking with someone who works for a mining company as a community development specialist. He definitely saw his role as actually working for the people of the community, even as he was employed by the company. It was an interesting conversation. He shared how it can be very challenging.

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