Person-Centered Planning Made Easy, by S. Holburn, A. Gordon, and P. M. Vietze. Baltimore, MD: Brookes, 2007.
Person-centered planning can be an extraordinarily powerful process for effecting important differences in people's lives, organizational cultures, and society at large. At the same time, similar to many phenomena that are subject to implementation by the human services industry, person-centered planning has, since its inception, been subject to challenges, controversies, conflicting points of view, and deeply held opinions.
Much like this phenomenon itself, then, reviewing a book about person-centered planning can create mixed feelings. The authors of this manual are very committed to improving lives for people, are quite knowledgeable about person-centered planning, and know the difficult and challenging work it entails. Their efforts throughout several years to base person-centered planning within a thoughtful research foundation have been admirable. Given the deep commitment and extensive experience of the authors, then, the manner in which some of the material regarding person-centered planning is presented in this manual could be unsettling to some audiences. However, perhaps that is not unlike person-centered planning itself, which sometimes seems as if it has been surrounded by unsettling points of view since it started.
First, almost any effort in person-centered planning usually results in at least some positive benefit, no matter how small, for the individual who is the subject of the planning. If people follow almost any manual about person-centered planning, including this one, and do the work on implementing the ideas, one would expect at least some beneficial outcomes for the individuals involved.
Second, this particular manual uniquely attempts to bridge the gap between different human services audiences. It can be very useful at helping behavior analysts understand and apply person-centered planning within the context of applied behavior analysis. In addition, those who are serious about managing the implementation of person-centered planning within their agency using systematic evaluative methods, or those who wish to study or evaluate such implementation within an agency using a research-based approach, will find the methods and checklists provided useful.
On the other hand, audiences who have a great deal of experience with person-centered-planning approaches from other directions may find some of the text startling. Some might strongly disagree with the comparisons of person-centered planning with reinforcement in behavior analysis (p. 10) and a few other points.
In terms of some of the elements of this manual that may be unsettling, the title of the manual itself could be misleading, in two ways. What does person-centered planning “made easy” mean? Perhaps the authors mean that conducting a planning meeting using person-centered-planning methods may be considered easy, but certainly they know that having a plan become real and having an individual end up with person-centered supports can be quite daunting. As Mount (1994), one of the original authors of person-centered-planning methods, noted, “Any person-centered plan which is true to the person challenges the existing organizational structure in some way” (p. 100). The catchy title of this manual might be seductive to some potential users (“Hey, an ‘easy’ way— finally!”) but is inherently misleading regarding the true complexity of the process.
One of the disconcerting things about the “made easy” wording in the title is that at least two of the three authors know very well that person-centered planning is not that easy. Holburn and Vietze (2002) have written an authentic and detailed description about the 5 years it took to have only one individual live a more meaningful life, and there was still far more to go for that person. Making a plan is easy, whereas assisting someone to have truly person-centered supports is a challenge. As Smull, another important author of person-centered planning processes, has noted, “Good plans do not equal good lives.”
The second part of the book's title, The PICTURE Method, may also be misleading. One could expect a new method, using pictures, such as getting photos together to tell the story of a person's life. Instead, the format for gathering the information about a person is called a “life picture” (pp. 26, 32, 35). What PICTURE stands for is Planning for Inclusive Communities Together Using Reinforcement and Evaluation.
Another confusing element is that much of the format for this life picture (pp. 26, 32, 35) is nearly identical to the Personal Profile of Personal Futures Planning (Mount, 1987, 1991), without that being acknowledged. Mount, O'Brien, and O'Brien are acknowledged in the introduction for “influencing the thinking” (p. xv) of the authors, but that the life picture formats and many of the steps in this manual for planning a better future are virtually the same as many of the formats in Personal Futures Planning goes far beyond influenced thinking.
In terms of differences with Personal Futures Planning, the format presented here (p. 32) does not include the “dream” part of Personal Futures Planning. Instead, the main step in planning for a better future is described as, “Determine which future images or ideas from the life picture should become goals” (p. 32). It is not completely clear that the questions asked on pages 28–32 in the different areas of the life picture would directly lead to desirable goals; one can only conclude that the quality of the goals developed would depend on facilitator skill.
Another weakness in the planning material includes a common collapse of community relationships with community activities. Although the importance of relationships with community members is acknowledged on page 13 and a few other places, the planning format questions on page 28 about “relationships” ask only about existing relationships, which may likely consist only of family, staff, and other people with disabilities. A few areas that supposedly address relationships with community members are only about community activities or contact, not really relationships (e.g., pp. 10, 13). There is a disconnect between the “Inclusive Communities” wording in the title of the PICTURE method, with a planning format that may result in people living essentially segregated lives, ending up with the preexisting, same network of staff and other people with disabilities, while participating in a few community activities.
One of the biggest challenges about person-centered planning is that if the process is implemented and fulfilled as intended and designed, if it is true to the person, it would, in many, if not most, cases, end up in individualized support situations. Although there is one paragraph in this manual that acknowledges the need to expand organizational capacity to support individualized services (p. 17), the questions in the planning format section on pages 28–32 do not naturally lead to individualized supports. On the contrary, one could use all of this manual's formats and checklists religiously and have the end result be people having some aspects of their day-to-day lives be better inside existing services, which are often congregated, segregated, and agency-centered rather than person-centered. To be true to person-centered planning and the significant organizational changes that are almost always involved, using the second half of the book would not necessarily be simple or “easy” (per the title): Users would have to understand a great deal about systems change and be willing to face difficult and complex change processes.
In terms of who would find this manual most useful, there are several elements in the manual that some human services agencies would find useful to improve the day-to-day lives of the individuals they support. For those with little prior knowledge of the concepts of person-centered planning, there is good introductory material. For those wishing to evaluate or do research about organizational change processes and internal agency processes, there are many useful checklists and descriptions. Although using all of the checklists might be overwhelming, certainly there is a rich choice of options presented for any one agency to be selective about how to internally evaluate their processes. The “Trouble-shooter's Guide” section also has many very helpful suggestions.
For agencies who want to improve the day-to-day lives of the individuals they support, there are many opportunities presented in the PICTURE planning formats to assist in the process of discovering and honoring people's preferences and to support them in having opportunities to expand everyday choices such as what they wear and eat and in which activities they participate. Agencies could use this material to at least engage in “first-order” change, to improve supports and assist people to have a better life within the current agency structure. Additional effort, beyond the scope of this manual, would be expected to probe deeper understandings of people or to address more complex issues, such as the fact that limited life experiences often affect an individual's expressed preferences.
For agencies serious about “second-order” change who may be undertaking substantial reorganization to meaningfully alter the options available to people, some of the material in this manual may be helpful as a supplement to their existing efforts. Some sections could be used to help get people started or to enlist the support of individuals, staff, or parents who may be more reluctant.
I do have a couple of minor quibbles. First, the checklists would be easier to use if they had page numbers, and if these page numbers were indicated on the descriptions of all these checklists on pages 38–46. Second, the “Reading List” is limited. Seven of the 17 references have Holburn as the first author, only one has Mount as the first author, there are no materials by Smull (a major force in person-centered planning) or references to other person-centered-planning methods such as PATH (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope), and such important classic resources as A Little Book About Person-Centered Planning (O'Brien & O'Brien, 1998) are missing.
There are many rich resources available about person-centered planning. This manual will be useful for those who want a simply explained and laid-out planning format. This manual adds to the existing resources available with systematic processes and systems to evaluate and document an agency's ongoing internal change efforts to deliver more person-centered supports.