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Think you know supervision? It’s about to become a different animal…

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As my guest blog this week, I am pleased to introduce an article focusing on the co-founders of a cooperative which is changing the relationship between people who receive support and those who provide it.

The nature of the supervisory relationship is developing in the context of co-production and personalisation and this thought provoking piece provides an interesting perspective. My thanks to Dr Maryam Zonouzi and Dan Vale for their fascinating contribution to this article.

In a small corner of south east London a silent social care revolution is underway. Ten social care service users, their personal assistants and academics have joined forces as a co-operative, taking on the many health and social care challenges they face each day. They are Ginger Giraffe.

When Lyn met two of the co-founders, Dr Maryam Zonouzi and Dan Vale, she was curious to know the origin of the name:


“They explained that the giraffe is the land mammal with the biggest heart,” recalls Lyn, smiling at the memory, “and if you want to make a difference you need to stick your neck out.


"Social workers relate to these values of compassion, empathy and the confidence to challenge accepted ways of thinking. These same values are clearly driving the cooperative’s innovative approach.  They didn’t say where the first part of the name came from, but everyone knows ginger biscuits go very nicely with a cup of tea!”


Dr Maryam Zonouzi: 'If we are watching over people, we are unwittingly instilling hierarchies giving rise to oppressive practice'

Lyn first met Maryam at the launch of a book on inter-professional supervision to which the good doctor had contributed a chapter charting Ginger Giraffe’s redefinition of supervision, from literally “watching over” to a new term: “intervision” or “watching between.”


Maryam explains the journey to this reframing: “In social work we often talk up anti-oppressive practice, although in my experience, even though we call it practice it's closer to a theory or value.


"I'm interested in how we make these theories and values tangible. We began with supervision because it's something the whole group engages in.


“Whether we're social work managers, or service users with personal assistants, at times we've all felt unsupported and untrained in the act of supervision. We've acutely felt the lack of collaboration and equality, regardless of whether we were supervising or being supervised. You could say we felt oppressed by it.”


Maryam couldn’t shake the feeling that this might mean they were all repeating oppressive practice subconsciously: “If we are watching over people, we are unwittingly instilling hierarchies giving rise to oppressive practice. The idea of supervision comes from the language of business management and we've adopted it almost without realising.”


Ginger Giraffe members set themselves the challenge of breaking the mould. Eventually, after a few iterations, ‘intervision’ was born. All the negative effects of supervision were banished to the past.


Those who were being supervised are now equal members of the intervision group, whether professionals, users or both. The cooperative’s unique approach to challenging the status quo involves inviting social work and allied healthcare students onto placements with them.


Dan Vale: 'Our vision is to create a collaborative of professionals allied to the community, unleashing our innovative approach into everyday practice.'

Eventually, when the students qualify, they can become members of the co-operative - as Dan Vale, Executive Director for Ginger Giraffe, explains: “Our vision is to create a collaborative of professionals allied to the community, unleashing our innovative approach into everyday practice.”


They have set their sights on shaking up the residential housing sector next.


“We are all hurtling towards old age and the economic model of residential homes is defunct in this corner of the world,” attests Maryam. “Many care homes have gone to the wall. It is a crisis – and that’s before you even think about quality of care and the age time bomb. We believe that a co-operative structure, coupled with our approach, can transform the sector.”


From summer 2017, Ginger Giraffe will be taking over a building at London South Bank University and running a summer camp to test ideas with students on placement who live on site with service users.


John Macdonough head of the Social Work for MA programme said: “Their unique blend of social co-operative innovation offers our students insights and experiential knowledge that creates meaningful impactful change they can carry with them into practice.”


This is why Professor Warren Turner, Dean of Health and Social Care, has appointed the cooperative as the first ‘company in residence’ at London South Bank University.


“Being a company in residence is an honour and privilege”, says Dan. “We are now embedded in the university. From here we can springboard the Ginger Giraffe approach into other teaching universities and share our approach with new collaborators and friends we meet along the way.”


Lyn remains enthused by their achievements and the scope of their ambition: “I am looking forward to attending the summer camp and contributing to this quiet but audacious big-hearted bunch who love to stick their necks out. I’ll bring the ginger biscuits!”

  • Dr Maryam Zonouzi has over fifteen years’ experience in leadership roles within the disability movement, has established several social enterprises and has a PhD in Social Research methodologies.
  • Dan Vale has over twenty-five years’ experience of senior leadership roles in health and social care policy, advocacy and research and has written widely on social exclusion.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Emma posted on

    Fascinating read! Inspired me to read more and to really thing carefully about how I frame 'supervision' / intervision
    Thanks 🙂


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