Saturday, 11 October 2014

Stop calling me a "squealing pig" - community rallies against paid parking

There's a good thing that happens when governments and councils do things the communities they represent don't like - the community bonds and you meet your neighbours.

We don't need #nopaidparking.
© 2014 divacultura
This morning Melbourne's inner west villages of Yarraville and Seddon rallied and marched against plans by the Maribyrnong Council to introduce paid parking. On my way to the village, I joined with Caroline and her dog Kaiser and we chatted and walked together to the rally point. At the rally I spied Erin from my dance class and we walked together with Dave and Holden the dog (he has the world's softest ears). We talked about our community - the place where we live - and discovered we share many views.

Melbourne presented us with perfect rally weather - around 20 degrees Celsius, slightly cloudy with a light breeze - and I was told by one of the local councillors that 400 people had been counted in the march from Yarraville to Seddon.

The council claims that paid parking will increase turn over and therefore provide more parking. There are currently time restrictions on parking but I don't see them being well enforced.  I've seen no evidence that supports the idea that paid parking will improve turn over. It may free up parking as people choose to go down the road and shop at the Coles supermarket or Highpoint Shopping Centre where parking is free and plentiful.

Unhappy rate payers.
© 2014 divacultura
I've lived in Yarraville since 2007 and love the village feel. I often tell people that it's like living in a country town with all the convenience of being in a big city.  I generally walk to the village, but on occasion I'm in my car - usually when I'm on my way to or from somewhere else. I drove over on Thursday because I had a wine delivery to collect from the post office. I parked for 5 minutes and was gone. It would take me twice as long to find coins and walk to the machine, pay and put the ticket back in my car if I had to pay.

Retailers are naturally concerned that forcing people to pay to park will drive their customers away. A community-led study has been conducted and shows they have reason to be concerned.

It was great to see two of the local Councillors representing the Yarraville ward at the rally. Martin Zakharov and Michael Clarke were vocal in their concern, while clarifying that the law prevents them from stating which way they will vote when the proposal is brought to Council. Armed with the mobile numbers of all Councillors I contacted each of them by text message. Councillors Zakharov and Clarke received a thank you to acknowledge their presence. Each of the others received this message (including my full name):

"I'm disappointed that you're not here to talk to Yarraville and Seddon community about why you think paid parking in our villages is a good idea. Where are you?"

So far, one councillor, Sarah Carter has responded. She had just landed from an overseas flight. I will follow up with an email.

Hear! Hear!
© 2014 divacultura
There's one aspect of the community organising that I don't understand. Councillor Catherine Cummings has been quoted and reported to have commented about local residents "squealing like pigs". The parking study revealed a highly educated population, so why we would be asked to buy into this and squeal like pigs at the rally is beyond me. I'm not a squealing pig; I'm a concerned resident who is engaged with my community and has heard no good reasons for the introduction of paid parking. I'm worried about the damage this will do. This does not make me, or any of us, squealing pigs.

Walking back home after the march, I discovered a new shop and ran into Councillor Zakharov (you can see him on saxophone in the first photo above). We walked together for a while and talked about the events of the morning. It was great to have the opportunity to acknowledge him in person.

Council meets this Tuesday. We need to continue to be visible and vocal.


I received a response to my text message from Councillor Cummings after publication of this post. She tells me that she decided not speak so Councillors from the Yarraville ward could speak. She writes that she was there to listen and help her decision making process.

Don't know how she could vote "yes" then!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

How to avoid feedback disasters - what's your purpose?

Giving, receiving, thinking about and teaching feedback occupies a large proportion of my time, both at work and in my private life. I notice how people avoid it, crave it, botch it and do well and wonder at the variability of attitudes and capacity. Part of  my vision for an improved world is doing it better and appreciating the value of feedback.

So I was pleased to recently work with a medical college in trial exams for candidates to practise and receive feedback about all aspects of their performance: medical knowledge, exam technique, communication with me, the simulated patient, and their overall competence.

My case was intense, requiring me to cry and be angry about the situation. As an acting job, it was excellent. I had a really lovely doctor to work with as he conducted the trial exam station.

Candidate after candidate struggled with both the medical knowledge and their capacity to communicate. They often freak out when confronted with a simulated patient who is crying and angry just like a real patient would be in the same situation. Usually they recover. I quickly discovered that the doctor with me had a very different view of good communication. I also learned that many candidates were having significant problems with the medical aspects of the case.

After all candidates had had their trial, we saw them again for two minutes of feedback. After hearing from the doctor how terrible everyone was, I was surprised to hear him start by telling people "you did well". He'd then list - in exhaustive detail - all the areas of failure. He sent them off by saying they "weren't too bad" or "but you did ok".

I was confused. The candidates looked confused. They really wanted to know about their performance. They were participating in this trial exam so that they knew where they had performed well and what they needed to improve. Instead they received a confusing message that left them with no information about what they should do next time. The next time would be when they sit the actual exam.

I took the opportunity to observe and think about what was going wrong and how I would coach the doctor on providing useful, effective feedback.

The first question I would ask would be "what's the purpose of the feedback you're about to deliver?" Then to further clarify, "what do you want to happen as a result of this person receiving your feedback?"

Answering these questions before any feedback conversation will help remove our sometimes overwhelming desire to be liked from the feedback conversation. Interestingly, if your purpose is clear and about helping the other person, they probably will like you because you've taken the time to give them effective feedback that will help them do better in their world.

Listening to the doctor deliver his confusing messages, I tried to discern his purpose; it seemed it was about fulfilling part of the process of the trial exam. Where's the value in that? Feedback is part of the process and there's no doubt there was an obligation on him to provide it, but if the purpose of feedback is merely procedural then no one will benefit. It will be hard to deliver and unhelpful to receive. At its worst, it may also have a negative impact on the relationship between people.

Consistently I find that a lack of clarity around purpose is where people stumble. And it's not just in feedback conversations. Any conversation can benefit from clarity of purpose. Where the conversation is a strategic one (rather than a casual one), it needs to be planned. If you do nothing else, be clear about the answers to these key questions:

1.  what's the purpose of the feedback you're about to deliver?

2. what do you want to happen as a result of this person receiving your feedback?

It can change your life!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Mental Health Awareness - it's up to all of us

It's World Mental Health Week and it's great to see and hear so much happening to educate us about mental health.

This week I'm at the College of Mental Health Nurses Conference in Melbourne talking to people about the mental health clinical education toolkit that I've produced for St John of God Health Care. It's giving me the opportunity to meet nurses who are working in all kinds of places but all share one thing - a commitment to quality care for people who have mental health problems. I've met nurses working in hospitals; nurses working in Medicare Locals; community nurses working in cities and regional areas; nurses working in prisons, other forensic settings and assessing asylum seekers . There are also educators from hospitals, other health care providers and universities.

ABC has programmed lots of interesting things under the banner of "Mental As". What a fantastic contribution to the education of our community. I think some of what I've seen can really make a difference to creating supporting understanding and empathy in the community. Monday night's Q & A on television had a panel of people talking frankly about mental health in rural and regional areas. The panel included a psychiatrist, a comedian, a lived experience practitioner (something I've just learned about), a politician and a CEO from a community organisation and the quality of the questions and conversation showed just how much we're thinking about mental health and experiencing in our daily lives. (You can catch up on the show, read a transcript, see the questions posed and learn about the panellists on the website.) It was stimulating television: I was challenged. I was moved. I was educated. I was frustrated. I was angry. I was relieved.

Last night - again on the ABC - the first episode of Changing Minds aired. It takes us inside the psychiatric unit at Sydney's Liverpool Hospital. I regularly visit private mental health hospitals, but am not exposed to the clinical interactions. I see patients walking around and always greet and acknowledge them. I know that my experience is more than most lay people would have, but going inside a public ward where people are sometimes there under the Mental Health Act was a new experience.

The focus last night was on three people who have bipolar disorder and were in various stages of treatment for manic episodes. We saw Patrick towards the end of his stay and then back at home. We met Glen who is up and down. We met Sandra who is at the beginning of her admission showing nasty irritability and disordered thinking. I struggled with my own reactions to these people and admired the good humour and empathy displayed by the staff. Sandra was very suspicious about the medication a nurse was dispensing, initially denying they were correct. She insisted the nurse go through each tablet, explain what it was and then put it in a particular place. I was rolling my eyes from a distance and was so impressed to watch the nurse who patiently and respectfully responded to Sandra's needs.

What I've noticed is that all this conversation really does work against stigma. I believe this is the first step necessary for healing and understanding in our world.

Last night's program has also helped discovery within my own family. One of my family members has bipolar disorder and each of us has our own experience and attitudes as a result of living with this person. I've been open about this in my close circle, but have not talked in the wider world. The raising of mental health awareness has helped me understand that there's value in sharing my experience and insight with others. I have several close friends who also suffer with depression and anxiety. I know from talking to them that understanding isn't always there.

What's your experience of mental health? How are you engaging in the conversation? What can you learn to help understanding of people who have mental health problems?

If you're at the conference why not drop by the Australia Catholic University stand and say hello?