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Learning from our Experience 1: Power, Process, People

Personal Reflections on the CLARiTY Project

A photograph of Sophie O'ConnellIn this blog, extracted from the CLARiTY Project Report, Sophie O’Connell, Partner and Head of Court of Protection at Wolferstans Solicitors, reflects on her personal experience of the CLARiTY Project.

Through the CLARiTY project, I have learnt that in order to communicate effectively, before I write or say anything, I need to consider the power dynamics. Participating in the sessions helped me realise that I must recognise that I have power and privilege and with this comes responsibility. Firstly, I have to redress the balance in order for the participants /clients to interact, ask questions, say when they don’t understand and not create a barrier to their understanding.

When we were preparing for our sessions, Philipa advised me to use anecdotes about my own life and my own worries so participants could connect to me as another human being.  Previously, I would rarely refer to anything about my personal life when with clients or speaking in public.  However, I now realise this is not about oversharing, but using something relatable in your life to show that you a person too.  Our first sessions was about visiting rights in hospitals, care homes and ATUs.  I didn’t have any close family or friends in hospital etc at the time, but I told the group that my fear was that one of my children would end up in hospital and I would not be able to visit because they are in their teens.

Since the project, I have realised that simply producing plain English or easyread information does not make it accessible!  It is a process and people need to know that it is there, how it can be useful and be able to ask questions. On some of the topics we covered in the sessions there was easy read information available, but most people did not seem to be aware of it and it was often of varying quality.

Our virtual sessions which were informal and limited in numbers allowed us to explain the context of the legal information rather than providing written information in a vacuum.   Importantly, the discussion and mainly the input from the participants illustrated how people can exercise their legal rights.  The written information came after the sessions as a reminder and reference point. The post session information is written in plain English with some easy read but is not a substitute for co-produced accessible information on legal topics disseminated as part of an ongoing process.

Finally, the most important part of the Clarity Project were the people who attended our online sessions. It was a good test of my understanding trying to convey complicated legal information in an accessible way and ensuring that I was not leaving any vital information out. This is a skill I am still learning and which is not taught widely enough (if at all). I was nervous about getting this right, not losing my audience and giving them the important points.  The participants were very active and there was huge amount of peer support in the discussions and after the chat. The level of peer support suggests that by working with small groups, information can be cascaded to a wider audience. Using the digital tools we have all learned through the COVID-19 pandemic through virtual meetings can help enable a wide geographical coverage.

Sophie O’Connell, November 2021.

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