Meet the Practitioners: Helen Garforth & Wendy Sugarman

Tell us a bit about you.

We are Helen Garforth and Wendy Sugarman, and we work together in a partnership between our two organisations, Just Ideas Sustainable Solutions based in Reading, and WSA Community Consultants based in London. Together we support patient voice in the UK and internationally. The WSA / Just Ideas partnership has worked on a range of projects to encourage and build participation of patients to inform health services, policies and strategies. We advocate for stronger involvement of people living with a range of conditions in the design of services and to build representation. Alongside that, we work directly with people with lived experience to support them in sharing their experience to drive change.

Which of the At My Best tools do you use?

We use the strengths cards and find them very versatile!

Why and how do you use At My Best tools?

Helen first used At My Best cards delivering leadership training with Caplor Horizons for a large NGO in Uganda. Realising their potential for enhancing training activities, and with a shared love of using images as a catalyst for sharing values and stories, We have incorporated them into many of our joint training and facilitation adventures. They have become part of our facilitation kit – always handy in case we need a stimulus for reflection, sharing, appreciation or building on strengths.

We often use them towards the end of a session – asking participants to identify strengths either in themselves that they will use to take action forward from the session, or giving cards to each other to show appreciation of the strengths they value in members of the group or team. It can be a very powerful way of closing a training session.

Another example often used towards the beginning or as a stand-alone activity with a community group, is using the cards to help the group to identify the strengths or values  they collectively think are most important as the group develops or moves forwards. We may use a diamond ranking template to encourage small groups to collectively prioritise strengths and then discuss. Of course there is no right answer, but the discussion about what is important to the group and how it manifests itself is invaluable in team building and values alignment.

We love facilitation that involves telling stories, and that’s the example I’ll give a bit of detail on below, when we used the cards in a three day training in Geneva with the NCD Alliance, training people living with non-communicable diseases (PLWNDCs) from 10 different countries as peer trainers to train other PLWNDCs to become advocates for change….

What impact have you had with the tools?

We were privileged in June this year to spend three days in Geneva, working with the Non Communicable Disease Alliance training people living with non-communicable diseases (PLWNDCs) as peer trainers to train other PLWNDCs as advocates for change in their communities, their regions and internationally. You may have seen the twitter traffic – they created quite a buzz and there was a call for translation into many languages! Check out the WSA and Just Ideas twitter feeds for the end of June for a sample of what we got up to! We spent three days with the cohort of peer trainees, and part of our offer was to leave them with a ‘trainer starter kit’ each, which included a set of At My Best strengths cards.

We used the cards a number of times, but the most powerful was a version of the strength stories activity which I’ll describe below. Encouraging people to tell their story in pairs, and have colleagues identify their strengths was very empowering. Some of the feedback about using the cards illustrates the impact:

“People find it difficult to tell someone their story. The cards help – it can really surprise you to see what the other person has chosen for you”

“I was sharing my story with someone else who has an invisible disease. I never thought I was brave. She gave me that card – Brave. This activity gives a true reflection of what you are when you think you are just dealing with it. I now feel brave.”

“It’s not only about which cards you give away and tell others, it’s about what you hear the other person say to you.”

And particularly important in a multilingual context, where the working language was English, but the majority of participants spoke English as a second language, this was important: “The cards are very helpful – a lot of words maybe you don’t have at the tip of your tongue”

What advice would you give to others who are thinking of using At My Best tools?

Keep a pack handy for when you need inspiration, images or a conversation starter up your sleeves… Great for starting and finishing sessions. And where you are doing an activity using images, and don’t have the luggage capacity for a large selection of post-cards, a pack of these works a treat in a small group.

Word of warning – don’t try and use them to block out the light from powerpoint projector temporarily… I nearly set fire to them…. (😊)

Do you have a favourite exercise you can share?

This activity has been adapted from one published by At My Best.

We call it 'Recalling past successes to recognise personal strengths.

1. Organise participants into pairs and ask everyone to choose a picture card that reminds them of a success or achievement from their own experience.

2. Ask one participant in each pair to share the story of this experience with their partner.  The partner should listen to the story and make a note of any strengths they think the speaker drew on at the time.  They may ask questions if they need, particularly about the role the speaker played in the achievement or success.

3. Ask both people in each pair to work on their own to select five strengths cards that reflect the qualities the speaker demonstrated.

4. Both partners then compare their choices and discuss them.

5. The speaker notes down the strengths they and their partner identified.

6. The pairs then swap roles and repeat the exercise.

7. As a group, encourage participants to think about how they might use their strengths more in the future.  They might also consider what other strengths they have.

Tip:  A good way to identify additional strengths is to ask questions.  You could ask people to reflect on questions like 'Do you have any strengths that did not appear in this story?' or 'What strengths would your family, friends and colleagues say you have?'

Thank you Helen and Wendy for sharing! 

For those of you interested in knowing more about Helen and Wendy's work, here is a bit more information about their businesses.

Just Ideas - Helen Garforth

Just Ideas is an independent social consultancy. We believe in supporting people to realise their power and voice. We value connecting people so they can create positive change locally and globally. Just Ideas supports communities, charities, public sector organisations and businesses working towards social and environmental justice.  twitter @justideasco

WSA Community Consultants - Wendy Sugarman

WSA Community Consultants specialises in community development, meaningful participation and social inclusion. We have a strong ethical approach and values, with an emphasis on being inclusive, respectful and accessible. We actively engage with communities to put them at the heart of their own development and have a strong track record in building and strengthening local leadership twitter @wsacommunity


What's your story?

If you've had some success using the At My Best tools, we'd love to hear from you.  Just drop us a line and we can arrange a time to chat.




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