Colloquium by stariya


                                        A Response to Community

There are two objectives for this colloquium. The first is to provide an educational experience for
students. The second is for the members of this learning community to evaluate the potential “fit”
between the VCU Department of Rehabilitation Counseling and me. I have decided that the best approach
to both in this one-hour presentation is to go broad rather than deep and talk to you about my lived
philosophy and its implications for teaching, research, and practice.

I believe that there is a fundamental mission that unites the field of rehabilitation: Full community
inclusion for people with disabilities. Regardless of our individual and specialized expertise, we are all
bound by the fundamental mission to the most efficient and effective application of our limited resources
to creating a communities and eventually a society that has no boundaries for our clients. If you read the
Rehab Act, you will find that this profession was created to serve Social Justice on behalf of people with
disabilities. We are, at heart, Advocates for social change.

This is important, because we tend to put advocacy on the periphery, as an add on; when in fact it is our
heart. What we do is a vocation (from the Latin “vocare” which means voice, a calling or a summons),
not an occupation. You do not come into this profession seeking monetary wealth. You are drawn to this
profession because deep down inside you cannot accept a world where people are excluded. And it is
important to spend time in introspection, to listen to that inner voice, to figure out what your particular
calling is, and to act accordingly. That’s what I call a lived philosophy.

Historically, we tend to focus on the individual as the target of intervention and the unit of measure. This
is fine as far as it goes, but the Parson’s model includes three elements: The person, the environment, and
the interaction. The problem with the language here is that it obfuscates the concept of community.
Humanity is a social construct. We survive because we are social animals. We become human in
communion with other humans in human endeavors. If your environment is a desert island, and you are
alone on that island without hope of rescue (which is a community activity by the way), you are
diminished in your humanity. In societies where people are isolated cognitively, affectively, and
behaviorally from others, where there is no work towards the common good…there is no community and
again, our humanity is diminished. Parson’s formula is usually read as a means for understanding “fit”
that arises out of the transaction between the person and the environment. Community is that transaction.

Community is an activity, not a thing. Like music, you can have artifacts of music such as records,
instruments, and sheet music, but it is not music until it is played. It is not enough to be co-located or to
share values; community takes place when people act in common cause. For our purposes (in the USA),
we endow community with values, most fundamentally liberty (freedom to act independently and to
experience the natural consequence of action), justice (fair treatment by others), and fraternity (join in
common cause with like-minded people). From these basal values we can begin to extrapolate ways of
behaving that create stronger, healthier communities…and ways that don’t.

When we look at our profession through the lens of community, everything changes. I do not have a
grand unified theory of community-based rehab, but I do have a variety of interpretations that I have

1. Communities of Practice
As the director of the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM), I found
myself in a very unique situation. I inherited over 300K pages (and rooms full of films, VHS, BETA,
DVDs, microfiche, cassettes, etc.) and a mail order system for dissemination that did not work. It was my
duty to see to the digitizing of the archive, but there was no plan beyond that to make this resource
meaningful and useful. The Clearinghouse was effectively dead, or close to it. Although ever grant from
RSA requires a plan for sharing products with the NCRTM, few did, and there was no consequence for
inaction. The existing materials were mostly historical, of unknown value to the profession, and not so
much training materials as “raw” material. Orders had dwindled for years. And the viability of the
NCRTM was in question.

I turned to Etienne Wenger’s conceptualization of communities of practice (CoP) as a means of
organizing a new model. I envisioned a virtual community center where groups of motivated people could
gather around topics of interest to (a) dialog, (b) share personal instruments, techniques, and (c)
collaborate in building new, high quality training products. I had some preconceptions about how this
would work that proved wrong, and were replaced by more customer-centered approaches that appear to
work very well. The most successful CoP to date has been the Program Evaluation Summit group, which
began as a core group of 15 at a regional meeting, to a national group of over 120 members and an RSA
sponsored conference. Other communities are now forming based on the success of the first, including
one for Deaf interpreter education and undergraduate education stakeholders. Dissemination through a
virtual network is much more efficient and effective than broadcasting. CoP’s provide a means for the
profession to move beyond the challenge of dissemination to the challenge of actual utilization, a
prerequisite for the movement towards an evidence based practice.

2. Community Building in Rehabilitation Education Programs
Imagine a webpage dedicated to every course in the curriculum, where instructors could download turn-
key classroom packages with syllabi, activities, reading materials, and asynchronous training modules
that have been tried, tested, and rated by experienced subject matter experts. Imagine that this site could
be used as the platform to bring students together across programs to work on collaborative projects. We
started working on this idea with a collection of syllabi. Last year, the assessment classes at Auburn,
Hofstra, and Utah State Universities came together on such a site to hold a forum and build a WIKI. The
pilot will be expanded next Fall and more programs want to be involved. One of the keys to community
building is to let a small group of motivated people prove that a good idea works and then celebrate that
success – others will follow. The challenge for traditional thinking is that you can encourage the growth
of a community of practice, but you cannot dictate how they go about it or what they choose to do with it.

3. Oral History Project
Everyone in a community is an expert of something, if only their own experience. As expert members of
the community, they need a safe place to tell their stories and to be valued for their contribution. Oral
history provides a sense of identity and belonging for both the teller and the told. I started a project to
collect the stories of our distinguished scholars and have managed to accumulate 4 thus far, including an
11 part interview with David Hershenson. It has been difficult to move this forward, inasmuch as it is a
great deal of work to do correctly.

4. Megaconference
Professional service organizations representing our field are in crisis. Membership is dwindling and
structures are fragmenting despite our best efforts to come together. I did a grounded theory analysis to
explore the origins of the problem and to define terms. I mentioned to officials within NCRE that we
should find a way to bring all of the organizations together at a conference where we could share space,
time, and events…and hopefully celebrate the larger community of professionals. Be careful what you say
in casual conversation; now I am chairing the Megaconference steering committee, and we have been
working for a year trying to bring this to fruition. You can follow our progress on the webpage dedicated
to this cause.

5. Career Network Toolkit
Inspired by Granovetter’s work on Network theory and discovering Social Network Analysis as a
research tool, I developed an intervention called the “Career Network Toolkit”. In it, counselors and/or
placement specialists collaborate with the job seeker to evaluate the job seeker’s career network, leverage
that network to increase job leads in desirable fields, and to expand the career network outward. Early
trials went well in a local Utah CRP. I recently did a workshop in Delaware with the latest version and an
even better response. I am in early discussion with the VR division in Delaware and hope to implement
this tool and the accompanying applied research in their state.

My pursuit of a lived philosophy led me to the importance of community, led me to the construct of
community of practice, led me to the research discipline of Social Network Analysis, and all of this is
leading towards the creation of a new practice. The experience makes me think that our challenges as
advocate/scientist/practitioners in demonstrating an evidence-based practice is rooted in an incomplete
conceptualization of who we are. The most efficient and effective practice leading to full community
inclusion for people with disabilities will come through research that uses new models that look beyond
the clinic and the survey to the work of the marketplace, the neighborhood, the school, the job, and the
family. Best practice will require the walls to come down between educators, researchers, and
practitioners - for they must all work in coordination to continuously improve service. For students, the
walls of the classroom will also fall. We counsel most authentically in the coffeshops and living rooms
where people live. We learn the most valuable lessons in the world we want to change.

Reading List of related materials
   Millington, M. J. (2005). Remembering community inclusion: Stories from the life of Jack Eldon
Baker. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 48(3), 177-182.
   Schultz, J.C. & Millington, M.J. (2007). A Microeconomic Model of the Personnel Shortage in
Rehabilitation. Rehabilitation Education, 22(2), 133-142.
   Millington, M.J. (2008). The Rehabilitation Community Legacy Project: The oral history of
leadership. Journal of Rehabilitation Administration, 32(1), pp. 51-54.
   Schultz, J.C. & Millington, M.J. (2008). The National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training
Materials: Resources and Partnerships in Rehabilitation Training. Journal of Rehabilitation
Administration, 32(2), pp. 95-100.
   Openshaw, K., Schultz, J.C., & Millington, M.J. (2008). Implications of communities of practice in
distance rehabilitation education. Rehabilitation Education, 22(3&4), pp. 171-184.
   Tingey, K., Millington, M., & Schultz, J. (2009). Defining Fragmentation and Unification in the
Rehabilitation Counseling Profession. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 40(3), 27-32.
   Millington, M. J. (2009). Introduction to the Special Issue: Drawing content from an emerging QA
community. Journal of Rehabilitation Administration, 33(2), 65-67.
   Leahy, M.J., Thielsen, V.A., Millington, M.J., Austin, B., & Fleming, A. (2009). Quality assurance
and program evaluation: Terms, models, and applications. Journal of Rehabilitation Administration,
33(2), 69-82.
   Millington, M. J., & Schultz, J. C. (2009). The challenge of organizational culture in quality assurance
implementation. Journal of Rehabilitation Administration, 33(2), 121-130.
   Millington, M.J. (2010). Editorial: Are you going to cowboy up or lie there and bleed? Vocational
Evaluation and Work Adjustment Association Journal, 37(1), 1-2.

To top