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Q&A with Prof Malcolm Sparrow

Q: What inspired you to come to Scotland to deliver this workshop?

A: Delivery of services and protections for Autism-Spectrum Clients is an extremely complex problem, with contributions to be made by many organisations straddling the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. Structuring such a problem involves a series of choices, which turn out to have analogues in a range of other harm-reduction settings. I know next to nothing about autism, but I have a lot of experience helping a range of government agencies figure out how best to "divide and conquer" such complex challenges and how best to understand the many choices they have to make in doing that.

 

Q: Can you give a broad outline of how some of the theories set out in The Character of Harms can be applied to the benefit of the autism support community in Scotland?

A: I think it's useful to distinguish carefully between service-delivery tasks and harm-reduction tasks; between program-centric and problem-centric delivery mechanisms; between the importance of functional expertise, process-based delivery, risk-based work, and crisis response. There are many different ways of allocating duties, establishing expectations, and measuring performance over time. I hope that the workshop will help clarify the major strategic choices available.

 

Q: What are the core outcomes you would like to secure from the workshop?

A: Clarity, for the key decision makers, about the choices they face in structuring and distributing the work.

Rejection of any ideological preferences for specific tools or programs, if those preferences haven't been carefully thought through.

Recognition of any opportunities to tweak the Autism Strategy, or fashion its implementation, to deliver better protection and higher quality services, and to establish cross-sectoral collaborative mechanisms for identifying and dealing with residual pockets of need and residual specific risks for Autism Spectrum clients.

 

Q: Have you carried out similar work for autism bodies or other disability-focused organisations in the US or elsewhere?

A: I haven't. My job is not so much to know the specific sciences or policy histories in each individual domain. Each domain has its own technical experts, and I absolutely respect their accumulated knowledge and expertise. My work is to deal with the choices fundamental to harm-reduction tasks in general, and I have worked in more than 20 different harm-reduction domains over the last two decades. I wouldn’t claim to be a domain-expert in more than about 2 or 3 of these. But the challenges in structuring such tasks are surprisingly common and transportable across domains, and I'm hopeful that lessons learned elsewhere will turn out to be relevant in this area too. Everyone wants to make the world a better place; but to take on such formidable labours you have to pick a piece, and start somewhere. It matters how the task is divided and handed out. Who, from what sector and at different levels, takes responsibility for what types of work? These turn out to be very complicated questions. Hopefully we'll wrack our brains, draw lessons from other fields, listen carefully to the experts in this area, and make some small contribution to the design of world class services and protections to meet the needs of this set of clients.