AIREA - Beyond Planning

AIREA is an inclusive retreat which brings together people to find energy and direction for personal and collective change.

Author: Simon Duffy

Meaningful change through inclusive community

How do you help people to bring about the changes they need to make when change seems impossible? What do we do when the ideas and values we cherish have been commodified, pre-packaged and sold for profit? What do we do when empowerment has become another thing the powerful do to the powerless? We must find another way.

Many of us who discovered the joy of person-centred planning as a process for dynamic personal and social change found ourselves depressed by the mindless way these great ideas were turned into empty processes. Such loss of meaning accelerates as professional systems adopt them. For what could be easier?

“I know how to improve our services - let’s give everyone a one page profile!”

Nothing could seem more simple, more benign or well-intentioned - yet nothing is more deadly.

Plans seem to increase our capacity for understanding, sensitivity and respect. But what we can so easily lose is meaning, power and a change in the relationships by which we listen and communicate. Person-centred planning was designed to unlock the power of action within ourselves and within groups. In particular it helps unlock the capacity within and around people with intellectual disabilities or others who are often oppressed or disregarded. But when system imperatives, roles and structures take over then the shift in power towards the person vanishes.

Ricky Buchanan, a man with disabilities in Australia, posted this comment on a social media page, and it speaks eloquently of where we can end up:

“I'm generally on board with doing the dance of "required paperwork" for agencies, even when I know full well it's going to be filed and never referred to... I'm OK with approving and signing off yet another bullshit person-centred support plan which (a) must be in their approved format only, and (b) isn't even correct... I don't like it, but I'll do it because it's the cost of living within The System and you can't fight every little thing without going crazy.”

How far we’ve travelled from the beauty of person-centred planning at its best to a “bullshit person-centred plan.”

At the end of 2018 I was lucky enough to be invited to Spain to be part of AIREA. AIREA is a collaborative community process that brings people together in a 3 day retreat to help them explore personal and community change.

It is an inclusive retreat where people with and without intellectual disabilities, people who work in services and people of who do not, come together. The structure of AIREA allows people to find the change that really matters to them. Instead of pushing people through artificial planning processes AIREA, encourages people to work together, to look deep inside - at the things that really matter - and to find the inner motivation that will enable meaningful change to take place.

This is not person-centred planning as a service-dominated process - instead it enables people to begin to make the changes that really matter to them. It helps people become the true authors of their own change. This is not values training - but the values of inclusion and equal citizenship enrich everything that goes on here. This is not a workshop - but you will do an enormous amount of meaningful work here.

“The only thing you need to change is how people relate to each other. When you change that everything becomes possible.”

John O'Brien

AIREA means to move the soil - to aerate - to give the soil the oxygen, space and nutrients necessary to allow the soil to breath. We, the community, are the soil; we create the means for new growth and change. Many systems, bureaucracies and organisations become sterile, partly because the soil has become compressed: whatever you add - new ideas, new resources, leadership - has no impact. Seeds cannot take roots; water cannot penetrate the ground.

AIREA is like an environment - a special environment - to help people find the possibility of change: within themselves, through dialogue and by reflecting on what life at this moment demands from them.

The process of AIREA was developed by Ester Ortega, with support from her colleagues Jose Carlos Suarez, Gabriel González and Eunate Marañon.

“New relationships form, new possibilities emerge.”

Ester Ortega

The design of AIREA is informed both by the best of person-centred planning, and also by Theory U - the ideas developed by Otto Scharmer. Theory U is a general theory of social change, which posits that the real things we need to change are often deeper than our apparent problems and that the true source of change must be found within ourselves. The U of Theory U represents the shape of social change: First, the need to go down, often following our intuition to the deeper reasons for change. Second, the need to come up, often by letting go of assumptions or activities which are blocking our capacity for meaningful and sustainable change.

Strangely - just before coming to AIREA in Madrid I had downloaded the Beatles Box Set and two songs started playing around my head:

“There will be an answer, let it be.”

The Beatles, Let it Be

AIREA helps people find answers, by letting the answers come.

“You tell me its the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead

The Beatles, Revolution

AIREA creates a revolution in thinking that starts within our own minds

It was an honour to be part of AIREA and I would encourage everyone interested in deep and meaningful change to connect to Ester and her friends and to join in this journey to truly meaningful change.

To find out more visit:

The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

AIREA - Beyond Planning © Simon Duffy 2019.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.

Article | 25.01.19

disability, intellectual disabilities, Person-Centred Planning, Spain, Article

Ester Ortega


Coordinator of Citizen Network Spain

Ester Ortega


Coordinator of Citizen Network Spain

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