Be inspired

We need easy access to material that will challenge us, says our new columnist George Allan

george allanA confession: during a lengthy career as both a practitioner and manager in criminal justice and substance problems services, I didn’t read! That’s not quite true – I read enough reports and policy documents to last a lifetime, but rarely lost myself in the type of material that would have encouraged me to reflect more fully on the quality of my practice or challenges in the wider and shifting landscape. Journals I subscribed to piled up in a corner, unopened.

The situation changed when I became a lecturer delivering substance problems modules to social work students. Not only did I suddenly have the time to ferret out material; it became an obvious necessity of the job. There is, of course, an irony here: I was reflecting on best practice at a point in my career when I was furthest away from directly impacting on people with problems.

I’m sure my experience will ring bells with busy practitioners struggling with excessive caseloads and harassed managers trying to maintain quality in the face of conflicting demands and reducing resources. All too often continuing professional development consists of the occasional, short skills input or attendance at day conferences. The latter is great for networking, but how often is the content quickly forgotten? In addition, continuing professional development is usually the first casualty of funding cuts.

Having spent the last few years accessing material, both for teaching purposes and for writing a text book on substance problems, I thought that it would be good if I could pass on some of what I have found most helpful, so I’m delighted to be writing Resources Corner for DDN, every other month.

So what will my new column cover? Well, books will be in there, but websites, podcasts, interviews and research summaries will be in the mix too. I intend to apply two overarching criteria when considering material. Firstly, it must be either challenging or inspiring: I hope the reader will come away wanting to access the material. Secondly, it must be easy to find and easy to digest, so that busy workers will gain the benefit without large demands on precious time.

I’m really looking forward to getting started.

George Allan is chair of the Scottish Drugs Forum. He is the author of Working with Substance Users: a Guide to Effective Interventions (2014; Palgrave)