Pray and Spray (ain’t the way)…

6 June, 2022

At MyST, part of the role of each team is to offer something useful to our professional partners so that together, we can make a positive impact upon children’s wellbeing. This partnership approach aims to bring about systems changes which are greater than the sum of their parts. It’s a little bit like the art of albums – sitting within the bigger context of the ‘whole thing’ each song then makes more sense and sings a little sweeter.

With this in mind, I was talking with one of our teams the other day. Team members were recounting that there was so much need to meet and they and their partners in Social Care were currently feeling something like being under siege. My colleagues reflected that, with needs for their input being all around, and given their strong desire to help, they had begun to respond by flitting from task to task, lingering only briefly before rushing on to the next. They had the sense that this approach wasn’t effective however, it was merely fire fighting. In the midst of the discussion, two young men in the team connected eyes ‘pray and spray’ they said in unison. ‘Pray and spray?’ I asked. ‘It’s a Call of Duty gaming thing’ they informed me ‘you’re under siege so you just put your finger on the trigger of your gun and hope for the best.’

Reflecting later, I realised this is the beginning of the pattern of ‘bottom up’ service development that I recognise well. At first, there is just a stream of material coming along. It’s not yet organised. It’s often very dis-organised! However, giving up on the ‘pray and spray’ approach, there is an alternative approach of sitting with what is happening, becoming immersed in what is going on and then through a process of sense-making, patterns begin to take shape. As phenomena cluster together as being of a similar type, the stream of material starts to become punctuated. The information forms into meaningful clusters and spaces open up in between the clusters. In these spaces, there lie opportunities to reflect and to bring to awareness choices about what to do next. These spaces-between are places where wisdom can grow.

Of course, this process mirrors the process of child development, of human development. As babies, our experience of the world begins as a continuous stream of sensory events. With the presence and organised mind of the parent who tunes in and makes sense of the baby’s experience, the baby learns and introjects a more organised and contained version of their experience of the world. Their mind moves from disorganised and grows into an organised mind, where experience can be understood and navigated effectively. The world makes sense to the baby and the baby makes sense to itself.

So back to my MyST colleagues, how might they go forward to develop a more organised, spacious and effective service with their Social Care partners? They could follow the model of the attentive parent, being present and connected to others in the stream of material coming along, waiting for patterns to emerge and meaning to evolve, being patient, knowing that development takes time and repetition. And crucially, being aware that this is what they are doing, and being grounded in the value of this process. In this way, it is necessary to trust that there’s every chance that clusters will start to form, pattern will take shape, and space will open up so that there can be consideration of whatever ‘wise’ actions might be needed.

We decided to give this stance a name, to help hold my colleagues steady in their endeavour – ‘blend don’t merge’. Be amongst it with the other person/people, blend in with the situation they are facing, but don’t merge into the situation whatever the invitations are. Don’t just become the situation. It’s a stance which involves holding our own mind steady, and at the same time, joining with the collective mind of others and the world.

Just like parenting a baby, professionals can hold growing services and help them to mature securely. To do this, to build a healthy developing service, we may need to work through a challenging process, keeping strong and being guided by the age old knowledge and experience of how humans and human systems develop.

Jen & Jael





A Gwent Partnership Board Service