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Person-Centred Planning and how it helps to change individual life situations

Background and aims

The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities came into force in Switzerland in May 2014. The Convention calls upon the contracting states to create structures to enable people with disabilities to participate in social and political life. People with disabilities sometimes need support in order to lead a self-determined life in the community. The Anglo-Saxon countries developed Person-Centred Planning in the 1980s as a set of approaches to facilitate that support (cf. O’Brien et al. 2000).

Person-Centred Planning (PCP) supports people with disabilities in thinking about their own ideas, wishes and goals together with key people in their lives and in implementing these as part of a secure, good life. Various planning approaches are involved. The aim is to define individual solutions to improve the quality of life and facilitating a self-determined path. To this end, the person planning their life has a meeting with key supporters. They work on the life planning together. The person planning must always remain at the centre of the meeting and their wishes must be heard. It is therefore important to include a specially trained external advisor to prepare the planning and act as moderator.


The research project at the University of Applied Sciences of Special Needs Education (HfH) examines how Person-Centred Planning can help to improve an individual’s life situation. The available support will influence how effectively planning goals are achieved and what goals are formulated. When investigating the processes of change initiated by Person-Centred Planning, attention is paid to both the individual and the context.


In the first phase of the project, five individuals with disabilities are interviewed about their situation before and after planning. Both qualitative and quantitative methods are applied in response to the nature of the subject. This triangulation of research methods permits insights to be gained from different perspectives. Changes affecting the person at individual level and at contextual level following the Person-Centred Planning are considered from a qualitative, exploratory angle. Quantitative case studies are used to investigate changes in key life quality variables. 


One of the persons interviewed described the changes resulting from person-centred planning as follows:

„It is really as if you open a window, and roll up the shutters, and suddenly you notice: The sun is shining outside. And you are free, you can actually go where you want to, and like that.“ (A4: Z.450)

At the individual level, the persons planning their lives experienced themselves as actors in the sense that they could put forward their own interests and wants. They could consider different options for implementation and decide on certain actions. They perceived this as strengthening, and this had an effect beyond the planning/future meeting. The persons planning their lives identified new options that would allow them to pursue their interests and goals. For all persons, smaller or bigger changes could be achieved or development possibilities opened up in the areas of education, work, and living situation. At the context level, self-determined paths were made possible in the study, especially support options or organizations that aim for participation of people with disabilities. In contrast to offerings in the past, these structures have a changed approach: They take up the persons’ wishes and interests for individual life planning. The life planning examined in this study did not change the existing support systems directly, but we found that cooperation and support from newer, participation-oriented offerings outside the institutional setting made bigger changes possible in the direction of the persons’ own goals. The moderators and circles of supporters played a decisive role in finding support options of this kind.

In sum, the study found increased esteem and self-determination in the persons participating by having their wishes heard, by making decisions, and by having their own interests represented. New employment and development opportunities as well as support options with changed values were identified. The results indicate that as a consequence of the life planning, there is an increase (varies in size individually) in quality of life in several areas.

This accords with the mandate for change that Switzerland has committed to through ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.



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Forschung und Entwicklung
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