SIGNAL is an asset-based methodology which emphasises the good things in a person’s life as much as it does areas of deficit.  As such it has proved to be a powerful empowerment tool which has been easy for us to demonstrate because we are safe in the knowledge that 99.9% of the 1,000s of people who have completed a SIGNAL have more greens on their Life Map than reds.

There will always be an exception that proves the rule and this was confirmed when we started working with people experiencing multiple disadvantage (i.e. overlapping and intersecting issues including homelessness, addiction, poor mental health, repeat offending and domestic abuse) who were being supported by Changing Futures Northumbria (CFN).

CFN is a learning project: “we want to understand how we can get better outcomes for individuals, services and the system …… Our starting point is to ask people ‘What matters to you?’ ”

For the first time we saw a Life Map that was dominantly red (32 red, 12 yellow and 10 green) which was at one level no surprise but, at another, raised the question of whether, faced with such an apparently negative picture, the empowerment aspect might be lost.

Good news: it wasn’t!

Sharon’s support worker described how Sharon (not her real name) was, at the time, in an extremely vulnerable state (Sharon completed her Life Map on the support worker’s tablet in the back of her car).  When she first saw her Life Map which was automatically generated after she had offered her response to each of the indicators, she was upset that there were so many reds.  However she very quickly moved on to understanding that this was a representation of the here-and-now and that there might be things that could be done to start changing some of the red indicators to yellow and green. Sharon’s support worker was able to reassure her that now everything was out in the open they could, together, make a plan which would help her break the cycle of repeated evictions following a struggle to maintain a tenancy resulting in homelessness.

The support worker said they had never seen Sharon so engaged.  They described how her body language went from deflation to absorption as she bent forward to properly scrutinise her Life Map.  This particular engagement is of course a snapshot of a stage on a long journey that might not always go in the right direction.  But it was a start that both parties could acknowledge. Sharon selected her top priority: Home Comforts.  She is now staying in a hostel, receiving support and seeking to make more positive changes in her life.

To offer further insight into how SIGNAL helped this process, we spoke to members of the CFN support team.  Ali, a support worker, gave the example of Ian (not his real name) who was at high risk and struggling with the impact of alcohol.

Ian has completed two Life Maps, 6 months apart.  His 2nd Life Map shows that he has made significant progress.  This was all the more remarkable because in material terms his circumstances had barely changed.  For the CFN Team Ian’s second survey was a hugely significant leaning point:  his circumstances may not have changed, but his mindset had.

The initial funding brief focused on understanding how ‘the system’ doesn’t work and how it can change. Throughout the lifetime of the programme CFN has gravitated to understanding change in relation to the individual themselves:  how do they feel about themselves and the world around them?

For example recognising the impact that social isolation can have on people who are disconnected from family and who therefore have no support from people that can provide them with a ‘healthy dependency’.

Through the discussion to identify priorities, prompted by Ian’s responses laid out on his Life Map, (a process we call co-production) the Team came to understand that this early stage of support was vital for Ian to be able to move on to interdependence and then ultimately full independence.

This insight is a combination of the SIGNAL methodology and the facilitator using it to ask open and searching questions and putting the conversation into context, i.e. reframing the conversation around the second Life Map to take account of the journey from where they were to where they are now. SIGNAL provides a framework that helps the client understand this process and puts them in a positive mindset, in Ian’s case moving from a culture of addiction to a culture of wellness and recovery.

Ali describes how “SIGNAL helped move the conversation on to a place where Ian understood the situation and what to do next.  I don’t think that would have been possible without the visual representation that SIGNAL creates, showing how the indicators have moved from red to green” 

We will keep you updated with the progress of our work with CFN, which you can also follow at