skip to content

Cornell University. ILR School. Employment and Disability Institute

Course 5b: Michael Smull's Essential Lifestyle Planning

An Overview of Essential Lifestyle Planning (ELP)

Essential Lifestyle Planning holds the basic belief that there are core elements in day to day living that reflect essential basic quality of life components that matter deeply to any one of us. ELP is a process through which these essential elements can be explored, understood and integrated into the work that is conducted with and on behalf of people with disabilities.

ELP is a guided process for learning how someone wants to live and for developing a plan to help make it happen. It’s also:

  • A snapshot of how someone wants to live today, serving as a blueprint for how to support someone tomorrow;
  • A way of organizing and communicating what is important to an individual;
  • A flexible process that can be used in combination with other person centered techniques;
  • A way of making sure that the person is heard, regardless of the severity of disability.

Essential Lifestyles Plans are developed through a process of asking and listening. The best essential lifestyle plans reflect the balance between competing desires, needs, choice and safety.

The "Learning Wheel" was developed to graphically reflect an on-going commitment on behalf of the planners to seek to understand what is very important and meaningful in matters pertaining to everyday life for the person who is the focus of the planning effort. It requires that careful attention be given to the stories and the reflections of the person and of the people who know and care about the individual. The Learning Wheel is represented through a series of interconnected arrows beginning at the top of the "wheel" with arrows connecting listening and understanding in a circular fashion. This listening continues until the listener(s) have a clear sense of direction as provided by the person who is the focus of the planning effort. When the understanding becomes clear enough for taking action an offshoot arrow connects what has been heard and understood to the development of a plan. The plan is simply the synthesis or organization of the information that has been heard and understood. When the plan has been drafted and approved by the focus person an offshoot arrow connects the planning to the doing or implementation of the plan. This is the "try it" stage of the plan. During the implementation phase another arrow connects this stage to the "assessment" stage of the planning process. This stage looks at how the plan is working in the context of what the focus person identified and continues to identify within the ongoing process of listening and understanding. Thus, the final arrow, completing the "wheel" connects the assessment stage back to the inner exploratory loop of listening and understanding.

Michael Smull's Learning Wheel

Michael Smull's Learning Wheel: Listen & Understand, Plan, Implement, Asses...

From listening and understanding you can:

  • Plan (organize/synthesize) using the information that the planner has gathered from the stories that have been told, from the identification of critical themes woven throughout the dialogues, and from the surfacing of what is most important in quality of life issues as understood from the perspective of the individual and from their family members and friends.

  • Implement (try it) the plan by mobilizing resources and creating the structures and opportunities that honor what have been heard.

  • Assess (see how it's working) the plan against the interests and preferences of the person with whom the planning is being done. Look for ways to use what is being learned to keep the momentum of the plan moving forward. Questions that are helpful guides in this process are "What have we tried? What have we learned?" "Given what we have learned, what do we need to try next?"

Developing Essential Lifestyle Plans require:

  • The perspectives of those who know and care about the person;
  • Their stories about good days and bad; and
  • What they like and admire about the person

Each of us want lives where we are
supported by & contriubute to our communities

  • At the base of our wants is the desire to stay healthy and safe (our own terms)
  • Then we need to have what/who is important to us in everyday
    life; people to be with; things to do, places to be
  • Have opportunities to meet new people; try new things; change jobs; change who we live with & where we live
  • Finally at the top is have our own dreams & our own journeys

Most of all, it is critically important to remember that a plan is not an outcome. Plans need to be written in draft form and used as a tool for exploration and recording what is being learned. Plans should not exist as an end product but serve as a means to an end. It bears repeating: A plan is not an outcome.

For more information, contact:
Michael Smull
Support Development Associates
3245 Harness Creek Road
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
(410)626-2707 * FAX 626-2708
Or check out the M.Smull and Friends website