Person-centred planning begins when people decide to listen carefully and in ways that can strengthen the voice of people who have been or at risk of being silenced.
O'Brien and O'Brien, 1998

What it is and where it's come from

Person-centred planning is a process of life planning with individuals using the principles of inclusion, and a social model rather than a medical model.

With a medical model, a person is seen as the passive receiver of services and their impairment as a problem; this often leads to segregation and places to live and work that are away from the community.

A social model sees a person as being disabled by society. In this model, a person is proactive in the fight for equality and inclusion.

The concept of person-centred planning is not new. One of the first people to develop the model was John O'Brien. His 'five accomplishments' (respect, choice, participation, relationships and ordinary places) were the foundation for person-centred planning in the USA.

In 2001 the UK government published the White Paper Valuing people: a new strategy for learning disability for the 21st century. It had four key principles: rights, choice, independence and inclusion. This led to the adoption of person-centred planning by all local authorities.

There is legislation in place to support the White Paper, including the Community Care Act (1990), the Human Rights Act (1998) and the Equality Act (2010).

Person-centred planning has five key features:

  • the person is at the centre of the planning process
  • family and friends are partners in planning
  • the plan shows what is important to a person now and for the future and what support they need
  • the plan helps the person to be part of a community of their choosing and helps the community to welcome them
  • the plan puts into action what a person wants for their life and keeps on listening - the plan remains 'live'.

Person-centred planning tools

Plans are owned by the person. There are many ways to plan with a person, what is important is that the plan must be meaningful to them and understood by them. Some planning methods (or 'styles') include:

  • MAPS (Making Action Plans) - developed by Judith Snow, Jack Pearpoint and Marsha Forest. These are very visual graphic plans that look at a person's history and their aspirations for the future.
  • PATHS (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope) - developed by Jack Pearpoint, Marsha Forest and John O'Brien. This looks at a person's 'North Star' (dream for the future) and puts it into action, reveiwing the plan in one to two years' time.
  • Personal Futures Planning - developed by Beth Mount and John O'Brien. A graphic plan which maps a person's life now and changes for the future. A good style for community mapping.
  • Essential Lifestyle Planning - developed by Michael Smull and Susan Burke-Harrison. This is very detailed and was developed for people with high and complex support needs. It includes a section on communication. It will usually have a health action plan as well.

It is not ethical to plan with a person if the plan does not confront the person's exclusion and aim to create a more diverse, just and inclusive community.
Smull and Burke-Harrison, 1992

Support from professionals and family

All these styles of planning require a trained person, called a person-centred planning facilitator, to support the process. These are skilled individuals who involve everyone in the person's life in their 'relationship circle'. They also encourage and support the individual to take control of their own plan.

They are very creative in their methods and have extensive knowledge of advocacy, working with families, finance, housing issues and how to develop better support for people.

Families also facilitate person-centred plans, often using tools such as 'Families Leading Planning'. They make a commitment to the person to put plans into action.

Person-centred approaches

For people using services, it is not the planning that matters quite as much as the presence of person-centred thinking.

This means that support staff hold person-centred values, and a belief that a person must have control in areas such as who supports them, what they do with their day, being listened to, and making decisions about their lives.

Person-centred planning and people with autism

Person-centred planning is based around the individual and is, therefore, ideal for people with autism and Asperger syndrome. When working with a person with autism or Asperger syndrome, planning tools may need to be adapted and terminology often needs to be changed so that it can be understood by the individual. It is essential that people's preferred ways of communicating are taken into account so that they can play a full part in the planning process. 

Personalisation and self-directed support

There is an increasing move towards personalisation and self-directed support in the provision of services and assessment for adults accessing community and social care.

Pitts (2009) defines personalisation as a system which enables everybody who needs support to have information, support and assistance at a time and in a way that is right for them. Where someone is entitled to social services funding to meet their care or support needs, this new way of working is referred to as self-directed support.

Self-directed support is person-centred but in addition the person knows how much money they are entitled to for their support and they have choice and control over how it is spent (Pitts, 2009). This money may be referred to as a personal budget, or, where more than one type of funding is involved, as an Individual Budget. For further information, please refer to our guide to self-directed support (see 'Bibliography and further reading').

Developing a support plan to show how a person will spend their Individual Budget

After the community care assessment process (including self-assessment), a person will be awarded an indicative budget and can then develop their support plan. This can be developed by anyone: the person, anyone in their circle of support, an advocate or a person-centred planning facilitator or broker.

The information in a person's support plan is taken from their person-centred plan but has a distinct difference; a person-centred plan is confidential to that person but a support plan has to be shared with the sponsoring authority and their funding panel. The support plan can be instrumental if the person's indicative budget is not enough to cover their support costs.

What must be in a support plan?

The support plan should include:

  • what is important to the person
  • what the person wants to change
  • how the person will arrange their support
  • how the person will spend their Individual Budget
  • how the person will manage their support
  • how the person will stay in control and be involved in decision-making
  • an action plan to explain what happens next.


Department of Health
Government policy and guidance.

Families Leading Planning UK
Family led, independent, national organisation delivering consultancy and development training on person-centred planning. They enable families to share with each other what they are learning about person-centred planning locally and nationally. Their website offers examples of plans, and movies, photos and stories in which families share their experiences.

Helen Sanderson Associates
Training and consultancy on person-centred thinking and planning. The website includes information on person-centred planning, MAPS, PATHS, personal futures planning, and essential lifestyle planning, and offers an online reading room, resources, templates and examples.

in Control
Information on self-directed support and individual budgets.

National Brokerage Network
Network acting as an information exchange and authoritative voice for the development of brokerage throughout the UK.

Office of Public Sector Information
Access to UK legislation from 1987 onwards.

an online shop selling software for people with communication difficulties, including the Say It Works life skills and social issues Picture Library CD

Support planning
General information on developing support plans.

Information and resources on the archived website of the former Valuing People Support Team  

Bibliography and further reading

Autism Education Trust (2011) Person centred planning. London : Autism Education Trust.
Download from:

Callicott, K. J. (2003). Culturally sensitive collaboration within person-centred planning. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 18(1), pp60-68

Cole, A. and Lloyd, A. (2005). Shaping the future together: a strategic planning tool for services supporting people with learning disabilities. London: Mental Health Foundation

Cowan, L., Bradley, A. and Murray, K. (2006). My life plan: an interactive resource for person centred planning. [CD and User Guide]. Finstown, Orkney: Information Plus

Davies, J., Burke, C. and Mattingly, M. (2009). We can dream: ways of planning for the future for young people with autistic spectrum disorders. London: Foundation for people with learning disabilities

Department of Health. (2010). Personalisation through person-centred planning. London: Department of Health. Download from:

Department of Health. (2009). Valuing people now: resource pack. London: Department of Health. Download from:

Department of Health. (2008). Putting people first. London: Department of Health. Download from:

Department of Health (2001). Valuing people: a new strategy for learning disability for the 21st century. Norwich: The Stationery Office. Download from:

Dowell, E., Johns, N. and Cooper, A. (2007). Autism and independence. A guide for local authorities: enabling adults with an autism spectrum disorder to achieve greater independence. London: The National Autistic Society. Download from:

Edmonds, G. (2006). Person-centred approaches to autistic spectrum conditions (ASC). Imagine, 14, pp12-18

Falvey, M. A. et al (1987). All my life's a circle: using the tools Circles, MAPS & PATHS. Toronto: Inclusion Press

Fulton, K. and Kinsella, P. (2009). Individual service design: a guide for people who want to turn their support ideas into reality. Birkenhead: Paradigm
Download from:

Glynn, M. et al (2008). Person-centred support: what service users and practitioners say. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Download from:

Harper, S. and McClay, L. (2005). Person centred planning in East Anglia: supporting people to have real lives. Communication, 39(2), pp42-43

Houghton, Y. (2004). What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Using person centred planning in developing life experiences for adults with autism. In: Current issues for research and practice: collected papers from the 2004 Durham International Research Conference on Autism held at Van Mildert College, University of Durham. Sunderland: Autism Research Unit, pp77-84

Innes, A., Macpherson, S. and McCabe, L. (2006). Promoting person-centred care at the front line. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Download from:

Moore, T. (2005). Person centred services for adults with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) in Surrey. Surrey: The Autism Project. Download from:

National Autistic Society. (2010). Personalisation briefing: implications for people with autistic spectrum conditions and their family carers. London: Social Care Institute for Excellence
Download from:

National Autistic Society. (2009). Self-directed support. London: The National Autistic Society
Download from:

National Transition Support Team (2011) Person centred approaches in transition planning. London: National Transition Support Team
Download from:

O'Brien, J. and O'Brien, C. L. (eds.) (1998). A little book about person centred planning. Toronto: Inclusion Press

Pitts, J. (2009). BILD guide: an introduction to personalisation. Kidderminster: British Institute of Learning Disabilities. 9781905218141

Robertson, J. et al (2005). The impact of person centred planning. Lancaster: Institute for Health Research, Lancaster University. Download from:

Sanderson, H., Lunt, J. and The National Autistic Society (2009). Person-centred thinking for people who have autism. Stockport: The Learning Community for Person-Centred Practices
Download from:

Scottish Executive (2000). The same as you? A review of services for people with learning disabilities. Edinburgh: Scottish Executive. Download from:

Smull, M. and Burke-Harrison, S. (1992) Supporting people with severe reputations in the community. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Mental Retardation Program Directors

Last updated: March 2013