SOAP for Workers Power

A column advocating a system of assessing people that is used in health care be utilized in our workplace organizing.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 29, 2011

Healthcare workers have a way of note-taking called SOAP. SOAP stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan.

In the subjective section, the clinician will write down the general condition of the patient, usually based on what the patient says about their health. All the vitals and observed information are collected in the objective portion of the note. This could be blood pressure, pulse, skin discoloration, whatever. An assessment is a skeleton of the main symptoms and corresponding diagnoses in the order of most to least likely. Based on the evidence and assessments, the provider then gives a plan for correcting the problems.

This way of documenting interactions with patients and coming up with a game plan is a useful tool for workplace organizing. It can help us think critically about the conversations we have, the conclusions we draw, and how to move forward out of our one-on-one discussions. As organizers, we are trying to get a handle on the situation in a workplace and what we have to do to build an organization.

How do we get from where we are to where we want to be? With this in mind, our subjective assessments are the conversations and things our co-workers say around the shop. Our objective section is the actions that we can see our co-workers taking part in. This allows us to see the difference between what people say and what they do. This isn’t to judge people or harass them about what they do or don’t do, but just to get a sense of what we can rely on, what we need to help along, and what motivates people so that we can effectively build a real democratic group effort to change our workplaces.

In the assessment section, we lay out our take on the person, situation or action planned. We come to that conclusion based on the evidence we have (written in the other sections). Our plan gives the next steps to build more workplace power. The idea with all this is that we use objective standards for the conclusions we draw and the plans that we cook up. People naturally rely on their instincts and impressions of others around them, but our instincts tend to be filtered through our personalities and where we are at, which can color our organizing.

By separating out observations and activities, like we do in healthcare, we can get a better sense of the situation. They are also accessible to other organizers working on the campaign and can be scrutinized, altered, and revised. This allows others to see how the work is done, hold each other accountable, and have concrete documentation should we need to use it against the boss.

Originally appeared in the July/August 2008 Industrial Worker