Co-production: get over the word and love the concept
It’s been a wonderfully busy time and I have been reminded recently of the indisputable value and importance of co-production. Co-production – at first, I do agree, is a bit of an awkward word, clumsy and rather technical but a concept that, once understood, becomes as exciting and essential as any in the vocabulary of human rights.
Co-production is fundamentally about equality – it is about genuinely being in this together – it is about people providing services and people using services working together to design the best options and achieve the best outcomes. It’s about recognising why doctors need patients as much as patients need doctors, why police need communities as much as communities need police. We can’t design or deliver effective support for people with mental health needs or people with learning disabilities unless we do it together. Failing to invest in these relationships leads to the very outcomes we are seeking to overcome. While at a gut level we have known this to be the case for some time, at a practical level and at scale, co-production too often pays the price of other pressures.
Regular readers of my blog will have read about the two ‘Working Together for Change’ events we ran last year, one with people with learning disabilities and the other with people with mental health needs [co-production in action]. A clear mandate from both these events was that individuals living in accommodation based services want more choice and control over who supports them, when, and how they spend their time. As an organisation that prides itself in involving people we support in all staff selections, carries out person centred reviews and is recovery focussed, this was a salutary message. We listened and are now in the early stages of offering Individual Service Funds [ISFs] across eight accommodation based services. We know this has been done before in learning disability services and we have been devouring the learning from others on this. But it would appear that we are one of the first organisations to seek to offer ISFs to people with mental health problems living in residential care. If you are reading this and do know of other organisations doing this then please do get in touch as we would love to share learning.
We are currently in the first phase of the project – developing staff confidence and understanding, and sharing with the people we support and their families what we believe ISFs can offer. We are developing a range of Frequently Asked Questions from different people’s perspectives which will also be really helpful for any roll out after this pilot. We are already learning that staff are concerned about how best to support individuals to get more involved in their local community. We see people’s lives changing as a result of developing community connections and as such, getting this right is fundamental to the success of this project. We are taking a breadth and depth approach in raising awareness and competence in building community capacity. Our Community Connecting project will not reinvent the wheel; it will instead look to bring in best practice locally and nationally, and support teams to implement this. Work will focus with teams in using community connections tools with the people they support. A number of community connectors will be indentified covering areas such as art, health, retail, education and leisure. An organisational map will be developed of what work has happened – sharing the success stories. We will evaluate our learning as we go and share internally and externally the barriers and constraints identified, as well as success factors. This will be the basis of recommendations for future work. We aim to be able to evidence that people’s lives have improved as a result of this work!
I look forward to updating you further on the learning from the ISF and Community Connecting projects in my future blogs. For now I invite any of you working with people with mental health needs and learning disabilities to recognise the combined strength of your expertise, insights and knowledge. Co-production is no longer optional if we are to design support and services that work.