Playing the co-production game
Updated: Jan 27, 2020
I have played the co-production game on many levels;
Project manager in a user-led charity; facilitating co-production
As a parent governor - a genuinely powerful voluntary role
Invited guest as a parent whose child is in the "SEND" system
Co-production should mean working together from the very beginning of a project. The finished product, service or change would not therefore be possible without collaboration and consultation.
Unfortunately, I have seen first-hand some pitfalls and downsides. Here are some of them, with ideas about how to fix them;
Easy one, this. Plan ahead. Leave heaps of time. Make good quality information which is appropriate for the people you are consulting with (eg. plain English, Easy Read, face-to-face workshops, interviews, accessible online and phone-friendly surveys). As a person running a Learning Disability Forum for many years, the biggest difficulty I encountered was a tight consultation deadline, and we could rarely participate properly if this was the case. Co-producing the consultation itself is the gold standard, in my book.
A bit of hospitality and good old-fashioned courtesy goes a long way. Also checking the accessibility of the venue is essential. I have attended a meeting where the co-Chair (a wheelchair user) had to sit in a small room in the same building as the rest of the gathering upstairs, and lead the meeting via video-link, because they could not access the main meeting room. Ouch.
A parking space, a warm welcome from the Chair on arrival, a coffee and an acknowledgement that you might have rearranged your entire working week to be able to attend (for free, whilst everyone else at the meeting is on work-time), and a thank you at the end...well it is not rocket science, but it does not always happen like this.
Get into groups, fill in some flip-chart. Stick it on the wall, feed back to the group. Standard, and fine, and very often fun. But at the end of the day I am sometimes left with a feeling of "what happens to this stuff now?". Roles and responsibilities should fill the last hour of the day perhaps. What is the decision, who is accountable, and when do they need to have completed their actions? Importantly, how are we going to check that things have changed? The advice "begin with the end in mind" is worth remembering, and a car boot full of flip-chart is not going to change the world.
"We've been here before and nothing ever changed"
Some meetings are great for networking and keeping informed, but the issues raised and the outcomes can be a little intangible sometimes. After a few months or years, the same issues cycle around again and again, which can feel extremely disheartening. Clearly defined roles, top-level strategies and excellent admin are essential for fixing this problem. Perhaps things did change, but this was not fed back to the group? Perhaps we were focusing too hard on things that are actually beyond our control? Communication is nearly everything, the rest is in the planning.