Co-production in social care: What it is and how to do it

Practice example: Islington Council Adult Social Care

About the project

Islington Council has developed a Framework for Involvement in Adult Social Care to provide a solid base for co-production that is accessible, inclusive and impactful.

The council worked with people who use services and carers to produce the Framework. Local statutory and voluntary sector organisations, including the Making it Real Experts by Experience and Project Team, and Healthwatch Islington, were also involved.

The Framework includes:

What has co-production meant to the project?

Working together on the Framework for Involvement has enabled everyone to learn from and build on each other’s ideas and best practice. This has helped the council to develop a more inclusive, accessible, and effective approach across all work with all stakeholders.

In addition, benefits and tax rules relating to reward and recognition have different impacts for different individuals and organisations, meaning that a ‘one size fits all’ approach would not be feasible. Co-producing the policy has made it possible to find solutions to the challenges involved in rewarding service users and carers who work with the council.

What has helped in implementing a co-production approach?

Maintaining good relationships across all groups and individuals with lots of communication between all stakeholders was vital, particularly when working through challenges together. It was important to learn about and understand the different needs, wants, and requirements that all stakeholders have in order to find solutions that would best address them.

The council used an action learning approach to build the framework and policy from the ground up. It met with everyone involved on a flexible basis rather than using a structured timetable, but maintained an ongoing dialogue throughout. By weaving this work into ongoing work programmes such as Making it Real and commissioning cycles, it was able to respond quickly to needs, share and test ideas, and embed new ways of working in practice as soon as they were developed.

There was a named project lead responsible for coordinating the project. They worked with everyone to develop, test, and refine the different aspects of the framework and policy. They also worked with representatives of key council departments to ensure that the plans would meet legal requirements set by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions.

What difficulties were there in implementing co-production?

The nature of the project meant it was difficult to meet on a structured basis and there was a more flexible approach to working together, with lots of smaller meetings and ongoing communication outside of these. This required dedicated time over a sustained period from the lead officer, but otherwise coordinating the work in this way meant that all stakeholders had flexibility over when and how they wanted to take part.

Testing and refining the different elements of the plans took much longer than originally envisaged. This was particularly true of the reward and recognition policy as it was important to make sure that no one would be placed at risk of losing their benefits as a result of taking part and being paid. This required an enormous amount of trust and courage from staff and service users and carers, in particular the Making it Real Experts by Experience. But taking the extra time to get this right meant that the resulting policy minimised risk for individual participants, provided an alternative donation scheme for collective rewards, and met legal requirements.

What are the main strengths in the approach that has been taken?

Working together has made sure the Involvement Framework and Reward and Recognition policy best meets everyone’s needs whilst following legal requirements and national good practice guidance.

It has built stronger, more constructive relationships between staff, service users and carers, and local organisations. Everyone is more confident about working together and more trusting in each other, resulting in increased co-production between Adult Social Care (and other council departments), service users and carers, and provider organisations and partners.

What have been the main outcomes of the project?

The main outcome has been increased co-production, undertaken more confidently and with greater impact across Adult Social Care services, including staff recruitment, training, procurement, peer research, and strategic work.

In addition to implementing the Involvement Framework and Reward and Recognition policy within council departments, materials and practices have been tailored for use by other statutory and voluntary sector partners, building a more consistent approach to co-production across the borough.

How has the project worked to engage all sections of the community?

The project stakeholders included service users and carers from across Islington’s communities, council departments, and voluntary and statutory organisations, all of whom would face different challenges in relation to the plans.

By working closely with Healthwatch Islington and the Making it Real Experts by Experience and Project team as key partners, it was possible to develop, test and refine new ways of working to make sure they were accessible and inclusive to all members of the community.

What advice would you give to others?

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