Co-production in social care: What it is and how to do it
Practice example: Look Ahead Care and Support
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About the organisation/project
For the last four decades Look Ahead has been providing a wide range of support, care and accommodation-based services across London and the South East. Today, it support over 8,000 people every year who have a wide range of support needs - including mental health issues, homelessness and learning difficulties - and young people.
In 2011, building on its established history of customer involvement and, more recently, of delivering personalised services, Look Ahead embarked on a drive to embed a co-produced approach and ethos throughout the organisation.
What has co-production meant to the project?
Look Ahead believes that customers are best placed to direct their own support and work in partnership with staff to design and deliver the services that they really want and need. This is at the very heart of Look Ahead's approach and is the basis of its Experts by Experience programme. Through this, customers and staff work together to design, deliver and improve services.
What has helped in implementing a co-production approach?
Commitment and buy-in from all levels of the organisation, including at senior management and board level, have been critical to the project's success.
Introducing and embedding a co-produced approach involved taking Look Ahead's existing approach towards customer involvement and personalised services one step further. It represented the next step and an evolution of the ways in which it was already supporting and valuing customer experiences.
What difficulties were there in implementing co-production?
Helping customers to recognise their own skills, expertise and insight was at times a challenge. Customers often found it difficult to see that they had something to offer. Look Ahead found that training, development and peer support really helped.
Another challenge was how to recognise and reward customers for their contribution. We developed a reward and recognition policy to address this and offered customers the chance to earn credits that could be spent in the local community through partnering with a local time banking organisation.
What are the main strengths in the approach that has been taken?
The strength of the project has been in recognising that its customers have so much to offer. The organisation has been able to move away from viewing customers as passive recipients of services to people with the potential and power to be major assets to the organisation.
What have been the main outcomes of the project?
The most successful outcome has been the development of the Experts by Experience Customer Training Team, which provides service user-led training to its support staff. It is developed and delivered by customers - based on their personal lived experience of homelessness, substance misuse and mental health issues - and has already been delivered to over 700 staff.
Other successes include the development of a customer-led interpretation service, peer support programmes and new co-produced staff recruitment and selection tools.
How has the project worked to engage all sections of the community?
Practical considerations have included holding activities/training in accessible venues, providing expenses/transportation and carrying out regular equality and diversity impact assessments. Customers with all levels of need have also been supported to take part in the programme. For example, customers with severe and enduring mental health issues successfully deliver staff training.
What advice would the project give to others?
- Customers should be involved in all stages of the project - from inception to evaluation. Look Ahead's Customer Services Committee has played a key role in steering this.
- Co-production is about recognising and valuing everyone's experiences and input equally - staff as well as customers.
- Remuneration can be the 'elephant in the room' if it is not addressed openly. Engage customers in the debate and look for any solutions they can offer.
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- Co-production in social care: What it is and how to do it
- Co-production in social care: What it is and how to do it - easy read