Leadership, co-production and a Henry Wordsworth Longfellow poem

Featured article - 04 January 2016
By Tina Coldham, SCIE trustee and chair of SCIE’s Co-Production Network and Michael Turner, SCIE Co-production Support Manager

Head-shot of the author, Tina Coldham, SCIE trustee and chair of SCIE’s Co-Production Network and Michael Turner, SCIE Co-production Support Manager

We’ve all heard the quote ‘ships that pass in the night’. It probably isn't something that you’d immediately think of in relation to social care and co-production, although people on the receiving end of 15 minute home care visits could be forgiven for mistaking their support for a passing vessel.

But ships should actually be at the core of social care.

There’s the obvious one: leadership. We hear about its importance all the time and it’s one of the five key issues that the Care Quality Commission shines a light on its inspections. Good leaders create the space for open dialogue. When they do this they need to be prepared to hear some tough stuff, and also prepared to be driven in a different direction from where they first thought they were going.

Over the years we've seen some amazing leadership from people. Not necessarily at the top, but amongst those who take the opportunity to make changes in their world of work, however small that might be, as they believe in what they do. These people need to be celebrated. Being given authority to do things can be scary, but not if you are supported well.

And this is where the next ships sails in, as leadership is also about followership – and we're not talking about Twitter here. We were told by Peter Beresford, who is a leading member of the user movement and a predecessor of Tina's as a trustee at SCIE, to think about followership and we have never forgotten this sagely advice!

Leaders obviously need people who follow their lead – playing ‘Simons says’ on your own can become pointless. But where does this model sit in a culture of co-production like the one we work with at SCIE? Does the sharing of power and the principle of equality, which SCIE puts at the heart of co-production, sink the ships of leaders and followers?

SCIE's newly updated guide to co-production explains that the principle of equality is about recognising that everyone has assets in terms of skills and experiences to bring to the process; and that no one is more important than anyone else. So it becomes more fluid world in which there will be times when you are a leader and times when you are the follower. This can be seen as a culture of ‘distributed leadership’ in that staff and service users can be encouraged to take a lead. The guide has eight updated practice examples and eight brand new ones. There's also new content about how co-production relates to the Care Act 2014 and the NHS’s Five year forward view strategy.

At the risk of sounding new age-y and Tolkein-y, this launches our third ship – a fellowship with everyone working with common aims and common direction; with and everyone playing their part.

There’s more to the quote about ships passing in the night. It’s part of a poem by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow and the full quote is: “Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.”

Hopefully with co-production, along with the sharing of leadership and followership roles, we will be able to work as ships sailing in the same direction and there will be a bit less darkness and silence.

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