Mind is the largest mental health charity in England and Wales and we seek to involve people with mental health problems in shaping our work at every level from the services we provide to strategy development. We identified from demographic data that the diversity of reach in our involvement work needed to improve. A typical profile of someone involved was white, female, university-educated and aged 45 to 54.
This co-produced project looked at how to diversify who Mind involves in our lived experience work, specifically looking at Black, Asian and minority ethnic (racialised) communities and at opportunities to maximise the influence of people with lived experience. We involved Mind staff and board members, and recruited an external project lead and six advisors, to add insights and to work together to find solutions.
What has co-production meant to the project?
From the start we wanted to use a co-production method to make sure we were going to do things in a way that was directed by the learning we heard. We used a ‘test and learn’ approach, planning a timeframe and specific actions e.g. tender, recruitment of advisors and creation of products; but not specifying what the products looked like or what exactly the workshops would contain, and sometimes moving these timeframes to accommodate learning and unforeseen factors.
At every stage we brought people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities into the project to influence, lead and provide insight into how the project was planned, managed and produced results. Our equality coordinators (freelancers connected to the organisation who have equality expertise) and our equality team set up the brief and tender process. Our project lead designed the workshops and overall project plan. Six advisors gave insight, tested processes and worked with staff on solutions.
What has helped in implementing a co-production approach?
We started off with communications to organisations through emails and on our website, which stated the problem we wanted to look at and what our commitment was. It was important to say we hadn’t got things right but we wanted to learn, we wanted to listen and implement change. This was especially the case as one of our main development areas in our new strategy is to be an anti-racist organisation. This in turn means we need to be representative of mental health prevalence across communities and different ethnicities.
We made sure the first two workshops only included people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, so that they felt safe to share experiences and to create the foundations of an honest and open way of working. As this mostly focused on internal processes, we also involved staff from across the organisation at later stages, to contribute their perspectives and to create a learning opportunity and promote buy-in to the project.
What difficulties were there in implementing co-production?
We initially focused on recruitment and how to improve this aspect of our work. However, the views of our advisors spoke to wider systemic issues of trust, security, the wider corporate narrative, and cynicism towards organisations taking an anti-racist stance but not changing their ways of working. We needed to make sure we valued these insights, so where possible we acted on feedback; where we couldn’t, we captured the insight and then responded after the session.
Because of the systemic nature of the project and the passion surrounding it, it was important that we didn’t lose track of creating tangible actions and products. This was aided by a project meeting which held everyone to account, but also made sure we captured insights in minutes and acted where necessary and within our remit.
What are the main strengths in the approach that has been taken?
Having an internal project meeting and a separate workshop meant that insights could be gathered through both groups and actioned at different levels internally. Involving lots of different stakeholders through interviews and project meetings meant we could understand internal perspectives, establish buy-in to the project and establish solutions together. If we had started off with a rigid framework or set of outcomes, this would have restricted the insights that were gathered and the report would have been less useful in the long term.
What have been the main outcomes of the project?
A report was created into the barriers for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in being involved in this work. This included recommendations for teams across Mind, including linking up learning from staff recruitment and lived experience recruitment, and developing a framework to measure and utilise demographic information across the organisation.
In the second part of the project, we co-created guidance for recruiting managers and applicants, a new template on our recruitment system, and videos to show what it is like to be a lived experience advisor. This has helped develop connections between internal teams, as well as developing relationships with external organisations and people with lived experience which will endure outside the project.
How has the project worked to engage all sections of the community?
We tried to engage with a variety of communities through our current contacts, social media, and by utilising the connections of the people who worked on the project. It helped to have people in the project group with wider user-led networks and offering time to talk through the project with individuals and organisations. This is an area we continue to develop as a team.
We wanted this to be a continual learning process rather than an end point so we presented and participated in workshops with other charities doing involvement and co-production in this area. We continue to connect with different charities and hope to create a forum or space to talk through these challenges in the future.
What advice would the project give to others?
Don’t be afraid to be wrong – put an idea out there and see what happens. If it isn’t right, take the learning from what is said, adapt, change and co-develop a better outcome.
Do not make decisions about an end product until you have explored the issues around the problem you are dealing with. Rushing into solutions might mean you haven’t fully thought through what is actually needed.
Ensuring diverse representation of different communities does not have to be thought of as an end goal, but should be measured as part of a process to understand progress.
Related project resources
Guidance and videos for applicants will be available in May/June 2022.