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Lived experience leadership in co-production

4 July 2024
By Leah Smith, NHS Peer Trainer

Leah Smith is an NHS Peer Trainer and is regularly involved with co-production activities. In this blog, Leah reflects on their experience as a member of a group of people with lived experience who planned and delivered a co-produced event with the national mental health charity Mind.

The co-production experience I’ve gained through the process of co-developing and co-delivering a recent Lived Experience Leadership and CEO Event with Mind has been invaluable.

Working in an NHS Lived Experience role, I am familiar with co-production; it is a process used regularly within the service I work for. Mind’s approach to co-production was somewhat different to the approach I’m familiar with, and this enabled me take lots of learning from the experience that I could then share with my colleagues.

Leah Smith, NHS Peer trainer

Within this co-production space, there was diversity in lived experiences and identities amongst group members, which contributed a richness to our conversations and decisions. Each of us in the group had equal power in terms of decision-making right from the beginning.

We co-produced the event from start to finish, using last year’s event as inspiration and guidance where needed. This compares dramatically to some of the co-production I’ve witnessed in various spaces over the last few years, where the more appropriate terminology would be ‘involvement’ rather than ‘co-production’.

I felt truly valued for the experiences and skills I brought to the space when planning this event; my video editing skills (while amateur) were celebrated, and I felt excited about bringing an idea to fruition in a creative and resourceful way.

Through this collaborative, inclusive, and accessible co-production space, I got to practice and build on a range of different skills such as time management, organisation, communication, and assertiveness.

Additionally, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to speak to the CEO of Mind and ask her questions directly. It challenged the power differences that exist within large organisations – Sarah Hughes appeared to genuinely value the questions, reflections, and thoughts of the people in attendance at the event, ultimately resulting in attendees recognising their own worth and value.

Having support from the Lived Experience Leadership team at Mind enabled this event to run as smoothly as possible. As members of the co-production group, we were supported each step of the way – there was never any pressure to take on roles or tasks that we did not feel comfortable with. We were reassured about what our roles were during the event, and what the roles of Mind staff were. This meant I felt informed, empowered, and confident in the role I occupied during the event.

Something I can sometimes find challenging when it comes to co-production is that in my experience, a group can sometimes be hesitant to make a final decision unless there is unanimous agreement. What this co-production process taught me is that it is okay if there are differing thoughts within the group – not everyone has to fully agree with a decision – and instead of this negatively impacting on the respect we had for one another, it only strengthened it.

I would like to thank everyone who enabled the event to run as successfully and smoothly as it did. The opportunity to be a lived experience leader alongside an inspiring group of people is one I will hold dear to me for a long time!

It was a fantastic experience, and I was pleased to hear that Sarah Hughes would like these events to take place on a more regular basis.

A case study highlighting the experiences of other planning group members and showcasing learning for people who are interested in promoting lived experience leadership in co-production is available in Mind’s Influence and Participation Toolkit.

Kathryn Smith and Patrick Wood: Addressing gaps in co-production.

If you would like help to address ‘what’s missing’ from your co-production approach, please contact SCIE at to hear more about how we can support you.

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