Co-production in social care: What it is and how to do it
Practice example: Mind Practice
About the project
Mind is a large national charity that provides support and runs campaigns on mental health issues.
Mind recognises that it is vital to work alongside people with lived experience of mental health problems. That is why it is committed to improving ways of engaging with people to have a voice in its work and to diversify the range of people with lived experience involved.
It has worked to create an internal culture shift around engagement. This has taken time and required the support of trustees and senior managers, and people with lived experience from within and beyond existing Mind networks.
In 2012, Mind appointed a team of people with lived experience to work as engagement coaches to support and develop staff and to bring additional expertise in engagement into the organisation. Combined with monitoring and training, this has helped shift engagement to something everyone is responsible for.
Following the success of the first two-year project, four new engagement coaches were appointed in 2015 to work with Mind’s engagement manager in order to further develop engagement at Mind.
What has co-production meant to the project?
Taking a co-productive approach to the development of the project has meant that the role of the engagement coaches accurately reflects the needs of the organisation and the views of people with lived experience.
Ultimately, the project will ensure that people with lived experience of mental health problems who get involved with Mind will find their contribution to be meaningful, productive and personally rewarding.
What has helped in implementing a co-production approach?
Mind sees engaging with a wide range of people with experience of mental health problems as essential to ensuring its work is informed by broad experience and will effectively meet diverse needs. It has a long history of involving people with lived experience in its work, which has helped in implementing a co-production approach to this project.
In order to create this culture, Mind’s staff receive training on engagement which includes looking at the ethos and methods they can use. All annual staff plans must include an engagement plan which is then monitored.
To support this approach coaches and staff have access to:
- engagement toolkit – a pool of resources to guide and support engagement work
- engagement training
- shared learning sessions run by coaches where good practice is showcased and issues can be discussed
- monitoring – using a database to capture how many people we engage with and in what form
- engagement policies.
Mind recognises that taking a co-production approach provides a wide range of personal benefits for people involved around confidence and self-esteem, knowledge and skills and social inclusion. Implementing a co-production approach also demonstrates the respect that Mind have for the expertise of people with lived experience.
What difficulties were there in implementing co-production?
Mind was conscious of the possible barriers to engaging with people as an organisation and those that people with lived experience might encounter. By considering these and planning effectively it was possible to find ways to overcome them.
For example, as an organisation, Mind had to be aware of the issues of competing resources (time and budget) and fear of doing or saying the wrong thing when communicating with the engagement coaches, particularly in the early stages of their tenure.
The following issues were identified as possible barriers that people with lived experience might encounter:
- access to information and hearing about opportunities
- geographical exclusion and travel
- past negative experiences of engagement
- not feeling it will make a difference
- money and possible implications to benefits
- impact on mental health
- language and jargon
- lack of organisational understanding
- staff not understanding their role.
Many of these potential barriers can be overcome by effective planning, clear communication, the provision of appropriate support, and follow-up. Training on the work of Mind and internal processes has been a central factor in ensuring the coaches have felt confident in the role. Clear communications with staff about the project have also proved essential.
What are the main strengths in the approach that has been taken?
The approach has increased staff access to engagement expertise; especially valuable has been the coaches’ extensive experience in the field delivering involvement activities as well as providing training and support. Central to their role is the capacity and skill to hold 1:1 sessions and facilitate team discussions giving staff the time and space to effectively plan their engagement work.The coaches also form an advisory group that brings fresh perspectives to engagement in Mind. It advises on strategies to address potential issues and guides plans for engagement in the future.
What have been the main outcomes of the project?
Outcomes have included:
- Staff feeling increasingly supported in undertaking engagement work
- Staff reporting they feel they have the skills to undertake this work
- Coaches developing their own skills and understanding of how a national organisation works
- Engagement is now seen as part of everyone’s job not just the engagement team’s responsibility
How has the project worked to engage all sections of the community?
The project aimed to recruit people who had experience of working with a diverse range of communities. This experience was essential; as the coaches need to help staff think about how they can engage all sections of the community in our work. This involves supporting staff to recognise this need, understand which communities they need to engage with (especially for specific projects) and offer advice on how they can do this.
Coaches and the engagement manager are working with the equalities team to strengthen the resources offered to staff in order to increase their skills in engaging all sections of the community.
What advice would the project give to others?
If you would like to use a similar model to support engagement work:
- Be clear about the role; understand what staff need from a coach and ensure this is translated into the role description.
- Provide organisational training – it can be really hard for a freelance consultant to fully understand how an organisation works and overlaps between projects when they are not immersed in it on a day-to-day basis.
- Clearly explain the concept to staff – outline the role and the value to them and their teams, help them to understand how a coach can support their work.
- Provide ongoing support for the coaches – working as a consultant is challenging; they will need someone to talk items through with, help them with invoicing and generally answer lots of questions. A named person helps coaches feel supported as well as knowing where to turn if they are struggling.