CEO, Oonagh Smyth, discusses how Skills for Care’s new strategy is designed to help put workforce issues at the centre of the debate over the coming months about how we reform our sector.
As you might expect we have been talking to our team about how our new strategy will work, and as part of that we invited Isaac Samuels who is a person with lived experience and a long-time advocate for co-production, to speak to us about how we can most effectively change systems. When Isaac said that “people want lives not services” it really struck a chord with all of us. It was a reminder that if we want to change the way services work, then the voices of those with lived experience have to be there as an equal partner in any discussions.
A good example of this is the work we are doing with partners on the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training trials, creating an expert’s group to support us with this work and all our learning disability and autism work programmes.
The biggest lesson we learnt from this group, who offered both their personal experiences and expertise based on that, is it takes time to get co-production right, and you need to support people to find their voice.
Our experience with the development of the expert’s group is that one key thing we need to do is work with people to understand workforce jargon and structures if people are then going to be able intuitively contribute.
Interestingly, we also found going digital has sometimes made it harder to co-produce due to people’s lack of IT equipment, poor WIFI or just knowing how to use technology. Using digital tools meant the group lost many of the water cooler moments that help smooth out misunderstandings and confusions, which can be a vital part of ongoing discussions and debates about sensitive subjects.
One of the best ways to make discussions run smoothly and effectively is to follow the Think Local Act Personal co-production ladder. Our team think it really is the best guide to co-production out there. One of the things we can do as leaders when we are invited to speak, is ask the organisers how people with lived experiences have been involved in designing the event? We should also ask whether people with lived experience are represented on the panels, and, if the answer is a negative one then, we should reconsider our own participation.
I am a passionate supporter of co-production because I have seen time and again that it works, and we know from our experience how it can change systems and thinking if you take the time to invest in a genuine dialogue of equals.
Co-production isn’t easy, and nor should it be, but it does yield results so that people can live the lives in the way they want. Ultimately, supporting people to have choice and control over their lives is why we do what we do.