In our previous blog posts and on our website, we’ve talked in great detail about the how, the when, the who and the what of Co-producing with people with lived experience. We’ve also shared our learning around the potential challenges, how to overcome them and how to be creative when co-producing. In our final blog, we’ll look at what is probably the most important piece of the co-production jigsaw puzzle… the why.
So, why is it better for a service to change from their established way of working to co-producing with service users?
Firstly, it’s worth stating that the purpose of any service is to deliver that service to those who need it. It should be accessible to everyone from any demographic. In the context of our work, we are referring to housing, substance misuse, mental health, domestic abuse, and those related to prison release. It can be difficult enough for someone to access any of these services even if they are experiencing a single complex need, and accessibility is a fundamental aspect of an effective service. Service users are best placed to inform how the services aren’t accessible for them, either individually, or connectedly. If they aren’t accessible for them, then the service hasn’t been designed for others in similar circumstances. Working closely with the people who understand the needs of those falling through the cracks is the best way understand the service’s design flaws so the cracks can be filled. They can tell you what needs to change and what they feel they needed from the service at that time in order to access the support on offer. With every additional complex need, it becomes more difficult for someone to access a service on its terms. Genuinely co-producing with people with lived experience of multiple and complex needs can help the service reach those in the most chaotic circumstances.
If a service is co-produced from the start, it will be designed to be more efficient while making the best use of the resources available. There will be fewer missed appointments due to improved accessibility, thus less wasted time and money while reaching more service users and increasing the chance of better outcomes.
A service can be inaccessible even before attending an appointment. The service’s reputation can help or hinder the staff who are offering support. It may be that before someone walks through the front door and meets their support or key worker for the first time, they will have expectations that may be positive or negative based on word of mouth or service reputation. If a service has been co-produced with those who use it, this will help to increase trust amongst the community it serves, leading to better relationships between workers and service users, and a greater chance for positive outcomes.
Co-production can benefit service users not just by improving service provision. Through the process of involvement, service users will be empowered with the opportunity to harness their experiences and direct them in a way that benefits others, providing purpose and a sense of belonging. Furthermore, services who show trust and value in the co-production process can have a strong impact on the self-esteem, self-worth and confidence of the people taking part, while concurrently helping them to gain skills and experience. This involvement can be a significant step in someone’s recovery journey. It also represents a cultural shift in the way society views those with the most complex needs, paving the way for less stigmatising beliefs.
There is a growing emphasis amongst funders to incorporate co-production into service design. It is encouraged by procurement regulations and favoured by commissioners, so its value has been recognised. Bids are likely to be seen more favourably when co-production is part of the service operation. In these cases, it’s important that co-production is well understood so it can be implemented effectively.
And finally, people have the right to be involved in their own care; professionals and service users working together to find the best path forward. When someone is living in chaos, they may not feel they have much control over their own circumstances. Working with someone in this way provides a sense of agency which can have positive knock-on effects in other areas of their life.
So, to summarise, co-producing with people with lived experience of multiple and complex needs is beneficial to the service and service user because:
- It is more efficient in the long run as the service will be set up to cater for the needs of all its users, with fewer wasted resources
- Outcomes will be better for service users and more sustainable
- Co-producing can lead to creative solutions to difficult, long-standing problems
- Involving people in their own care is the right thing to do and offers some control over their lives which may be lacking
- Service users gain skills and experience that can help prepare them for work
- Co-producing provides service users numerous psychological benefits such as a sense of belonging, purpose, and achievement, while building self-esteem, self-worth and confidence
Below are some quotes from volunteers on co-producing pieces of work with Fulfilling Lives:
“We had a voice, made me feel I’m not the only one who had experiences like I did at [service] as heard other people’s experiences doing this project, builds confidence. Not very often you have a voice. Hopefully speaking for people who don’t have a voice. We were trusted to do this – self-esteem, not being judged on our past” Service User Involvement Volunteer – FLSE
“Possibility to have a voice. Feeling valid. Being given agency. It felt good to take difficult experiences and turn them into something productive and taking the chance to step into a more active role, after a long time of feeling powerless and hidden” Service User Involvement Volunteer – FLSE
“Everybody should be part of decisions and making a change. Lived experience brings unique perspective, emotional intelligence. Can’t learn it from a textbook. Think that trying to heal and overcome hard times is a difficult and long journey but it also gives incredible insights into yourself and the world, for better and for worse. When the experiences of hard times collide with social services police and other systems, I think that insight and emotional intelligence is particularly valuable if not essential as a window into the client base” Service User Involvement Volunteer – FLSE
The only question that remains then is “When are you getting started?”
Author: Ian Harrison – Co-Production and Engagement Worker
Thanks to colleagues & volunteers at FLSE:
Vikki Hensley – Co-Production and Engagement Worker
Aditi Bhonagiri – Co-Production and Engagement Worker
Kate Jones – Co-Production and Engagement Worker
Andree Ralph – Engagement and Co-Production Lead
Service User Involvement Team Volunteers
For further information about Fulfilling Lives work in this area, please contact:
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