Thanks to everyone at SCDC, the Co-production Network and JIT for a thoroughly stimulating day at the National Co-production conference last week. Not only did I get the change to meet a range of interesting, interested people, but it also helped me crystallise some of the things I've been wrestling with over the past wee while.
For instance, prompted by some snazzy photography and interesting questions (what's your role?) from the people of SNOOK, I got to thinking about how we support practitioners to adapt to an assets or co-production way of working.
From IRISS' own work, we've established that when working in a co-productive way, roles and responsibilities will naturally shift. Equality of voice and shared responsibility does not have to mean that the roles of all participants have to be the same. In fact, equality might be promoted by different parties playing particular roles at different points (see: IRISS' Evidence Explorers project report by Dr Sally Witcher for more detail, due end March). Therefore, we don't think it is possible to identify just one role per 'actor' in the coproduction process.
At the conference there was violent agreement - coproduction matters and is valuable. That being true, you could easily understand why it might be a difficult thing to understand as a practitioner who hasn't worked in this way before. How do you go about explaining that you need to be flexible and use your intuition to know when and how to adapt your role? How do you explain that, through the emergent nature of coproduction, there will be significant challenges to traditional models and methods of project management? How do you support practitioners to be comfortable with uncertainty? How do you convey that in the end it will all be worthwhile because the outcomes you've reached will far outweigh your expectations?
In our experience, these can be difficult questions to answer, though not insurmountable. Some of the things that we’ve found useful include:
- supporting practitioners to facilitate – i.e. the practitioner creates enough structure to help things along but doesn’t direct the line of travel by asking open questions and welcoming others’ contributions
- establishing a ‘design group’ – a small group of interested people who represent all perspectives. These people should direct the line of travel and provide a useful forum to run things past
- the value of peer support - peer support workers give confidence to people who use services, but also challenge behaviour and attitudes
- support for practitioners –set up ‘drop-ins’ or ‘forums’ as a safe space for practitioners to share concerns or who need space to think through any issues
- strategic leadership – leaders who ensure that collaboration and outcomes are at the heart of the organisation.
- doing something novel - creating an equal platform by effectively removing 'expert' and asking everyone to contribute
These are just some of our thoughts - but there is a lot we could learn from the network (in the true spirit of co-production!) - how have others in the network overcome these challenges?