“A level playing field”

I spent the day in Cambridge yesterday with Linda and Charlotte (from Preparing for Adulthood), a group of professionals from around the Eastern region and a few parents. The event was about involving families in commissioning.

I love events like this, events that bring parents and professionals together (although there were not too many parents at this one!). I personally believe it’s the only way to work. After all we, as parents want the best for our kids and professionals who work with us inevitably want this too…why else would they do the job they do?

Given the topic, there was a lot of discussion about Co-production. What does it mean?

There are several definitions available for “Co-production” here’s one…

“Co production means delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours. Where activities are co-produced in this way both services and neighbourhoods become far more effective agents of change” [Definition: Nesta, NEF, Putting People First ]

One professional said she didn’t like the term…”it sounded like more jargon” …I think she had a point and as someone who is so anti jargon I found myself questioning the introduction of a new term that may baffle and bewilder parents.

Interestingly though this particular professional said she didn’t like it because she was unfamiliar with it “this is not term we’ve used” … and I couldn’t help thinking…welcome to our world!

As parents we hear terms we are unfamiliar with all the time, constant jargon from a variety of services and professionals. It starts from the day your child gets a diagnosis. It continues into adulthood with the care manager coming to do a “core assessment”, talking about “personal budgets, and something called a RAS … don’t get me started on the acronyms!

Of course jargon and acronyms are only a real problem if someone in the room doesn’t understand them. And, let’s face it we all use it, sometimes without knowing we are doing it. (After all who calls the BBC the British Broadcasting Corporation?) However, there is no place for jargon being used with families. I spoke to a parent I know recently who said she’d had a visit from her son’s care manager. At the meeting the care manager apologised for using jargon! Er…So why use it in the first place? If you know it’s wrong and need to apologise then DON’T USE IT .

As we move towards the implementation of a single plan for disabled children and young people and better multi-agency working, there’s no room for it within services either. Meetings will be full of people from lots of different agencies, who all have their own particular jargon, service speak and particular acronyms. I can guarantee they won’t all understand each other either. So if not for the parents sake then I urge professionals to  think about losing it for the sake of your fellow professionals. Rule of thumb for me would be only ever use acronyms and jargon if you are absolutely sure that everyone understands what you are talking about ( or you’re on Twitter with only 140 characters to play with), but never assume. Better still practice living without it altogether and then everyone is included.

Anyway…back to Co-production…

Personally I like the term, I think it’s fairly straightforward and says clearly what it is.

At risk of contradicting myself after what I’ve said above….here’s’’ why I like it and what it means to me…

I’ve worked for years in participation and involving families but the terms involvement and participation can be too vague and open to misinterpretation. I’ve seen how services can involve families without them activity participating (consultation) I’ve seen Parents actively participating without real partnership (e.g. sitting on strategy groups, being listened to and with everyone else being paid for their time except them!).

Co-production – says what it does on the tin! It clearly means to produce something together. It implies a shared,  joint and cooperative relationship or venture and I love the “equal and reciprocal relationship” bit mentioned in the definition. For me Co-production naturally implies real partnership working and equality. I’m not saying that participation can’t be positive  but this feels like the next positive step on from it… i.e. parents not just participating but actively working together to produce services and sometimes, dare I say it, being the lead partner.

“The most effective methods of co-production can transform services and create new relationships between the people who use them and staff. This transformative level of co-production takes “a whole life focus”, incorporating quality of life issues as well as simply clinical or service issues.”

Whilst I’m usually the first to criticise our local authority for the things they do and don’t do, I have to say Oxfordshire are heading in the right direction when it comes to co-production. Three years ago I worked collaboratively with the council to produce our guide for families of teenagers moving into adulthood (Transition Matters) They paid us (as a parent led charity) to write it and I collaborated with them in its development (but had final editorial control) Since then we’ve worked on developing our information Fairs, by families for families with the support of OCC and the voluntary sector. I’m now sitting on the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) board set up to implement the green paper proposal locally. I’ve been asked to lead on the local offer… and they are paying me to be there (and I don’t just mean my travel costs).

The being paid bit is important, not least because I personally can’t afford to work for nothing (I’ve paid my dues as a volunteer having given all my time for free for 13 or so years) but also  because being  remunerated for your time and expertise shows that you’re as equally valued as everyone else round the table.

Now okay, you might be thinking, that’s one parent. Well since Aiming High for Disabled Children there are now, around the country, lots of parent forums. Within those forums are knowledgeable and skilled parents, many (probably most) of whom are giving up their expertise, talents and precious time for free. Parents who are just as, if not more capable than me of working in this way, I have no doubt that some already are. It’s also true to say that this way of working will be a natural transition for some but will need to be a real leap of faith for others.

Local Authorities, health services and others need to ask themselves… not why should we but why wouldn’t we work this way? After all parents are a valuable resource and they often have the desired overview of services that professionals from health, education and social care don’t always have. We work with all of them and can see the bigger picture.

So for now, I’m personally willing to let this particular jargon go (well until it becomes the natural way of working anyway and doesn’t need a label) because, as far as I’m concerned Co-production levels a “playing field” that has for far too long been far too uneven. Done well it can help lose the “them and us” culture and creates a better understanding and perspective of each others roles. Parents like me feel respected, listened to and valued. I feel like an equal partner and a key stakeholder.

I particularly love the idea of Co-production because like person centred approaches it’s about is “doing with” rather than “doing to” people. To coin a phrase it’s “nothing about us without us” And, as families this is all we have ever really wanted!

About Oxfordshire Family Support Network

Oxfordshire Family Support Network (OxFSN) is a not-for-profit organisation run by and for family carers of people with learning disabilities – both children and adults. Oxfordshire Family Support Network (OXFSN) was set up in 2007 by family carers who wanted to use their experience to help others in the same situation, based on our belief that family carers are experts by their lived experience.
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1 Response to “A level playing field”

  1. Pingback: “A level playing field” « diaryofanemptynestmum

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