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Co-production; learning from our mishaps

Co-production is a proven way to improve services by involving different patients, people, and stakeholders in decision-making and making changes to better healthcare. But here's the thing - it doesn't always go as planned and we learn best from what goes wrong. At the Academy, we've had our fair share of co-production mishaps, and we thought it would be useful to share some of our insights as part of our co-production week celebrations. #CoProWeek23.

1. Communication and setting expectations

Perhaps the most unfortunate outcome of failed co-production is the failure to achieve desired outcomes. When everyone isn't on the same page or pulling in different directions, it's difficult to reach those goals that were initially set out. This can be incredibly frustrating for all involved parties and may even lead to abandoned projects or wasted resources. While co-production gone wrong can be a real headache, there are ways to mitigate these issues and get back on track towards success. Communication is key - open and honest dialogue among team members can help address conflicts early on before they escalate into major problems. Setting clear expectations from the start about time, funding and desired outcomes is also crucial in preventing delays and ensuring everyone is working towards the same goals.

2. Unequal power balance

We've all heard the saying, "two heads are better than one," but what happens when the power in the room is not balanced? It's not uncommon for collaborative projects to encounter bumps along the way, and one common pitfall is the unequal distribution of power among stakeholders. When one party dominates decision-making or fails to consider the perspectives and needs of others, it can create resentment and hinder progress. It's important to ensure that the power balance in the room is equal, giving everyone a chance to speak and be heard. Listening fully and intently is crucial, as it shows respect for different perspectives and acknowledges that your way might not be the only way.

3. The ‘token gesture’ service user

Ah yes, the tokenistic service user. Picture this: a meeting filled with professionals, and amidst them, there's just one lone service user. Sounds familiar? Well, here's the thing - inviting one service user to such a meeting doesn't automatically mean you're truly co-producing. If you genuinely want to engage in a meaningful way, it takes more than just token representation. When it comes to making decisions and creating solutions, it's important to hear from a variety of voices and perspectives. Gone are the days of just having one voice or one opinion dominate the discussion. Co-production is all about actively involving service users in the process. It's not just about ticking a box or including them as a token gesture. It's about truly valuing their input and allowing them to be active participants in shaping the outcome. In co-production, you must be open-minded and willing to challenge your initial ideas. Sometimes, you might even have to rip them up completely! But that's okay because in doing so, you create space for new ideas and perspectives that can lead to a better final product.

4. Going in with the solution

So, you've got a solution in mind and you're ready to co-produce. But before you dive in, it's important to remember that co-production isn't just about implementing your own ideas. It's about working collaboratively and being open to the possibility that your initial solution might not be the best one. In co-production, it's crucial to be prepared to abandon any preconceived notions and be willing to listen and learn from others. Remember, you might not be the expert in every aspect of the project, and that's okay! Embrace the opportunity to tap into the collective knowledge and expertise of your team. So, let go of any attachment to your initial solution and approach co-production with an open mind. Together, you can create something truly innovative by combining everyone's unique perspectives and insights.

5. Not closing the loop

You know, those incredible conversations where people get super passionate about a topic? Well, too often, after all that excitement and energy, participants never hear from the facilitators again. It's like the conversation just stops dead in its tracks. If you truly value people's input and ideas, it's important to follow up and close that loop. Take the time to reach out afterwards and provide feedback on how their contributions have been used. It shows that you appreciate their involvement and helps foster a sense of collaboration and trust. Don't let those great co-production sessions go to waste. Keep the conversation going by closing the loop and keeping everyone informed, this way, they’re more likely to come back!

6. Mistakes

We’ve all made mistakes, and in co-production this can happen a lot. We're only human, after all, and in our busy working lives, it's inevitable that we'll slip up from time to time. Forgetting to send emails, missed Teams invites, not introducing the patients in the room. Mistakes can and will be made, but here's the thing - admitting when you got it wrong can work in your favour. Being humble and owning up to your mistakes shows that you're open and honest. And guess what? People appreciate that! When you're upfront about your blunders, others are more likely to understand and be forgiving.

A final thought, while co-production has its risks, with proper planning and open, honest communication, it can be an effective way of innovating and implementing sustainable improvements to services.


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