How can social services work with people using services on an equal basis for improved outcomes?

On 14-15 November in Lisbon, Portugal, over 130 people attended our Co-production Forum to share inspiring examples of how people who use social services can participate in shaping them. The event was hosted in collaboration with three ESN members in Portugal:

Rui Fiolhais from the Institute for Social Security welcomed the participants with a statement that just by listening to people, social services are halfway towards improving outcomes for them.

Involving people from the start

Listening to people who use services is one step of co-production. At ESN we see co-production as an approach where people who use services and professionals work together on an equal basis at all stages of social services planning, delivery and evaluation.

“Co-production means involving people from the start of service provision,” said Tara Flood from the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. This requires a shift in attitude by not seeing people as simple recipients of services, but as experts by experience who can contribute to how services are run.

Inspiring practices to take home

Our members shared co-production practices they are implementing:

  • The Champions Board in South Ayrshire, Scotland, brings together care experienced young people with local service managers and politicians. They have contributed to new policies, such as a pledge on preventing homelessness for young people leaving care.
  • The ‘My Life – My Plan’ project in the Municipality of Randers in Denmark gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to design a visual plan of action that helps them to more easily express their goals using pictures and colours during meetings with social workers.

Co-production starts from the top

To make co-production a success, there should be commitment from senior management. In our co-production survey 74% of ESN members said the support of senior management is key.

At the Co-Production Form, speakers highlighted challenges when sharing power at a strategic level with people who use services. Firstly, people using services are often not involved in important decisions and face barriers such as communication difficulties and a lack of knowledge on how they can contribute.

On the other hand, professionals may fear that giving more power to people using services reduces the importance of professional expertise. Overcoming this challenge requires professionals to be aware of the benefits of co-production and by allowing time to build trust and long-term relationships with people using services.

“We can’t afford not to do it,” said Carsten Wulff Hansen from the Municipality of Randers in Denmark stating that it is an essential investment for ensuring that services provide quality support tailored to people’s needs and aspirations.

To support social services in the implementation of co-production ESN will publish a ‘Co-production Guide’ that provides practical guidance for service managers. All the resources from the event are already available.