Guest blog – Co-production, our daily bread

| Jane Salazar

Last year we interviewed Jane Salazar about Selective Mutism (SM) and the power of peer support. Jane believes it essential that the involvement of people with lived experience lies at the heart of every project. In her professional role, Jane is currently working with Mind on their peer support programme and has recently co-founded her independent consultancy, Involve4Impact, which offers impartial facilitation as part of collaborative workshop design. 

This year Jane shares her practical insight into ‘how we might think differently about co-production’.

The traditional structure of any story has three parts:

beginning,

middle,

and end.

Which fits my co-production story perfectly.

The beginning of this story must be the members of our peer support group, SMTalkingCircles, and a key value of quality peer support: mutual giving and receiving of support. 

In September 2018, a member of our group, Emma, brought a big question to our group meeting. Emma was full of excitement and passion for the new voluntary job she had been given in her local veterinary surgery. But her induction day had not gone well. Emma had not uttered a word and had come away with a big question: ‘How can I let them know about my SM? How will I cope when I’m volunteering if they don’t understand my disability?’

Emma was not alone here. We all had stories of being in situations – in our work place, in education, in healthcare appointments and more – where we’d had exactly the same question and been unable to find an answer.

But together, in a safe place, our peer support found an answer to Emma’s question. We jointly composed an email explaining Emma’s SM to her new manager and it was so well received that Emma was able to enjoy and flourish in her volunteering role, burden free of her SM.

Emma reported how empowered she felt by using the email in her situation. So it felt like a no brainer! Our peer support group decided to take the email to higher level and develop a template that others could use to disclose their SM. Imagine if such a template could empower others with SM, whatever their situation, give them the opportunity to achieve their full potential and improve their lives.

This brings me to the middle: How we developed the SM Adjustment Template: a tool for anyone to disclose their SM when they wanted to and where they wanted to.

At this point of my story, my biggest surprise is the beauty that we did not recognise we were co-producing from the very beginning. 

What did we believe we were doing? 

We were working together as we always did in our peer support group – with members feeling a sense of equality and shared power and consensus decision making being the norm. Every member’s voice was heard, whether they were able to speak or not. Content was agreed using discussion and voting techniques that we’d already developed within the group. This included every section, every sentence and every word. What this also meant was: it took time. It actually took us eight months for the final copy of the SM Adjustment Template to be ready.

You might be asking, ‘so what does any of this have to do with co-production?’

My reflection on the whole creation process of our SM Adjustment Template rapidly opened up my vision to clearly see how we’d actually been co-producing all along:

We had:

  • worked together as equal partners with shared power
  • made decisions together
  • learned from each other – reciprocity
  • built skills, confidence and hope amongst ourselves
  • taken our time: eight months from start to finish
  • acknowledged the insights and expertise of our SM
  • empowered ourselves and created a tool that could empower others

The core values of co-production were all there looking at us, we just hadn’t called it that.

So what happens in the ending?

Let’s go back to the conversation about co-production.

The term ‘co-production’ was originally coined in the late 1970s in the USA by Elinor Ostrom. She coined the word ‘co-production’ to encapsulate her key insight that public services are co-produced by both paid and unpaid labor. The 1990’s saw an approach to health and social care as one of services doing ‘to’ and ‘for’ people and the term co-production was mainly left on the shelf. Since the mid-2000s people have become increasingly interested in co-production again. And today you can source research papers, manuals and training courses all offering information, advice, solutions and encouraging you to use the co-production approach in your big programme or project. This is all positive and I’m definitely an advocate for co-production. But I still hear people asking the question, ‘What is co-production? How can I co-produce?’

It is fair to say it did take us time, but SMTalkingCircles had found it effortless to co-produce. And you only need to read the feedback on our SM Adjustment Template to understand the benefits of co-producing: trust, empowerment, change and sustainable solutions to social issues. We hadn’t referred to manuals, read research papers or been on any training. We had used the key values/ principles of peer support that we had embedded in our peer support group. We co-produced every time we met.

So let me pose this question for 2019: Can we think differently about putting co-production into practice in our daily lives?

Let’s bring co-production into our daily habits: at work, at school and at home. Let’s think about micro co-production. Let it grow from the ground and become an unconscious and automatic approach in all our work. Let our culture begin to move towards one that embraces co-production and equality of opinion.

So when we next hear the question ‘How can I co-produce?’

We can answer: ‘It’s easy – I practice it every day!’

So go on and give it a go: next time you’re working in a group, think ‘co-production’!

If you use it, please credit us and let us know how you found it!

Photos provided by Jane Salazar and by Artem Maltsev

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