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I started my new role with NHS England last year by going to Expo.
Two stimulating and energetic days followed in the company of some very inspiring and thought-provoking people.
One of the most memorable workshops I attended was chaired by Giles Wilmore, where patient leader Alison Cameron used the metaphor of a mountain to show how organisations can climb towards true co-production, and highlighted the complexities involved in making genuine co-production between citizens and organisations happen.
This year I have been given the opportunity to work with the Expo team to build on the successes of last year, with the aim of embedding co-production with citizens throughout the Expo programme and I have reflected on what will make this work in practice.
A key aspect for any organisation attempting to climb the “co-production mountain” is to see citizens as assets who bring unique skills and expertise to programmes, and who can help us to find solutions that we might otherwise never have considered.
I was reminded of my early career, when an experienced colleague observed me managing a meeting with a group of people who used mental health services, and fed back to me that I did not have to have all the answers. This was a revelation to me – surely my role was to fix things and provide solutions to the problems raised?
My lightbulb moment was realising that, with true co-production, it is possible to enter a room without concrete solutions and work with people to find options that really make a difference. It should not be “them and us”, but more of an equal relationship where power and responsibility is shared. This is the vibe I felt at Expo last year, and I know these conversations will continue in September when we meet once again in Manchester.
Through my work with the Coalition for Collaborative Care (C4CC) I have the opportunity to model co-production as part of a normal way of working. I feel privileged to see the impact the experience of genuine co-production has on C4CC co-production group members.
One member, Richard Cross, wrote to tell me that after a meeting where people shared their personal experiences he was “walking on air”. For Richard it was the feeling that senior leaders with the power to improve outcomes for people across England were listening to the voice of citizens and positive change could happen as a result of this.
A second member, Mandy Rudczenko, after participating in a health coaching session, told us via Twitter that she felt a “foot taller” – and for Mandy this was about feeling it is possible to do things differently.
So, as we take those next steps to co-producing Expo, I am looking forward to modelling a working relationship where the voices of citizens help to ground discussions in reality and where teams areopen to a new person-centred way of working, which takes us right back to the heart of why many of us first came into the NHS – improving outcomes for real people.