We spent time in August exploring the concept of networks which sits behind See Me’s Change Networks with a specific focus on what differentiates a network and a project- and how can we make networks more sustainable?
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY NETWORK?
- A number of independent things cooperating together towards a common goal
- A group of individuals and organisations coming together to make a change happen in a certain setting.
- It could be a social network that can help people to participate online and also support self management
- It can be formal or informal.
- It can be about people with a common goal or people who have something in common but no common goal. Does having something in common make the Change Network more sustainable?
- A network can be put together purely to access funding
SUSTAINABILITY – WHAT DOES IT RELY ON?
- A sustainable Change Network can increase participation, mental capital and community development.
- It requires a common purpose and acknowledge members need each other.
- It requires a series of achievable goals (or a fairly broad remit) members can stick to and celebrate.
- A sustainable Change network will make sure hard to reach people get to participate. Networks can often be elitist and exclusive.
- It needs to be clear about what members bring and not become over reliant on one organisation or individual.
- It needs to be creative in its communication and stay fresh and new to attract people. Membership changes : More fresh energy. This may also mean constant recruitment.
- Sustainable Networks share good practice and information.
- A sustainable network should not be a clique and seen as exclusive from the outside.
- It needs to be radically non judgemental and non hierarchical. Everybody has a contribution to make.
- It needs to be flexible to adapt to change, information and updates it receives. It has to respond to need as it emerges and changes. Sometimes, one goal leads to another.
- Organisations can adapt to conditions and processes to bring in new partners to achieve their aims
- A sustainable Network can be organic and change according to circumstances. It needs to be adaptable to be sustainable. Conditions will change, and change is the only constant – so sustainable networks need to be organic (dare we say amoebic) to be able to respond to change.
- It needs to manage information well and avoid overload, especially through social media. Social media can destroy networks when there is an information overload.
- A sustainable Network should not be risk averse as opposed to an organisation needing to ‘remain afloat’.
- It needs to be generous with its members.
- It requires resources – time, energy, practical things (like a space to meet), money for venues, travel
- Should we be thinking about a celebratory approach – ie. not just sustaining but flourishing?
- Does a network need resources to achieve its goals? Does it exist only to run projects?
- Does a Change Network need a leading group or organisation?
- Should it be about activism and altruism and not about money? Or does sustainability involves money?
- How do we bring in hard to reach people?
- Can organisations relying on funding use this as power over people with lived experience?
- How do we turn around organisations that are risk averse and have a vested interest? Can we change their hearts and minds?
- Can a sustainable change network develop, nurture and challenge relationships between partners?
- Do Change Networks need facilitators to balance the power, support and voices to be heard? Is Coordination key?
- Is a lived experience leadership key or is it the facilitation of lived experience involvement?
- Is time the currency for sustainability?
From this discussion we formulated some research questions to take to existing networks and communities to find out more!
This week we had the pleasure of welcoming Elspeth Gracey as our Keynote Listener on the subject of “Building Sustainable Networks”. Elspeth reflected on the session…
A week of two firsts!
This week involved two firsts for me. I was invited to be a Keynote Listener at a meeting organised by IRISS and See Me and they suggested that afterwards I might like to blog about it!
The term Keynote Listener was a first for me and intrigued me. Given that I was a ‘stand in’ for our Director who was unfortunately on leave this brought it’s own dynamic. How would I know if I had been any good in this role when I had no previous experience against which to measure it?
Having said “Yes” I just had to do it. The topic of the meeting was ‘Sustainable networks for change’. Networking and networks for change are amongst my most favourite things. and fundamental to Community Development. Working within the Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC) as part of the Community Health Exchange (CHEX) team, which supports a network of local community-led health organisations, networking for change is very familiar territory to me. That pesky word ‘sustainable’ takes us into much more challenging territory which has plagued so many of us for far too many years.
The facilitators of the meeting had asked me to send some advanced material for participants to consider and I duly sent off links to reports and video clips which I hoped were relevant. This included one good news example of how a network of organisations had persuaded Scottish Government to part with cash to secure their future.
On the day of the meeting itself I was made very welcome by both facilitators and the group of 7 participants who have all been involved in working with networks through the small grants scheme established by See Me.
I had been told that although my title was ‘listener’ I was allowed to contribute to the discussion and would be asked to provide my reflections in 5 minutes at the end.
What followed were a couple of hours in which the group very ably discussed the theoretical and practical aspects of networks. It was recognised that networks are not always seeking the benign outcomes that we were thinking of when the American Gun Lobby got a mention. The troublesome issue of sustainability engendered lots of discussion. Do networks need to be sustained or should they just exist to achieve a primary outcome and then dissipate? What resources are needed to sustain them? Is facilitation of networks a necessary component? What role for ‘leadership’, ‘champions’ or ‘key people’?
Within the discussion there was reference to human relationships within networks and the purposefulness, relevance and the changes that networks exist to achieve. The need to be inclusive and not elitist or cliquey were flagged up. In terms of changing attitudes related to stigma in mental health the essential component of including people with lived experience of mental ill health was seen as essential. All in all a couple of hours flew past in which the discussion was drawn to a conclusion and the group established the research questions they needed to take back to the groups they have been working with.
I very much enjoyed my first role as a Keynote Listener and would happily do it again. My grateful thanks go to those who made me so welcome and shared their knowledge and expertise with me. And it would appear that this page about my experience is my first blog!
Elspeth Gracey, Practice Development Manager, CHEX
We came together in July to talk about the ‘change’ in Change Networks, and to explore the conditions, catalysts and people that we think might make change happen. Here were some of our initial thoughts through the group discussion:
Planning for change
- Project planning – unexpected outcomes might have value, but can we pursue them? Does funding allow this?
- Planning change is uncertain
- Can the process be the outcome?
- Change is not just a destination, the journey is integral
- If you focus on values throughout, you can trust the process
- A challenge to funders to base on values
- Is there value attributed to randomized control trials vs. qualitative, messy processes
- Is co production compatible with modern funding techniques?
Scale and spread
- Innovation vs. spread – what is the scalability of these mini innovations?
- Is it more about scaling the process across Scotland – and watching different things emerge which are locally relevant?
- Can something be a success in one area but not transferable?
- Should we be focusing on projects that can be scaled nationally?
- Change facilitators vs. change leaders – which is most effective?
- Can we learn lessons from change in business settings?
- The language of leadership matters (and we’ve not quite found consensus on it yet)
- Sometimes projects need a driving force to make actual happen
- It’s like growing a bacteria- it will replicate and multiply because of the specific conditions, but a bit of rain from an open window and it’s ruined!
- Good stakeholder management (networking as a collective)
- Equality of power on an individual and organizational level
- Different people with different roles
- Working together
- Starting what people want and need
- Asking the right questions
- Different people have different skills and roles in change – we do what we’re good at (and maybe learn some stuff?)
- Bridging these people – their experience, skills
- What constitutes success and what constitutes failure?
- Sometimes the good stuff is the ‘soft stuff’
- We’re spending public pennies (which are increasingly tight and regulated)
- Do we measure efficiency? Values? Impact?
- How well can we tolerate failure? How do we learn from this?
- Is there an element of measuring the savings (using health economics)
- How do we measure?
- Need a baseline
- Attribution issues – what has made this change happen? How can we narrow that down?
- Need long term funding for evaluation which is an issue
- How big to we measure? Ie. Improved attendance of mental health services by prisoners vs. a healthier, happier Scotland.
- What about the impact on other communities of interest – not just those directly involved
- Change happens at different paces. How can a one year project account for this?
- Some change (ie. Stigma in one area) might take generations not years
Our key learning:
- It’s vital to create conditions and conversations for change to happen – ie. Theatre Nemo inspired by the conditions of “Unlocking potential”
- Change happens through learning and sharing – taking on different backgrounds and perspectives
At session 3, we thought about Human Rights and a Human Rights based approach..and what it looked like in practice. A summary of our discussion was around:
- What do we mean by human rights?
• How do I evidence things from a human rights perspective?
• Is there a shared understanding of what this approach values/encompasses
• UN conventions sum up what human rights mean in a broader framework and the UK adheres to both European and UN principles
• Potential change to the human rights bill causes worry for people with mental health problems
- In practiceIt seems more productive to apply them to people’s whole lives and
- PANEL Principles
• In the projects, it is about participation and not leaving things to the experts
• Using PANEL principles in a broader sense to inform what we are doing
• About giving people a chance to fulfill humanity in their lives
• People may have apathy around human rights because they have fear – is it a barrier for people’s engagement?
• The PANEL principles can act as a benchmark
• A human rights based approach is a term that has become more popular- but is it superficial? Is it linked with funding? The principles need to be really engaged with in practice to make a difference
• Is the only way to be accountable through legal rights?
• How do we give people a voice if they only tell their story after their rights have been violated?
• Duty bearers (people who can affect your rights) need to be involved in projects with rights bearers (people)
• These rights aren’t a ‘nice thing to do’, but they are our rights. We deserve to live without stigma and discrimination
• Need for people to be able to self advocate + know their rights
• Need for a celebration of good practice, to share what works and built positivity around human rights in mental health
• There are lessons from outside mental health that could be applied
- We spent some time exploring the language of Human Rights and whether or not this terminology could be seen as a barrier to engaging with people with lived experience, particularly those who have had experiences of their rights being breached. We wondered if the principles could be applied without ‘formalising’ this language. This was a new reflection for myself, as I’d never considered Human Rights as a barrier, but the storytellers offered a useful prompt for us to think about what personal experiences of Human Rights might feel like.. and how having rights-positive conversation might be triggering or challenging.
At each of our sessions, the group invites a Keynote Listener to support our discussion around a key topic such as: co-production, human rights or partnership working. This keynote listener is an expert in their field, and guides the group to relevant and engaging literature before they meet.
The keynote listener, in contrast with a keynote speaker, lets the group lead on the discussion and supports them to develop research questions.
We asked for one of our keynote listeners, Lesley Smith from the Scottish Recovery Network for feedback on her experience:
“Being invited to meet with the Peer Researchers involved in the IRISS/SeeMe Change Networks programme was intriguing. In the role of ‘Keynote Listener’ I was able to bring my experiences of using mental health services, involved in many different ways within service provision and working in a development role.
I was asked to suggest resources and selected ones that would hopefully stimulate discussion and thinking on who holds the power and how that power is held and shared.
Meeting the group was both an inspiring and insightful experience. I was surprised by how useful the group found the evidence I offered, in particular, a creative video based on the work of Edgar Cahn ‘No more throw away people’ I was fascinated to hear people’s thinking in relation to the squares and the blobs (you need to watch the video!) and their rational for questioning the ending. The consensus was that people don’t always fit nicely into boxes and may have mix of experiences and expertise and we need to be careful of limiting how we think people can contribute and creating opportunities.
I also found the discussion on leadership and what is a leader intriguing and sent me away reflecting on how I understand leadership and lived experience.
Overall what I was most impressed by was a group of committed and thoughtful people, working with each other to understand what their role is and how to go about doing it. The way they created space for every voice and discussed debated ideas was powerful and in many ways models what they are looking for within the Change Networks. For someone who is a bit of a problem solver, I really appreciated having the opportunity to experience and contribute to this process.”
As a group, we didn’t have an easy start. Laetitia and I have definitely learned some core lessons as facilitators about power, group recruitment and roles and responsibilities.
We asked the group to reflect on their own experiences so far as part of our ongoing learning about co-production…
“Involvement in the peer research project has been a very organic, but rewarding, process professionally and personally. Working as a peer group of researchers we initially had a bumpy start – confusion over roles and communication stemming from a lack of clarity that, in retrospect, was a necessary part of the process. The learning there for me is that we could have got going much sooner had there been clear notice that this was all new territory for everyone. This is evidence in itself that values are the key component to making change happen – what has been a real strength in our journey has been the openness, honesty, mutual respect and compassion we have for each other as a group of peers. This reflects the learning I am gathering from my local area regarding an asset-based approach; that process is one of the most important outcomes from the activity and when you find mutual respect within a community and are open to change, you can make opportunities that are ‘work’ in to something enriching and even fun! I am particularly enjoying the key note listeners we have had at our events. I would use this model again as it changes the power dynamic from teacher/ student to peers with differing experience to share. Equally those peers who are storytellers bring a ‘real’ quality to our discussions. It is co-production in action – truly we are a jigsaw with different shaped bits, no piece is more important than the next otherwise we cant make the whole picture.”
“The See Me/ IRISS Peer Research project got off to a slightly shaky start. The initial meeting would perhaps have benefitted from being a team session rather than a wider launch, allowing us space to come to understand our own, and other team members’, roles before engaging with our projects. But the flexibility of the process has now enabled us to get back on track. Additional time taken to discuss and resolve outstanding issues was extremely valuable and also helped the team to bond over solutions. We are now more focused and united, and ready to move forward with our research.”
“My participation in the See Me peer research project has given me many opportunities to develop my interest in peer research, to share my knowledge and to learn from other peer researchers and also the digital story tellers. It has been an interesting experience to be part of an enthusiastic and very lively group of people who are passionate about recovery and making a difference in the lives of people who have mental health issues. In my experience, the group members are not only supportive but also able to reflect on their own behaviour and to change it in such a way that everyone can contribute to the group work. There has been an atmosphere of openness, acceptance and enthusiasm which has made the overall experience positive.”
As part of the research project co-ordinated by See Me and IRISS (the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services) looking at Change Networks, we’ve been studying how some key principles are underpinning the delivery of anti stigma projects. One of these is co production, and that has raised some interesting issues in relation to the approach of advocacy organisations. Put simply, does advocacy work with a model that is different to, or indeed incompatible with, co production?
Without wanting to get too technical, there is perhaps a need for some definitions here.
Co-production has been defined in several ways, generally as a model of service delivery in the public sector. It involves true partnership between service providers and those receiving the service. For example, the New Economics Foundation says that, ‘Co-production means delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours.’
The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance defines advocacy as, ‘a way to help people have a stronger voice and to have as much control as possible over their own lives’. It is also clear that independence is crucial here, and SIAA states that, ‘Independent Advocacy organisations are separate from organisations that provide other types of services.’
If we look closely at these two definitions, then it is easy to see where a possible conflict of philosophies can occur. Co-production sees service providers and consumers of services working together as equal partners in a project, whereas advocacy sees consumers being given the skills to come together and manage a project themselves. The advocacy organisation provides support and back up, but it is those with lived experience who are enabled to lead and manage the project entirely in their own right.
So the advocacy approach and co-production are clearly different. But does it actually matter? Are we simply attempting here to fit different people’s ways of working into artificially created boxes with jargonisitc names?
Perhaps a solution to this dilemma is to look at the principles behind the two approaches. Co-production seeks to see people as assets and to work together towards a common goal with shared values in a manner that is inclusive and respectful. Advocacy seeks to put people first, listening and understanding and enabling them to take control in meeting their goals. So clearly the value bases of the two approaches are actually very similar.
In practical terms I don’t think it matters too much what we call a way of working. Maybe both co-production and the advocacy model are simply different forms of partnership that both aim to do pretty much the same thing: to enable people with lived experience of mental illness to have a stronger voice and to take control of factors affecting their lives.
So let’s not get caught up in technical terms. Let’s just agree that there can sometimes be more than one way to achieve the results we want.
– Gordon Johnston, Peer Researcher
Reflections on the process
This session was meant to be about Governance but we realised that actually, what we were talking about was power and partnerships. As a group, we decided to explore ‘governance’ in a later session called ‘Change; what works?’ In many ways, this discussion was an opportunity to reflect on the findings from Session 1 and build on our understanding of co-production in practice.
We discussed how power is shared and who supports/influences/leads Change Networks and other projects across Scotland. We explored how power can be held and shared as well as
- Power can come from different sources, skills and knowledge.
- It is important to go to people, encourage, understand why they want/don’t want to get involved. E.G. one project distributed 400 leaflets and did not get any response. Need to use social contact.
- People who do not get involved also hold power by deciding not to engage.
- Self stigma can be a barrier and make engagement and involvement a long process. It might be that people who work in mental health are more open.
- Essential principles are needed for people to get involved:
- Values and ethics
- Shared hope
- Humility and self awareness
- Important not to have a fixed view before inviting people with lived experience. It is therefore essential to get people with lived experience on board from the start.
- Get experts/professionals to accept they can be challenged and don’t have power in all situations.
- Need to see others as assets with different knowledge and skills.
- Who has the decision making power? Is it a tick box exercise or a something we do together?
- How do we get people to see that lived experience is an asset and that it is in everybody’s interest to value it?
- It is about doing something together, connecting.
LANGUAGE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- How do we make sure the process does not dilute the context? If people with lived experience need to learn a whole new language, it creates inequalities
- Need for short term thinking and options on how to get involved. Round the table meetings are not the only way to engage people
- Need for people to feel connected and supported in a hub people feel they own
- Co-production can be a collective or individual process. An individual can work in a co-productive way by engaging with people in their community
- Need for resource equality and not incentivisation
WHAT DO PEOPLE NEED TO LEAD AND SUPPORT OTHERS TO LEAD?
- Facilitation at all levels
- Facilitate assets
- Bring a structure
- Provide mentoring
- Share good practice across cities and projects
- Get professionals to walk in people with lived experiences’ shoes: need for equality-minded support
- Who do we invite? Do we choose people to invite in a selective way?
- Everybody’s voice must be heard: how can we realistically achieve this
- Do we assume that the ‘them’ don’t have lived experience and the ‘us’ do?
- People need to see that their lived experience is not their only asset
WHAT DO WE WANT TO UNDERSTAND MORE?
Over May/June, the group will work with Change Networks and other groups/projects across Scotland and explore the following questions
- How do we support people to participate and exert influence?
- What resources are allocated to do this?
- How do we use resources/tools/assets/technology in this?
- How are decisions made? How empowering is that process?
- How do people with lived experience participate in/dictate the process?
- What is on the agenda and who sets it?
- Who is accountable/responsible within your change network?
- How have you addressed the power dynamics in your change network/group/project?
Personal and political
My own personal reflection from the session was that we tend to think about power and co-production in terms of process, rather than people. Contributing can be a raw, personally-risky process.. and needs to be worth it.
“Co-production is like a tandem bike – you both need to be pedaling in the same direction” – Group member
Reflecting on the process
We decided to ditch the titles, leave the hierarchies and work as a collective. This was a big lesson for the facilitators about trying to programme the group – we are much happier to let things emerge naturally.
We also developed a mission statement to help focus our efforts as a group:
“Together, we support each other to find out what is out there, what works and what does not work to make change happen. Then we tell those stories to facilitate change across Scotland.”
Communication and Language
We decided to focus on making our voice which friendly and accessible, which is a challenge with a group with so many different backgrounds.
In fact, we also decided to help ‘decode’ some of the jargon surrounding mental health with a glossary of understandable language, which we hope we can share as part of the final output of this project.
We know that it’s important to have a shared language, not just as a group but with our wider audience.
We shared what skills were in the group – what we did well and what we wanted to learn more about. We were really impressed at the skill mix in the room, including:
- organisational skills
- peer research and academic research skills
- storytelling/writing skills
- lived experience
- auricular acupuncture
Talking about Co-production
We had a discussion about co-production facilitated by Lisa Curtice (Link to website)
- Tends to favour people who are already empowered and skilled. Co-Production needs to empower people who would not naturally rise to the surface.
- Co-production needs to be resourced. It is not a solution to budget cuts.
- How do we convince service providers that a co-production approach is cost efficient but not a cheap option. Using co-production as a way to save money would be the wrong approach.
- People engaging can be see as merely volunteers when they choose to engage to work towards an outcome they care about.
- Middle management needs to grasps the concept and its challenges to engage properly.
- Changing the rule of the game: how to set up a place where very voice is valued
REQUIREMENTS AND PRINCIPLES FOR EFFECTIVE CO-PRODUCTION
- Shared values
- Faith and commitment
- Resources and time
- Strong leadership
- Strong facilitation and accessibility to project/partnership
- Define participation for individuals involved
- Need to look at co-production and involvement through all the phases of the project
- Need for a mix of skills and abilities (‘how’ and ‘why, types of people) and roles matching them
- Constructive spaces with structure
- Dialogue and negotiation to reach decisions
- Asset based process
- Co-production works best in areas with strong welfare because more time and resources are available to support people to engage in the process. The challenge is to get people engaged when they are faced with inequalities.
- Need for strong leadership because we are all equal but also all different. Not everybody wants to be a leader.
- Need to lift barriers/obstacles to make it as easy as possible to engage: facilitation is key
- Not everybody wants to stand up and speak or represent the partnership. What does participation mean for the individual? Do they have to be activists by default?
- New roles can be created to give people a voice.
- Need to change relationships and go beyond consultation. Need to look at all the phases and see how people can be involved.
- There is a risk element and a personal risk involved as people become humanised on the job. It requires faith, commitment and the ability to give up some control.
- Need to create roles for ‘how’ and ‘why types of people. Create roles drawing on people’s skills and abilities.
- Asset based approach: what do people have to offer?
Need to create constructive spaces with:
- Agreements/rules that are constantly referred to
- Use dialogue and negotiation to reach decisions
The peer researchers will be working with their linked Change Networks and other projects/groups across Scotland to explore co-production in more depth. The group will develop interview questions and a survey to help understand the following core questions:
- What is your general understanding of co-production? What does this mean in practice for you?
- Do you value co-production?
- What processes do you use to co-produce? How effective are they?
- Whose voice is heard and how is it acted on?
- How are resources used and shared? Who gets paid? What can be shared? How open are people to sharing resources?
- Who benefits from co-production?