Co-production: sniffing out the fakes

Co-production means many things to many people.

For me, REAL100% co-production means developing ideas and putting them into action collaboratively – experts by profession (eg drs, psychiatrists, researchers etc) and experts by experience (eg people who use services, carers) working together from start to finish.

Whether it’s a training programme, a publication, an infographic (a graphic that has key messages embedded), campaigns, whatever . . . What it ain’t is a tick-box exercise where you get a few lay folk (bless them – I’ve been there) who give their feedback (because they’ve been touched/impacted by said issue) on a project that has already been shaped; and fits into a strategic plan that isn’t shared amongst the good folk who want to be “involved”.

6 years engaged in all kinds of (supposed) co-projects – with a mental and physical health emphasis – with a wide range of organisations from the national, regional and local – from the NHS, charities,  research organisations and local authorities – has made me a pro at smelling a co-production fake.

Surely a real 100% co-production project shows two clear signs:

  • Investment and commitment: proper money has been put into it and clearly detailed in objectives and strategies at the organisational/collaborative level.
  • Equality: Everyone is equal. The voice of the expert by experience (say the carer) is as important as the expert by profession (say the dr or psychiatrist or researcher) as to what projects are going to be developed, how they’re developed and how their impact is assessed.

Force Field Analysis explained: on the back of three envelopes

Hi – This is the first of a short series on how to use popular models to create change that lasts. We’re going to start with Force Field Analysis.



Imagine a boat. Certain forces will make the water rise (the driving or positive forces) and others (resisting/negative forces) will make it fall taking the boat with it.



If someone – let’s call him Alex – wanted to improve his mental health using the force field analysis tool he’d start by drawing out how things are now. He eats well and exercises regularly (his positive forces). Medium length lines to represent that he knows he could eat and exercise better  (if he was being honest). But he’s also stressed, scared, isolated and sleeping badly. Long lines to represent powerful forces (in fact he feels quite over-whelmed by them when he thinks about it). So to make things better for Alex – ideally – he’d have to take active steps to weaken the negative forces or enhance the positive ones.


Let’s apply it to a more professional, public affairs context – take campaigning – then the idea would be to get the water to rise with strong allies and key messages, well-timed activities, and knowing who your opponents really are etc; and minimise the negative forces like failing to have a clear purpose and sloppy planning.


If you want to know more and like videos here’s something for you.

If you like reading stuff then why not try this one or perhaps this one.

Role descriptors: a great tool to get carers involved in your work

Do you have a bit of a challenge getting mental health carers involved in your work? Perhaps they’re not joining the group you’ve set up and you’d really like to hear about their “lived experience” and the many “insights” they’ve picked up along the rocky road that is called “care”.

Well, you’re in the right place. Because I can tell you about a very simple, nifty tool – a role descriptorthat can really help you.

Role descriptors frame what’s expected of you and carers in very explicit but simple terms.

Role descriptors are normally a couple of pages long and tend to include six pieces of really important information for the mental health carer:

1 – Background and timeframe. Aim/purpose/vision of group, project, task.

2 – Carer Role. What you’d like the carers to do (in a group you might like them to represent and liaise eg).

3 – Carer experience and skills – essential/desirable. I’ve found these really help the carer reflect/be able to detail the skills that they already have; and perhaps want to share with others. Putting it in jargon, public affairs speak they “help the carer map their innate assets”.

4 – Carer support. How are you going to help them in their role? If it’s joining a group you might like to provide them with a handbook, training, pre-meetings eg).

5 – Reward and recognition/Payment. Not everyone will want to take a monetary reward. Often they’re really confused and frightened as to whether they should declare it to the tax people. So please help carers out by directing them to expert help and information on this complex  issue.

6 – Who to contact and response time. Give very clear information about who to contact if you’re thinking of getting actively involved; and how long it’s likely to take to get a response to their query. It’s very easy to lose people at the first hurdle with poor communication. None of us want that!

Best of luck!

A little bit about me: I am a member (mental carer representative and campaigner) of the Reading Mental Wellbeing Group (RMWG). One of my recent projects has been trying to help the group better incorporate the “seldom heard voice” (including people who use mental health services and their unpaid carers – family and friends) into our work/meetings.

The group was specifically set up to:

“Provide a central point for the voices of mental health service users and carers to be heard and acted upon.

Ensure that the profile of mental health issues is raised and that outcomes for people who use mental health services and their carers are improved.”

Among many other things . . .

It includes a range of local “stakeholders” (people who are interested and involved in helping improve mental health services for everyone).  It’s chaired by the lead on community mental health in Reading who works for Berkshire Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Special blog written for Reading Mental Wellbeing Group to help us in our work together; and help promote our vision to those who might be interested in getting involved.


How to help someone who is suicidal

In honour of World Suicide Prevention Day: 10 September 2017

Spent last weekend creating a brand new Suicide Prevention infographic with a couple of friends (Mike, an illustrator; and Dan a word-smith) in honour of World Suicide Prevention Day on 10th Sept 2017.

Together we wanted to create something powerful that people could engage with easily and share with others; something that took the sting out of starting a conversation around suicide.Suicide Prevention Infographic 040917After just a few days we’re bowled over by the response in pledges of support. We seem to have struck a chord. The genie is out of the bottle: mental health is something that concerns us all.

It reminds me of the jelly fish story. Woman walks along a beach strewn with jelly fish. She sees a young girl chucking one into the sea. Woman says to girl: Why bother? Look how many there are! You can’t save all of them! The girl replies: Yes, but I saved that one.

Please share the infographic with anyone you think might be interested. If you tweet about it please do me the kindness of crediting: @sofijaopacic.


How you can help mental health carers

A blog to mark Carers Week 2017

I’m a carer. An unpaid mental health carer. And an active mental health carer campaigner. It’s not all of me, but it’s a very important part of how I’ve chosen to be. I’m proud that I care.

It’s very easy for us – unpaid carers – to become apologetic and lose self-confidence when we tell someone new that we’re an unpaid mental health carer. Because people tend to respond to the news in one of four ways (all unhelpful):

People switch off. Distance themselves from you. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe my face becomes a mirror reflecting big stuff they’d prefer to sweep under the carpet? Things like ill-health, lack of control? Perhaps they’re frightened? Best leave this alone because I’m digging myself a wee hole.

People start saying strange things to me like: “You’ll get your reward in heaven.” Framing me as if I’m some sort of sad soul totting-up the points to my miraculous assent to heaven. Is this a tiny bit patronising or is it just me (being “sensitive”)?

People start interrogating me, questioning my judgement: “Why didn’t you . . . . . Why don’t you” Framed in a way that they have the answers to my “problem”. Problem is I don’t see how I choose to live my life as a problem it’s how I’ve chosen to be because it’s important to me to be that way (to care).

People presume you don’t work and time is not important to you. Untrue. My experiences as a carer have blended into my professional life so that everyone gains from the “journey” I happen to have been on with others.

So what can you do to help me and other carers?

If you care about us, please ask the 3 hows:

How is . . . . . . [the person you’re caring for]? I love it when people ask me this question because it tells me that they understand a bit about my life and what’s important to me; and that they care about me and the person who I care for. 

How are you? 50% of carers will become unwell because of their caring role. So the more you can remind us to take care and look after ourselves the better.

How can I help? Little acts of kindness go a long, long way; and can turn a tough day into a better, brighter one. 

We’re all in this together. It’s just that some of us – at some point on the dial – have chosen to step into the world of the unwell to help someone out a bit; and they’re helping us in some way that we might not even understand yet. 

How to create a powerful press release


What do you think makes an effective press release so that your story gets picked up by your local press?

Over 70% of local press coverage is taken directly form press releases so it’s really important you get it right. It really pays to prepare a powerful press release that makes journalists’ lives easier.


  • Be honest: don’t over-egg who you are.
  • Don’t overstate. ie new and it’s not brand new.
  • Grab the journalists’ attention: put the main point of the story in the introduction.
  • Do the work for them – Strong intro, quote and photo.
  • Get the word count right. 125 words minimum for Google. 350 is normal length of a page lead (between 250-350).
  • Be informal. Tell the story as if you’re talking to someone.
  • Avoid jargon and clichés.
  • Keep sentences short.

THE FORMAT/press release

Title/Subject line: Make it catchy; but remember it’s journalist’s job to develop the
headline (often for search/space reasons and their requirements keep changing).

Introduction: About 28 words max, main point of story, tell it like a story.

2nd & 3rd Paragraph: Expansion on introductory paragraph.

4th Paragraph or later: Strong quote, human, emotional.

• After that: More detailed, less important information.

End with call to action: Link back to your website.

Notes to editors: Detailing what you do.

Contact information: Make clear if it’s for the journalist’s benefit or for publication.

Photographs: Ideally six for a web gallery and have a prize landscape Twitter one.

Photograph caption: Including people’s names (left to right) if it’s a small group.

Good luck!

The power of optimism


  • “What matters most is that we learn from living.” (Doris Lessing)

Have you noticed how much easier life is when you’re optimistic? That dark cloud lifts. The birds start singing. Fell into one of those sinking “Is it worth it?” moments mid-week about a new campaign group I’d recently set up. Challenges seemed to be coming fast and furious. In a bid to get to a better place reached for my Get Yourself Happy List. It brought back a spring in my step and a smile on my face. Here goes, remember:

  • Your vision (for the project).
  • Your life values.
  • What continues to inspire you.
  • What you’ve learnt and done so far (with the project).


And that:

  • Change is possible (even if you’re kind of doubting it at the moment).
  • People can do great things together (Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King).

The challenge is remembering why you’re doing something, why it’s important to you.

Some useful reads

Cultivate optimism

Optimism health benefits

45 Benefits of optimism

If you’ve found this helpful, please do share it with other people. I’d love to hear what you think if you have a little free time.

How issues framing can help you deliver a sticky message


“The literature of social movements suggests that the prudent choice of frames, and the ability to effectively contest the opposition’s frames [re-frame], lie at the heart of successful policy advocacy.Framing Public Issues Toolkit

Have you ever noticed how the mainstream media frames people with mental health issues as violent and unpredictable? A common media myth: people with a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence; and are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others.


8 useful things to know about issues framing

  • It’s a way of structuring or presenting information into messages (words, metaphors and images) that can influence how people think about an issue. The infamous War on Terror is a classic example.
  • It aims to simplify reality by shaping people’s assumptions and perceptions.
  • A good frame engages the listeners’ values and emotions and it’s easy to remember.
  • It’s packaged to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others.
  • For political purposes, framing often presents facts in such a way that implicates a problem that is in need of a solution.
  • In a political context issue framing means presenting an issue in a way that’s going to get the biggest buy-in.
  • Frames are powerful because most of us have internalized them from the media so they’re second nature to us.
  • Some people call it spin.

If you’ve found this post valuable, please do share it with others.

Creating a strong engagement plan from scratch

media and public affairs professionalPublic Affairs Tip: Know your outputs from your outcomes.

How would you feel if someone asked you to develop an engagement/public affairs plan? Would you know where to start? Squirm? Lose sleep? It can happen to the best of us. Anyway, this simple three-step guidance is here to help re-assure those who might fret at the thought. No more night sweats for you. Calm’s the word.

       Where do you want to get to? Be brave.

  •  Build a community of advocates to raise awareness about . . .
  •  Kick start a new conversation around . . .
  •  Create more positive media coverage so that . . .
  •  Extend reach to key decision makers/influencers/opinion-formers which would include . . . .
  •  Become famous as . . .
  •  Create business opportunities with . . .

        Where are you now? Be honest.

  • Who are you engaging with at the moment?
  • Are there key audiences you’re targeting?
  • Who are they and why?
  • Do people really know what your organisation does, what it does and why?
  • How do you know that? (evidence)
  • Has your public profile changed over the last couple of years (got stronger/weaker)?
  • How do you know that?

        What does success look like? Be clear.

  • How are you going to measure your outputs and outcomes; and evaluate success?

Outputs are the products, services or facilities that result from your activities.

Outcomes are the benefits and changes that result from your activities.

If we take the idea of building a community of advocates to raise awareness as where we want to get to, then:

The outputs might be:

  • The number of advocates you’ve managed to recruit.
  • The number of advocates who are MPs, journalists, councillors etc.
  • The number of internal advocates who have been trained in effective messaging.

And the outcomes might be:

  • A better understanding of . . .
  • Improved quality of life for your clients.
  • Improved experience for . . .

If you’re interested in knowing more about public affairs strategy, then why not take a look at two CIPR Excellence Public Affair winners: Guide Dogs Dog Attacks Campaign and Fair Fuel UK Campaign

I hope you’ve found this useful. If you have any thoughts, reflections, ideas, insights please do get in touch.

How a public affairs person can help you


creative public affairs

PUBLIC AFFAIRS TIP: Be clear about where you’re heading. Objectives, strategy then tactics.


INDULGE ME. Imagine you’re out and about networking and you come across someone who says she’ a public affairs professional (me). What pops into your mind? Perhaps a faint whiff of lobbying or campaigning or public relations? Yep, true. And perhaps you see Big Ben or council meetings or party political conferences bursting into view. Yep, also true.

BUT what we’re really about is helping you:


  • Engage more effectively with your key audiences, whether they’re the local community, media, government, statutory or voluntary bodies.
  • Build strong alliances by working together and keeping supporters happy.
  • Promote your expertise with fresh messages that connect with people’s everyday lives.

So that you can:

  • Increase the effectiveness and efficiency of your services and products.
  • Ensure a high degree of brand awareness and perception among influencers, decision makers and funders that matter to you.
  • Draw down additional funding so you can grow and prosper.

If you’d like to know more about how I can help you achieve your engagement objectives for the future, please do drop me a line.